I shouldn't have listened to my girl cousin

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Remember when?

By Bill Evans

This is a Halloween tale, especially for my friend, Bill, in Kershaw. Bill has difficulty seeing these days, but can still picture it in his mind. I’m sure someone will read it to him.

It was the last of October and the wind was whistling along Chesterfield Avenue.

Aunt Bess told me that the cold air must have been blowing in from some icy place far away.

My mind was somewhere far away, too. The leaves were changing colors, but much of Lancaster was a sea of military green with the Reds and Blues here for a big round of maneuvers.

The recreation center in the First Presbyterian Church basement was a busy place. Uncle Harry said about 500 soldiers showed up for the chamber of commerce dance held at the armory. There was even a talent show planned for them at the high school.

I was more interested in this downtown Halloween shindig that Mr. Cross and the WPA folks were gettin’ ready to throw on Catawba Street. They were making a big deal of it. All the stores were gonna stay open late.

But that was later. For me it was just a typical fall day. It was hard not to be impressed by the color of the maple trees along the sidewalk in front of home of Judge and Mrs. Mame Bell. 

I passed their home just about every day.

Uncle Harry said Mr. Bell wasn’t a judge yet, but it was “a matter of time before he’s wearing a black bathrobe at work.” I figured it wouldn’t do much harm to make him one a little earlier, so I was already calling him Judge Bell.

Now, the student body at Chesterfield Avenue Grammar School had a special fondness for those trees, especially this time of year. 

We saved the judge a little raking by gathering them to take home to our mamas. 

Each tree had a different color leaf, in tones of  yellow, gold, bright red and deep orange.

All Miss Mame’s trees were gettin’ into the act, a sure sign Halloween was here. I don’t know who was excited the most – me, or Ol’ Tiger – the best dog a boy ever had. 

We even took a few of those leaves to Miss Charlotte Jones’ class that week. Yes, there was spelling and mathing going on, but we had been busy making all kinds of Halloween stuff.

Miss Jones had an old hand-pumped Gulfspray Flit Gun which she filled with black paint one day and orange at another time.

We had made scary masks from packs of construction paper, as well as jack-o-lanterns and black cats. We even decorated along the top of the blackboards and against the outside windows.

You know we didn’t do much schoolwork on that Friday, seein’ how it was  Halloween. 

When the final school bell rang, I scooted down the sidewalk to home, which wasn't a long walk, just three doors away.

Mama and Aunt Bess always looked forward to holidays and birthdays, and this was no different.

I looked up to see a bunch of balloons strung above the front porch bannisters, blown up by the old tire pump kept in the trunk of the Model A.

Mama even went down to the Plunder House and dug out an old tin wash tub, filled with water from the hose pipe and filled with a peck of bright red apples for apple bobbin.’

Tiger couldn’t figure that tub out. Usually when he saw it, it meant he was about to get a bath, which meant I was about to get one, too. That has a way of happening when you wash a dog.

There was a pumpkin on the porch, purchased from a Heath Springs man last week who passed through the neighborhood with a load of fresh harvested orange pumpkins.

You know a good pumpkin serves two purposes, one to make pies and the other to serve as  the front steps jack-o-lantern that greeted me. 

Hot dog, fun time was just about here.

You know, times were getting better in the early fall of 1941. People were back at work and the worst days of the Great Depression seemed to be behind us. 

We were even gettin’ a new downtown business. The Lancaster Motor Service was scheduled to open its doors the next day, on Nov. 1. 

I had spied that newspaper picture of the bicycle they had on sale for $34.95. However, thanks to some hard work, elbow grease and help from Aunt Bess, my bicycle future was already cast. Come Christmas of 1941, I’d be cruising the streets on a J.C. Higgins Roadmaster Deluxe bicycle. Little did anyone know that war was only weeks away and that one bicycle I would never see.

I was ready to get to “Halloweening.”

We had been to Mr. Bucklelew’s place a few days ago. Mama bought me a ready-made costume complete with mask and wooden sword. I couldn’t hardly wait to get dressed. 

Even Ol’ Tiger had a little pep in his step.

My cousins who lived down on Market Street were getting ready too. I’d join them as usual and we would visit several of the downtown church carnivals where bunches of free stuff would be handed out. 

That evening as we walked, my cousin, Mary Frances, suggested we might do a little door bell ringing and even toss some porch chairs into the shrubbery.

Sounded good to me. I remember some stories I heard about kids long ago who turned over outhouses and disassembled a farm wagon and put it back together on the roof of some farmer’s barn  So, what’s the harm in her proposal?

Then I remembered that a new family moved into Williams Apartments. Boy, we would give them a real scare this night and hatched a plan en route. 

We quietly slipped up on the porch and banged on the door, ringing the door bell and making loud noises.

Suddenly (and quite unexpectedly) the front door swung open and two of the ugliest boogers to ever set foot on Chesterfield Avenue ran out, screaming at us.

Loud noises came from inside which we later learned was coming from a record player. We fell all over ourselves trying to get way with our lives.

Then the porch light came on and the two spooks took off their masks and were laughing at us. 

Finally, our heartbeats got back somewhere near normal. We were invited in for homemade snacks.

I guess that’s  what we get for dumping those porch chairs in the bushes. 

When we got back that night, I heard Mama and Daddy talking.

Daddy said he sure was glad Halloween was done. 

“All that mess messes up Sunday school,” he said. 

Well, at least that’s the way it works at my house.

That night as I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but recall how two boogers, now friends, almost got the best of us. 

Sadly, it would be four years before me and Mary Frances got to have this kind of fun at Halloween again.

Many years later, I moved to a home on Charlotte Road, about a mile from a little creek near Burns Ford.

The old timers always told me on Halloween you can hear the rattling of soldiers’ sabers along the creek banks.

Now, I don’t believe in such stuff, but you won’t see me walking down there next Thursday night to find out. 

I better get the chairs off the porch. Bill, make sure somebody checks on yours too.