The ghosts of Halloweens past

Dear Uma: Halloween came and went without much celebration on my part; I was just not up to my usual enthusiasm for what is probably my favourite event on the calendar.

Dear Uma:

Halloween came and went without much celebration on my part; I was just not up to my usual enthusiasm for what is probably my favourite event on the calendar. I’d been feeling slightly unwell in the days preceding the big night and by the time it arrived I was dealing with a full-on head cold, a condition that does not lend itself to the wearing of a mask.

I extinguished the candle in the Jack o’ lantern, turned off all the lights in the house and holed up in the back bedroom to drink hot rum, eat the Hallowe’en candy, and reminisce about Halloweens I have known.

Last year’s night of goblins and sugar saw our neighbours, Bryan and Ava, anticipating their first Halloween as a couple and their first Halloween in their new home. Though childless themselves they went all out, decorating their house and yard and heaping bowls with candy and chocolate bars. Our street is historically a busy one on Halloween night, and they were ready.

Bryan told us he’d bought a mask and planned to greet the kids who came to the door with a spirited “Boo.” What he didn’t mention was that the mask was ghoulish in the extreme and had the added feature of blood running down the face when Bryan squeezed a bulb hidden in his hand. He may have been OK if he’d been smaller, but he is well over six feet tall, and large with it; the sight of this hideous and huge apparition bursting out of the door had the first visitors, the little ones accompanied by parents, howling and crying with fright. In his ignorance of what constitutes fun for a little kid on Halloween night, Bryan considered himself a great success, until Ava pointed out the treats were still in the bowls and the departing parents, soothing weeping children, did not look amused.

In another country and another time, years ago, a group of ex-pats hosted a Halloween party in their large home, adult party at one end of the house, kids’ party at the other end. One of the adult guests, having made a head start on liquid refreshment before arriving at the party, ended up going in the wrong entrance. She’d painted dark circles under her eyes, stuck a fake moustache on her upper lip, crammed her hair under a fedora and wrapped herself in a belted trench coat. I had just come into the kids’ room with the hostess, the two of us carrying the big washtub full of water in which the children were to bob for slices of tropical fruit, apples being unavailable in that part of the world.

I thought the trench coat was to suggest the guest was costumed as a spy but no, it was a flasher, and as she whipped open her coat a huge plastic penis rose from the open fly of a garish pair of boxer shorts, activated, we were to later discover, by a string going up the sleeve of the coat. There was a sudden hush in the room and then many things happened at once.

The horrified hostess released her handle of the washtub and her side hit the floor, the contents forming a small tidal wave that crashed over the group of children before flooding the tiles with water and slippery fruit. The woman, realizing she’d made her grand entrance in the wrong entrance and turning to beat a hasty retreat, slipped on a piece of the floating fruit and fell, coat still opened and penis still waving. She began to bleed copiously from the nose, the moustache sliding over her chin. I had maintained a grip on my washtub handle a few seconds longer than had my co-carrier so it was my foot that took the impact when the whole tub came down, thankfully somewhat lightened by being emptied but still weighty enough to cause me to shriek with pain, a banshee-like wail that was a suitable accompaniment to the howls and sobs of a dozen badly frightened, soaking wet children.

The incident resulted in most of the guests gathering up their traumatized offspring and going home, leaving a few of us to comfort the flasher and help our downcast hosts drink the punch.

Another party, another time and place, with a couple I knew who were attempting to navigate their way through a tricky patch in their 10-year marriage. Bruce had decided to break with their long tradition of attending the community dance held every year to celebrate Halloween. Jane, who with her band, was providing the music for the event, had not missed this party for a decade and was not about to mourn his absence.

Apparently as soon as Jane had left, Bruce had the brilliant idea of diverting himself from the worry of his marital woes by dropping acid, something he had not done for a long time. He soon felt rather wonderful, and experienced a powerful feeling of renewed love and passion for his wife, a feeling he felt compelled to share with her immediately. He jumped in his truck and headed for the hall where the dance was being held and this would have been a romantic and probably wonderful story except for one critical thing; he forgot it was Halloween.

Now this community loved its Halloween, and this dance was famous for the innovative and marvellous costumes people created and wore on the magical and mystical evening. Among the many dazzling ensembles attending this particular evening were two chickens. Not real chickens, of course, but painstakingly made, startling realistic chicken costumes.

For some reason that was never traced or verified, the guys in the chicken costumes got into an argument. The confrontation escalated and was taken outdoors where it became a rolling around in the grass, half-wrestling, half-boxing, wholly drunken fight with a couple of aliens, a gorilla, and an Indian princess looking on.

And this was the scene that confronted Bruce when, in a highly altered state of consciousness, he parked his truck and walked to the front of the hall.

Jane later reported she heard his screams over the sound of the music; we all did, but she was the only one who recognized them as belonging to Bruce. It took all five members of the band to talk him off the roof of the hall. The marriage survived.

Finally, there was the Halloween party attended by forty elaborately costumed people; elaborate because the host would not allow entrance to invited guests if they were not elaborately costumed. Everyone asked to this annual event knew of this and were more than happy to meet the attirement requirement; it was said to be the best of the many Halloween parties held in the city and invitations were prized.

Like many guests too busy or too lacking in creativity, I had rented my costume; I was a Cadillac car, complete with steering wheel, grill, headlights that could be turned on and a trunk with a lid that lifted to reveal a spare tire. Many hours later, fellow guests said I ought to have been a certain sort of municipal truck; it would have been appropriate, as things turned out.

Our hosts had a large deck which accommodated those who smoked and those who wanted fresh and cool air after dancing. A small fire burned in what looked like an old hubcap on one corner of the deck. Later, it was found to be that little fire was what made the big fire; the one that burned the entire house down while 40 people stood in the street in the wee hours of the morning, providing newspapers and the local TV station with some startling and unusual photos. The clearest and best of those was the one of the hostess in a tutu and the host, with a rabbit’s head under his arm talking to the media folk about the cleansing nature of fire and how they would rebuild in time for next Halloween.

No, I did not forget about our Halloween celebration in a country that did not recognize Halloween and the tremendous difficulties that ensued; I don’t think I could forget that one even if I wanted to, and I have wanted to.



Heather Bennett is a writer who

lives in Watson Lake.

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