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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

HALLOWEEN~Ghosts of Days Gone By

I was born on a Sunday morning at straight up 2 a.m. under the dark of the moon, also known as the new moon.

I suspect this has a tad to do with why I have always been drawn toward supernatural occurrences,the after life, celestial bodies and all things that go bump in the night.

As long as I can remember, I have felt different someway. Not bad or sad, just different. Drawn toward the unseen....this may be in part because I spent a lot time alone up until I was about 12 years old. I was a lonely child who did not play well with others. I spent my time in the woods or playing in the creek and had a fantastic imagination. I recall the time I played and ran from my shadow all day on the dusty road of my childhood home. Pretend and unseen friends were my normal and I also believe the origins of my absolute love of all things Halloween.

I have talked about my cousin Pat before on this blog- Everything in Life I Learned From Lucy post. She was all about anything Boogery (scary in mountain talk). She too loved Halloween and was born with a caul over her face. For those of you who don't have a clue what I'm talking about, a caul is a section of the amniotic sac that appears as a thin veil over the baby's face and head. Folklore in the Appalachia's and in many other parts of the world tell that a baby born with a caul, also known as a caulbearer is "double-sighted" or has peculiar visions.

My first Halloween memories are with her and my mom, aunt and sister going to Gatlinburg to Trick or Treat downtown. Usually, my costume was just old clothes and a sooty face, but sometimes I would get a little costume from the Dime Store in Sevierville as a very special treat if we had any extra money.
They were usually devils, princesses, black cats, ghosts, and other wonderful characters and a far cry from what passes as a costume these days.

Trick or Treating in Gatlinburg during the 60's was a cornucopia of pure heavenly delights. My favorite place to go was the Old Smoky Candy Kitchen. They would give out Red Candy Apples and Pralines. Full retail size, one to each child. Never had anything tasted better on the ride home from Gatlinburg as the candy apple. Other shops on the Parkway were also generous. KarmelKorn gave small boxes of their homemade delicacy. The hotels and motels had full size bars of candy or popcorn balls.  The streets were filled with local families and a handful of tourist who were the last  remnants of the October leaf crowd. When November the 1st arrived the streets of Gatlinburg would look like a ghost town, with only a handful of shops open during the day.

In 1966, the world was introduced to the Great Pumpkin and the Peanuts gang in the animated special. I clearly remember the excitement of going to the neighbors house (color TV) and sitting in the floor as close to the TV as I could get. This neighbor was also my first grade teacher, Ms. Sally. She was very good to me and at one time took me to her house everyday at lunch. She and her husband Gordon had a store in our community. She would give me little treats and once she gave me a Lay's Three Little Pigs mask for Halloween.  During this time, 1966,  we were living on their property. My mom and dad were in the middle of a terrible divorce battle. This was a very difficult time and I will never forget the kindness they showed us.  About 30 years later, they had both passed and the family was cleaning out the store and the personal items in a large estate sale. I was saddened to see the once loved items being sold. But that is what happens to treasures on earth...they become rust covered and moth eaten. I walked around and ending up buying Ms. Sally's very old pressure cooker/canner. Then I saw the prize: an old plastic Jack-O-Lantern.

I wondered if it had once sat in the old first grade classroom at Pittman Center as a silent observer or maybe held candy on the check out counter beside the ancient cash register at Gordon's store.  Its black paint is peeling and it has a large crack down the side. Jack now has a place by the tattered black cat.

The highlight of the school year for me as a child was the annual Halloween Carnival at Pittman Center School. It always was on the Saturday night before Halloween. We wore our costumes and brought our treat bags.   The gymnasium was decorated into a spooky  wonderland of orange and black streamers, paper witches and white sheets transformed to ghosts. You could bob for apples or toss free throws in the basket.  Game booths were sit up and tables of homemade bake sale goodies as well. One of my most prized possessions was won at one of these games. I was lifting the Ducks from the wash basin/pond and won a grand prize. A set of ceramic planters that feature a little bear cub on a log. I was thrilled.

On the ride home I remember being in the back seat of the car and my dad pointing to the moon and asking if I could see the man in the moon? 


 I recall that both my mom and dad were laughing and having a great time.One of a very few unfortunately,  it was a magical evening . I still have the little planters. They have made it through numerous moves, the blizzard of '93, two marriages and about 50 years of life. My poor daughter is going to inherit some weird stuff.  Some day I will tell you about Granny's hair.... but for now back to the Carnival.
 The teachers had goodies for our treat bag and a class room had suddenly morphed into a Haunted House where you were accosted in the dark by skeletons and goblins.

If you dared to stick your hands into the box of brains, you would be forever haunted by the grizzly jello goo that stuck to your trembling fingers.
 Most of the games were simple and Carnival style, aimed at the younger children: A Dart Throw, a Duck Pond, Ring Toss, etc..

 The older kids were sneaking off to steal kisses in locker rooms and to let the air out of tires in the parking lot.Occasionally a flying egg would greet a late arrival to the Carnival and some toilet paper might be billowing from the big trees by the creek.    We had a local constable that we delighted in enticing to a good harmless game of cat and mouse. In those days we had no intent to destroy or vandalize, and the local lawman was part of the plan. I think he enjoyed chasing us around the parking lot and playground, and having a little fun himself. It was the one night he could be childlike too. Little pranksters and tricksters had one night to innocently revel and it was glorious.

                                    Times sure have changed :

We also had the crowning of the King and Queen of the Halloween Carnival  that ended the evening festivities.   One end of the shiny gymnasium floor was decorated for the soon to be royal couples to march in with much pomp and circumstance. A basketball goal had magically became an arbor of white tissue paper, balloons and orange and black party streamers to the floor, a majestic back drop. Two chairs, fit for a King and his Queen were on an elevated section, with the remainder of the  royal court seated on long benches covered with cloth. Their conspicuous legs telling us that on a normal day they would be the basketball team benches.  The honor of running for Queen and King was decided by classroom vote early in the fall.  After the candidates were elected, the process of gathering the most money began. Each class had a designated day to hold a bake sale at school, moms and dads donated raffle items and tickets were sold, Granny made a quilt and Pap might carve a beautiful songbird bird as a raffle item. At the carnival you made your last charge at making a few more dollars for the honor of the crown.

 I was the queen candidate in the 4th grade. I remember one Saturday, my friends and I  took a mason jar to Gatlinburg and pan handled all day for change on the Parkway. Dickens would have been proud. Certainly, this would be frowned upon in modern day society. The tourists gave us loose change and a smile.Most were very nice and talked to us little hillbilly's about our school and families. Some gave us a piece of candy and some even gave us a dollar bill. I remember one man gave me a five dollar bill.  
 My King candidate was Stanley. I always had a  crush on him, but he sealed it one day with a dirt clod to the head at play period and I knew he was the boy for me.

 My mom had  borrowed a formal gown from a lady in Gatlinburg that had a daughter my age. It had a white satin top and a big red crinoline full length skirt. It was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen. My pixie was teased and poofed  and a tomboy had become a princess for a few hours. While the crowd was being entertained in the gym with a cake walk, square dancers and musicians,  we were in classrooms getting dressed for the grand entrance. The secretary and the Principle were in the office counting the final totals for each class. Soon we marched into the gym, in order from 1st grade to 8th grade and took our places. There were crown bearers and robe bearers, it was a grand event.  Unfortunately, we came in second place and watched from the bench while another took our sparkly crowns and was adorned with long velvet robes... such is life.

 Many years later I watched my daughter walk in the same processional when she was in the 1st grade. It was changed several decades ago to the Fall Festival and is held in November at the new school. All essence of Halloween has long been removed.

 I like to think that decades later, the shadows of Halloweens past still join the annual march for the crown in the empty old gymnasium on the Saturday night before Halloween and the little valley nestled between the mountains and Webbs Creek lovingly holds the faint laughter of children from days gone by.