When I was young I loved Halloween with the sweet smell of burning leaves in burn barrels, and how the full moon looked caught inside the branches of the Chinese Elm that we stood under as we took an inventory of our ‘loot’ before moving on to the next house to Trick or Treat.
The moon hanging in a sky of 10, 000 stars looms above us as my sisters and I make our way from house to house clutching brown paper bags.
Halloween night was a different ‘world’ back in 1951 (I don’t romanticize the past nor do I live there) but I treasure the time when I knew everyone in town, and and people really didn’t lock their doors at night.
I remember trick or treating when the more affluent (the wheat farmers kids) would purchase their costumes in Spokane, but the mill kids (the kids whose dad worked in the sawmill in Lincoln) had to be a bit more creative, and make their costumes from found objects. Old bed sheets (to make a ghost) or black paper hats and old dresses for our witches costume.
The liberal use of mom’s lipstick and rouge made a good disguise too, and we mill kids could become Princesses as we adorned ourselves with anything that glittered. We raided mom’s jewelry box for costume jewelry to be worn on neck and ears.
Back then, we actually thanked people for their “treats” and wished them Happy Halloween. Our “loot’ was ‘pathetic’ by today’s standards—-candy sticks, taffy squares, tootsie rolls, loose candy corn, apples, and popcorn.
We felt really lucky when we got Hershey bars or milky ways, or crackerjack boxes. (With prizes inside) but a lot of it was loose candy and one cent suckers.
But in spite of that my sisters and I looked forward to Halloween almost as much as we did Christmas.
When we went from one house next we were always hopeful that the ‘next house’ would have some ‘good stuff.
We surprised one unsuspecting bachelor when we trick or treated him. He said he was embarrassed and had nothing to give us. He then reached into his pocket and took out a quarter.
A quarter—a lot of money in those days! After we left him, we spread the word, and the poor man had to turn out his lights and hide under the table. (I don’t know if he really hid but he turned out his lights.)
I recall one old woman (she was probably in her forties) who made home-made Halloween suckers( with gumball eyes and a licorice mouth) for us kids, but she ran out of them after we directed the trick-or-treaters to her house.
Enter Rhubarb the cat
For some reason cats seem to come out on Halloween night. On that Halloween night, a orange tom cat followed us, and between the first ‘pet’ and ‘kiss’ on the nose, we came to the conclusion that some one had abandoned him, and that he was looking for a home.
We took (stole) that cat home with us, and dad named it Rhubarb like the name of the movie. Rhubarb was a movie about an eccentric, rich old man who dies and leaves his entire fortune (including his baseball team) to his cat, Rhubarb.
It was dad’s favorite movie, and Rhubarb became dad’s (and the rest or the family) favorite cat.
Why I hate Halloween
My reason for hating Halloween has to do with two cats and what happened to one of them.
The year was 2001 and we had two cats at the time—a white Persian called “Miss Jane Marple” and a Himalayan called “Charley Chan.”
It was a few days before Halloween, and I had decorated our house with ghosts, spooks, spiders and webs.
On that crisp October morning, I ran up to the hardware store to get a new shower head.
When I returned 25 minutes later, there were two fire trucks in front of our house, and neighbors had congregated in the driveway. I thought it was our neighbor who had a fire and the trucks were just parked in front of our house.
I pulled my car unto the lawn.
“What happened?” I asked the firefighter.
“Are you the owner?”
By this time I was in shock, (it was our house) and could only nod my head.
“It seems you had a house fire.”
“What!”, and then “How? was a kitchen appliances left on or something? “
“We can’t be sure, but it looks like someone left a pan on the stove,”
Then I remembered, right before I went to the store, I turned on the stove where a pot of grease sat, (my plan was to melt the grease and pour it into a jar.) and then my sister called, and I talked to her for a couple of minutes before grabbing my purse and going out the door. I’d forgotten all about the burner turned on high with the pan of grease on it.
I was told that it would take some time before I could go into the house and so I waited at my neighbors.
A few minutes later, the fire Marshall came to the door and asked for me.
“I’m sorry,” he said, but one of your cats didn’t make it.”
It was then that the reality of the fire hit me like a ton of bricks. “Which one?” I asked weakly.
“It looks like it was the white one, but it’s covered with smoke and so it’s hard to tell.”
That would be Miss Jane Marple, I thought. “What about Charley Chan?”—-the brownish one?” (Both cats were the same age, but Miss Jane was the more delicate of the two)
“The other one was alive when we found it. “If you like, I’ll have someone take it up to your Vet.” (There must be a special place in Heaven for Firefighters)
“Yes, thank you,” was the only three words I could muster.
Did I want to see the other cat?” I shook my head. I wanted to remember Miss Jane how she was.
After the smoke cleared
I was allowed to go in a few hours after the smoke cleared, (“Be prepared,” the firefighter said”) and when I saw what was left of my kitchen I was so ‘(unprepared) I felt like crying.
Part of the ceilings hung down, and the stove, cupboards, counter and floor were charred. We had art glass in the atrium window, (some pieces costing us hundreds of dollars) and most of them were broken. That glass continued to break days after the fire: pieces broke when they were touched or just broke. None of the art class was intact.
I stood there in shock and awe in that smoky house that now had its own ‘fire’ Halloween decorations of ‘smoke webs’ in the corners.
No one said anything for a moment, and then we heard a deep voice coming from the hallway. “I’m going to get you!”
“What in the hell was that?” one of the firefighter said.
Then I remembered. It was the coming from the motion activated vampire in the front entrance way. Apparently, the ‘fire’ had slowed down it ‘reaction’ time, and it was just now responding to our people passing by it.
I started to laugh, and the others joined in. It was good to be able to see the humor in a very unhumorus situation.
“Well, he got that right!” I said, as I wiped my eyes. “He shor nuff got me”
We were out of our house for four months. The builders had to take it down to its studs, and redo everything. Luckily we had insurance, but it still cost us money, let alone the pain of losing items (like videos and pictures) that you can never replace.
But we were lucky, and when we moved into our ‘new’ home, it was better than it was before.
And so each Halloween that comes reminds me of the happy Halloweens of my youth, and also the sad memories of a house fire. Over time, the fire memory will fade like
orange crepe paper flowers in the rain, but in the meantime….
(According to WikiAnswers on a clear night (without city lights) a person with 20/20 vision can see about l0,000 stars!)