Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays as a child. But not all Halloween memories are pleasant ones. I'd hesitated on sharing this one with you, but in the end, I decided to go ahead.
The elementary school I attended--along with all my siblings--always put on this big Halloween Carnival every year. It was held a night or two before Halloween, so we didn't have to choose between the Carnival and Trick-or-Treating, like kids do today. The Carnival was just as much fun, and I looked forward to going every year.
The year my brother was in second grade, his class was in charge of putting on the haunted house. Now, back in those days, when we didn't have to be so politically correct all the time, we called them spook houses. Can't do that any more, but we did back then.
My older brother's class was in charge of the spook house, and my mother had volunteered to be the wicked witch. Finally, the long anticipated day of the Halloween carnival had arrived. My mother was in the kitchen boiling spaghetti and peeling grapes. I was in kindergarten that year, and as there were no kindergartens in the public schools, I went to a private kindergarten that was held in one of the local churches. We got off at 11:30, so I was there in the kitchen watching my mother prepare. I asked her why she was peeling grapes, and she explained that the grapes were supposed to be eyeballs and the spaghetti was supposed to be guts. I said they didn't look like eyeballs and guts to me. My mother replied that it would be dark in the spook house, so maybe nobody would notice. Then she turned around and asked me the one question I never expected to hear.
"You are going to come see me in the spook house, aren't you?"
Now, I'd never been inside a spook house before. I didn't really know what they were all about. All I knew was that there was scary stuff in them. I didn't like scary stuff. I didn't like to be scared, so I told my mother no.
"What??" my mother exclaimed incredulously. "You aren't going to come see me in the spook house? How do you think that's going to make me feel? What will people think if my own daughter won't come see me in the spook house?"
That night, walking around the carnival with my dad and brother, and my baby sister in the stroller, we came to the entrance of the spook house. My brother went in without hesitation. I just stood there. My dad asked me, "Do you want to go in?"
I didn't, but decided that the *** I would face when I got home that night was scarier than anything that could be in that spook house. I was wrong. My little shoulders slumped. I didn't see that I had much of a choice, so I took a deep breath and slowly, reluctantly, I went in.
The first thing I had to do was crawl down a long tunnel. I later figured out that it was sheets draped over card tables, but at the time, it was just a dark, scary tunnel. I heard all sorts of noises, moans, groans, howls, screams, and through the sheets, hands reached out to grab me. Just as I was crawling out of the end of the tunnel, a werewolf jumped at me, roaring and growling.
This was just too much. Screaming, I turned around and tried to crawl back up the tunnel, but there were too many people in the way. They wouldn't move. They wouldn't let me go back. In despair, I sat on my heels, just inside the end of the tunnel, and cried. People continued to crawl past me. I even heard one boy say, "Somebody's blocking the tunnel," but nobody stopped.
Nobody stopped to comfort a frightened, crying little girl. The only one trying to reassure me was the werewolf.
"It's OK," he said. "I'm not going to hurt you. I"m not really a werewolf. I'm just somebody's daddy, dressed up in a costume."
He was trying to comfort me, but I was having none of it. Then I saw, through the end of the tunnel, my mother hurrying towards me, witch costume billowing out behind her. I felt a brief flash of hope. I thought for a moment that she was going to make those people move, so I could go back out the entrance. So I could get out of there. My hopes were quickly dashed when instead of helping me, she began slapping me. And slapping me.
And slapping me, and slapping me.
And slapping me.
How long this went on, I don't know. To my childish mind, it seemed like forever. Eventually, my mother's rage was sated and she stopped hitting me. She grabbed me by the wrist and jerked me out of the tunnel. As she was dragging me over to her witch's table, I looked over at the werewolf, who had retreated to the corner, over by some fake rocks. He didn't look mean any more. He just looked sad.
He quickly got over it, though, and was soon back to roaring and jumping at people as they came out of that tunnel.
At the witch's table, I dutifully touched the cold spaghetti, squeezed the peeled grapes, and thought that even in the dark, they didn't look like guts and eyeballs. I drank my little bathroom cup of witch's brew, which was just Kool-Aid without sugar added to it. Then I turned, and without looking at another thing, walked out of the spook house.
I have never been inside another one, not even the one the church put on when I was a youth. Not even the one we held at the dojo a few years ago. Oh, I went in and helped set it up. I even took pictures. But when it came time to open it, I left.
I guess there are just some things that once is enough.