Halloween was a much anticipated free-for-all when I was a kid.
There were pillowcases that needed filling with candy and treats in the course of several trips in and out of the surrounding neighborhoods.
There was the goopy make-up that got in your eyes and stuck there throughout the next day when you went to school, no matter how hard you tried to scrub it off.
There was the toilet paper.
There were the pumpkin guts tossed in the middle of the street we slipped on when we crossed from house to house.
There were the dark, foreboding pathways leading up to houses, lit by little more than a single, ominous red or blue light bulb.
The dogs scaring the bejeebers out of us when we approached a house.
Thoroughly creepy music emanating from the background somewhere.
Dank, moldy figures sitting on porches, waiting to make us leap screaming as they suddenly “came alive” and lurched menacingly at us.
Those were the days.
The picture above is of (left to right) Doug Anderson (hobo), myself (hunchback ..... and yeah ... hunchbacks wore jeans; what's it to ya!?) and Doug Schlaufman (weird old lady), complete with my father’s hideously bright orange ‘68 VW in the background. It was 1973 and I was twelve years old. What a motley looking crew we were.
I remember that particular night vividly. We ran wild in the streets for hours, collecting as much as we could. I recall we came back with pillowcases full of stuff (no kidding!), our loot practically giving beneath its weight. We’d dump it all on the kitchen table for Mom to go thorough, snag a piece or two for the road and then we were out the door for more.
We were unstoppable.
There was a house about a block away. It was transformed into a Halloween haunt during the season. We never had the guts to go into it before, but this was the year. I remember we saved that place for last. We wanted to go in, but we didn’t want to go in, if you know what I mean.
Toward the end of the night -- feet tired, arms weary from lugging pounds and pounds of tooth-decaying treats -- we ventured to the haunted house of doom.
We were greeted by an ominous voice inviting us to enter at our own risk. We were genuinely frightened out of our wits, but none of us backed down. We were going to go through with it. Mom knew where we were, even if she didn’t know who these people were. It was all good.
We carefully tip-toed inside. Just past the front door, ripped shreds of material hung. We had to make our way through them. Some were sticky. With what we hadn’t a clue.
A left turn took us into our first room of terror. We stopped dead in our tracks: a surgeon came into sight just around a wall. He had a mask on his face, scalpel in hand. We couldn’t see who he was “working” on but he beckoned us toward him. We tentatively took steps forward and, as we did, an operating table came into view. A balding man was atop it, mouth in a grimace, reaching out toward us and moaning. We could see his naked belly, a belly spilling out spaghetti entrails and red ooze.
Our hair was standing on end. The patient moaned louder and reached for us, but we backed away, right into a couple of hideous ghouls who had snuck up from behind us. We started and yelped and saw yet another figure closing the door we'd come through. This one had a scythe in one hand and what looked like intestines in the other. I felt a hand on my shoulder and screamed.
One of us bolted for the door, grabbed and opened it. The gruesome troop came at us and we dashed out of the room, back down the hall, through the front door and out into the street at a pace I would never again run.
We ran all the way back to my house, terrified half the way there, laughing at our scared selves the remainder of the way. One of my friends suggested we return and go through the rest of the place; the other blurted “No way!”
We made it back to my house with nary a scratch. Halloween, again, was the blast we’d remembered it to be.
Inside the kitchen, my mother asked how the haunted house was. We all agreed it was thoroughly creepy, but fun. Something caught her eye as she looked at me ..... and a look of utter disgust came across her face.
“What in the world is on your shoulder?!?” she half yelled. She grabbed a dish towel from the kitchen and came at me. I stood frozen still. My friends were looking at me wide-eyed, no laughter left on their faces.
My mother reached over and took whatever it was from my left should. She showed it to me.
It was a huge piece of raw calf’s liver, a real one, obviously used as one of the props in the haunted house. That hand on my shoulder had left it there for me as “a parting gift.” It left a livery, wet stain.
That’s the kind of Halloween I remember as a kid.
Good times. Good times, indeed .....