Saturday, March 5, 2011

Halloween In Crockett

Halloween in the late fifties and early sixties was a different experience than it is today. When my two children were growing up in the eighties kids were encouraged to attend school sponsored parties rather than go door to door trick-or-treating, unless they went to the houses of people they knew personally. The day after Halloween brought stories of objects in candy, fruit and other treats found in the bags of little children. Many local clinics and hospitals offered to X-ray candy as a safety precaution, and they continue to do so now. In other words, it can't be as much fun as it was when I was a kid. Now that I'm in my fifties all of the Halloweens of my youth seem to blend together, but a couple of experiences stand out in my memory.
When I was in the third grade, I was with a group of kids from our church. In the group with me were David Douglas and Paul and Ray Craycraft. Betty Douglas, David’s mom, was driving us around, or rather easing down the streets slowly while we went from house to house. Crockett isn't a big town and we knew a lot of people. We didn't pass up a single house with a porch light on. The possibility of tainted treats never entered our minds at the time.
Most of the night had been rather routine. People didn't go all out with decorations, as is common today. Once in awhile there would be a jack-o-lantern sitting by a door, but we didn't encounter anything elaborate. That all changed when we started down Bell Avenue.
A local accountant named Harold Walker lived in a small frame house along our route. It had an attached carport that had been turned into a mini haunted house. From the street to the house was a row of cardboard headstones with jack-o-lanterns between each one to cast a pale light on the path. There was a red light bulb in the carport that gave the entire area a spooky look. Eerie music was coming from a hidden record player that enhanced the experience even more. It was enough to scare the crap out of an eight-year-old kid.
All the props in the yard and under the carport were nothing compared to Harold Walker himself. He was sitting on a chair and was wearing the most realistic looking Wolfman costume we had ever seen. It was the quality of the ones used in the movies. The head, the hands and the feet were large and hairy. On the floor in front of him was a large iron pot filled with candy and covered with a metal trash can lid. He was hunched over the pot with a hairy hand on the handle of the lid and staring at us as we slowly walked into the carport. He was growling and panting, the music was moaning and we were becoming more frightened by the second.
Somehow the other three had slinked back behind me as we approached Wolfman and the pot of candy. The closer we got the louder the growling became. He slowly rose to his feet and assumed a position as if to lunge at us at any moment. All four of us stopped and were about to chicken out and make a run for the car. He sensed we were a little too scared, so he lifted the lid and took a step backward. We breathed a little easier and moved toward the pot to get some candy. Paul, Ray and David were still behind me and had moved over to one side so they could see if I was going to be attacked and killed. I took a deep breath and reached for the pot.
Harold Walker had been silent for about five seconds, so the tension in the air had lessened somewhat. My hand was a foot away from the pot when he came alive. He sprang forward in my direction with a roar, slamming the trash can lid down onto the pot with a deafening crash. Paul, Ray and David froze in their tracks, not knowing what to do. I knew exactly what to do; run like hell! Luckily they weren't standing directly behind me or they would have been trampled.
The light was poor and I was out of my mind with fright, so I took the most direct route away from the house. Unfortunately, in the dead center of the most direct route, stood an iron support post. I was moving as fast as a frightened eight-year-old can go in the space of about ten feet. I hit the post dead center and was knocked flat on my back. I must have been out for a few seconds. When my head cleared, Harold Walker, minus the Wolfman mask, was standing over me with a frightened look on his face. I had a large knot on my head and my nose was bleeding. Mrs. Walker arrived with a rag containing some ice cubes to hold against my head and bring me around. Everything was a blur, but all I wanted to do was get away. I got to my feet with the help of everyone there. The place was well lit at that point. I started for the street as fast as I could stumble while the Walkers were asking me if I was okay? I think I mumbled, "I'm fine" as I left. Betty Douglas met me when I was halfway to the car. She offered to take me home, but I wanted to continue on my rounds. The other three came back to the car and brought my sack that I dropped in my haste to get away. Harold Walker had put more candy in it than I could have possibly received the rest of the night.
As we looked back he had returned to his seat in front of the iron pot of candy, but the lights were on and he wasn't wearing the costume. When I hit the pole he realized his show was a little bit too scary.
Six Halloweens later I was fourteen and too old to trick-or-treat without looking like an idiot. That summer, Texas had changed the law so kids had to be sixteen instead of fourteen in order to get their drivers license. My birthday was nineteen days past the limit. Most of my friends took driver’s education that summer and had their license when school started. I and a few others were left to walk or ride our bicycles to get around. I was depressed and embarrassed and had decided to just stay home and be a jerk to the little kids who stopped by for candy.
There was a knock at the door and I opened it, prepared to glare at a group of little goblins. It was Charlie Jackson and Eugene May. They were about to roam the streets in Charlie's pickup and wanted to know if I would join them. Of course I wanted to!
Eugene had a big bag of balloons. They planned to fill them with water and throw them at unsuspecting suckers around town. My mother was watching television and paid no attention as we went into the kitchen and started filling them up. Fifteen minutes later we had so many balloons full of water we had no way to get them out to the truck. Mother walked into the kitchen carrying a big plastic laundry basket. I was standing in front of a sink full of balloons and my first thought was "Oh crap, she caught us."
Mother handed me the plastic basket and said, "Here, put the balloons in this. I will fill up the rest while you throw these."
In those days we hadn't heard of alien abductions, so I didn't even suspect that she had been replaced by an android. We just stared at her for a second, said "Thanks!" and took off before she changed her mind.
Charlie and Eugene took turns driving while I remained in the back with all the balloons. On Halloween night the Crockett police actually put forth the appearance of being on duty. On the other three hundred sixty-four nights of the year they couldn't be found after dark, unless it was at one of the two or three places they could get a free cup of coffee. We had to be careful not to be caught tossing a water balloon at a passing car and be spotted by an officer. None of us were from families of the movers and shakers in town that were above the law in anything short of murder, so we had to be picky. We hit a few cars belonging to friends we recognized. We also circled the Dairy Queen and tossed a few at people we knew that were standing outside. In no time at all we were out of balloons.
We had been out for about an hour when we returned to my house. Mother had filled all the remaining balloons and put them it a big box. We filled the laundry basket and hit the streets again. The weather had turned cold and I was freezing in the back of the truck. The fun was wearing off quickly and it was also getting late. Most of the little kids had gone home and most of the older ones that were driving around earlier had disappeared as well. We were about to call it a night, but we needed to get rid of the balloons. Charlie circled the square and headed out the Houston highway toward the Dairy Queen. Eugene and I were randomly tossing balloons at street signs and parked cars. We were down to one balloon when Charlie said he was heading for my house. I was glad to hear it.
Charlie was driving down some side streets just to be safe. We stopped at a well-lit intersection when we heard someone call out to us. Jamie Easterly and Billy Langham stepped into the light. Someone else was with them, but I don't recall who. All three were wearing long coats and old hats and looked like they had just crawled out of a Goodwill donation box. We talked for a minute, but since it was getting colder by the minute we kept it short.
They were still standing under the streetlight when we drove away. I suddenly remembered the last water balloon in the basket. We were already driving away into the darkness, so they couldn't see me as I threw the balloon at the three of them. The balloon flew between Jamie and Billy and missed their heads by only inches. I was laughing when I could make out Jamie pulling something out of his pocket and throw in our direction as we sped away. We were well out of range, or so I thought. At this point I should add that Jamie went on to pitch in the major leagues for more than ten years, so he had considerable strength and accuracy. I was about to yell to Charlie and Eugene that I almost hit them when an egg hit me squarely on the forehead. I was a mess to put it mildly. Just before this happened Charlie had been going to pull over and let me into the warm cab of the pickup with him and Eugene. Now that I was covered with egg the plan changed. He and Eugene were looking back at me and laughing as I wiped egg out of my eyes. By the time we got to my house the gunk had frozen into my hair. Everyone had a big laugh about it, including me after I got cleaned up. We had a good story to tell, as well as a greater appreciation of my mother, or at least the being that had temporarily replaced her for the evening.

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