Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!
Staircase at Night
22" x 30"
This wasn't actually on Halloween, but I thought it was appropriate for today.
At night, as we drove around town on streets lined with spooky old Victorian homes, if the night was warm, front doors and windows would be open. We could see interiors and, sometimes, the occupants of the homes if they happened to be in those rooms or at the door. There was one home that had been a funeral home for a short while. I remember going to a funeral for a great uncle there about 1960.
Each time we passed by, I was a little startled by the post at the end of the stairs and the decorative ball that topped that end post. At just a glance, it always looked like someone standing there. It was even worse if one of the ladies happened to leave her gardening hat on top of that post! I knew what it was, though, and went on.
My daughter visited there a lot and always returned with stories of strange happenings. Sightings of the original owner of the home, furniture that moved, record players that started playing or turned off without human assistance. She wasn't scared, but was interested.
I thought that doorway with the view of the stairs, the corner of the room with a heavy table behind it, the light dropped from a cord from the upstairs ceiling, would make an interesting picture. I did a pencil drawing in my sketchbook.
Strangely, as I drew the stairs, there was a spot that almost had a glow in it, and a figure took shape in the center of it. It was as if a ghost was walking on the stairs. I didn't plan this at all. It just happened.
Later, I was working on a series of watercolors using only one primary color and a neutral. Blue was my color and brown was the neutral that I selected. I decided to use the staircase sketch for a painting on a full sheet of 300 # watercolor paper. I liked the heavier weight best. I intended to just do the open door with the staircase and entry, with the light bulb haniging.
As I painted, though, the same halo of light happened on the staircase, and the same figure took shape in the center of the light area. I decided that I might as well just go with it, and leave it as the light area would not cover up. I hadn't planned to do a ghost picture or a Halloween picture! It just happened.
Watercolors often have a way of doing things on their own, and that is one of the interesting things about working with them. You put water on the paper, drop in color, and see what happens. This one certainly had a way of working on its own.
About this time of day, each year, as the sun made long shadows on the ground, we would be in high anticipation and a bit of apprehension about Halloween night. We had a fertile place for imaginations in my hometown, with old homes and buildings, and cemeteries, old churches, and an old park, all close to my house. And we had some traditional Halloween parties that would seem like they were straight from one of those old movies set in a quaint town, with kids that were always doing something.
One boy threatened to catch my beloved cats outside and run them up the school flagpole! Thankfully, they only ran someone's underwear up the pole, but I was upset. I begged my dad to let the cats and the dog inside, but he wanted them outdoors. So, I got my great-aunt across the street to keep them on her screened back porch. Some boys did manage to get a car taken apart and put up on top of the school! They also got outhouses up there, when they could find one.
One year, my dad had foot surgery and was on crutches. The high school boys moved the park benches out in the streets, and they rolled our large doghouse down by the school. The worst part was that they let our horse, Flicka, out of her pen and, as she ran through the gate, they poured motor oil on her back. Daddy didn't find Flicka until the next day, about noon. He was boiling mad! The oil and hot sun blistered Flicka's back and we couldn't ride her until that healed. Daddy was in the process of breaking her, so that prolonged our getting to ride her. It ended up that Daddy finally just sold her to someone else. He rode her one time, saying that he could break her for us to ride. The horse took off and ran all the way to town. Daddy walked her back home, when he finally got her to stop, and sold her. But the man next door brought his horse into town and kept her in our pen. We got to ride that horse for a while.
I thought that it was bad that Daddy was on crutches and then had to find the horse and roll things back into place. But, a part of me thought that maybe this was him on the receiving end of the things that he gave out when he was a high school kid!
He had an evil laugh when he would tell of a group of high school boys catching younger kids, alone, trick or treating, tying them to a tombstone in the cemetery, and leaving them there all night. (I don't know if that was real, or if it was just a big tale to scare us into staying together when we went out trick or treating.)
Sometimes, for Halloween, the Methodist Church, in its big, castle-looking building, would have a Halloween party for the kids, complete with bobbing for apples in big tubs. We went out in the street for the messy things like that.
The school always had a Halloween carnival. The spookiest ones would be in the basement, with each room fixed up as some kind of booth. There would be a program upstairs in the auditorium with little dancers and music. Bobbie, a new elementary school teacher, was asked to be the fortune teller one year. She dressed up, sat in the bookroom that was fixed up like a fortune tellers booth. Later, she said that she would never do that again! She just made things up, of course. She told one man that something was going to happen to him. Pretty general, right? The man had a heart attack and died later that night! After that, the Halloween Carnival moved to the gym. There were booths, that were open, refreshments, and games and, of course, a cake walk where people marched around squares to music. When the music stopped, they could win a cake that ladies in town made. Sometimes, there would be a dance using our record players and our collection of 45s or 78s. That didn't happen often, though. Some people tried to tell us that dancing was wicked, along with drinking, playing cards, and smoking. But the grownup 42 and domino games, canasta, bridge, and a bottle of "cough medicine" in the desk drawer or kitchen cabinet, didn't count.
Another good place for Halloween carnivals was upstairs in the City Hall. There are old photos of Halloween Carnivals there. They probably had dancing too. In one picture, they seem to be dressed in formal wear. There was a stage for programs, too. Sadly, there was a fire at City Hall not so long ago. I hope that they were able to restore the building as it was. Kind of spooky, but with great, huge windows that let in lots of light.
We had some great Halloween parties with kids in private homes, too. My friend and classmate, Kathryn's birthday was just before Halloween. She lived out in the country and sometimes we celebrated her birthday and Halloween with a party in someone's home in town. We always had to have refreshments that included cake and punch, and played some games. But the big thing was going out to trick or treat, in the dark, and hoped that the grownups would let us go as a group, by ourselves. I remember one year when we had a large group that went out trick or treating. The grownups hung back from us, and finally went on home when they saw that we were behaving ourselves.
Some houses stayed dark and we knew people didn't want to give a treat. At one, big, old, unpainted Victorian house, that had no lights on, the boys said it wouldn't be fun if we didn't do some tricks. We knew that an old lady lived there. We all hollored "Trick or Treat", and the boys added, "Smell my feet! Give us something good to eat!" and they giggled. A few of us decided that we didn't want any part of any trouble and so we wandered to the back of the group, and went home as the boys took the first floor window screens down and rubbed a bar of soap on them. I guess they went on to do other things that night, I don't know. Those things seem to grow like mob mentality. I couldn't stay out that late, anyway.
Whatever our group did, though, none of it was nearly as bad as the older generations had done! Or said they did.
After trick or treating, if the weather allowed and it wasn't too dark, our party group tried to be sure to have a walk through the beautiful old cemetery near my house. What a treat it was if the night was clear, and, especially, if there was a big moon out, and to hold onto the arms of several friends as we entered a side gate, and walked through to the east gate of the cemetery. All the while, we tried to act fearless, but, inside, we wondered what might jump out at us and grab us, taking us to unknown terrors; or if something terrible would happen to us if we happened to step on a grave ; or what would happen to us in the future for daring to enter the cemetery on Halloween night. We didn't think of what might happen if we ran into some of those high school boys who just had to make mischief in town. We never ran into any of those, though, and, when our group got to high school age, we seemed to favor dates over Halloween parties. We couldn't be so wasteful in those days, to toilet paper someone's house or trees or throw eggs, or water balloons. We thought we were being really extravagant to "borrow" a bar of soap from someone's mother's washing supplies, the year that the boys decided to soap some window screens.
There weren't so many memorable Halloweens after growing up. One year, my son was about 8 or 9, my daughter was in kindegarten and I was taking classes for a Masters degree. My son said he was old enough to go trick or treating around the apartment complex on his own, like other kids were doing. He had a Superman costume and went off to knock on apartment doors. I had warned him not to eat anything or go into any homes, but to bring me his candy to check. I took my daughter walking around where I thought that he might go, following, I thought. It started getting a little dark and I turned a corner on the sidewalk. My breath just left me and my knees nearly gave way when I saw someone with a dirty, torn white t-shirt on, tight jeans, a black face, and dirty looking hair coming toward me. I thought I would just pass by him on the sidewalk, not speak, walk on, bravely, and hope he didn't attack me! I was shaking I was so scared!
"Do you want to check some of my candy now or do you want me to wait until I get home?" He asked.
It was my son! I didn't even recognize him!
"Boy, you scared me to death!" I breathed a sigh of relief, but was puzzled at his look.
"I went around to all the apartments, then I went home and made my own costume and went back again." He explained.
Little rascal! I could have saved money on that Superman costume and just let him make his own to begin with! I'm sure he enjoyed that one more. Sure had me fooled!
Hope you have a good (and safe) time, out spookin' and trick or treating, tonight. Wish we had the full moon still. We just missed it.
We don't have trick or treating where we are. The kids all have to go into town, or to the mall, or to a party somewhere. One grandson is working, the other longs to live in a neighborhood where he can do those traditional things. Going to stores in the mall for trick or treating just isn't the same as the adventures we had, mild as they were. I hope that his mother will take him somewhere, but, most likely, he will have to do homework, then watch a ghost program with his mother, eat popcorn, and play with the new puppy.
As for me, I put on a black outfit today, and slapped on a purple wig, and left off my makeup. That's pretty scarey!
Hope you have some pleasant Halloween memories of your own! And that you will have some good ones from this year. Happy Haunting!
If you are in this area, be sure to go to the First FridayArt Step and Art Auction in downtown Bryan on Friday. Sonny Moss will be there demonstrating his pottery, along with others. Mary Saslow will also be there with a group. I know that Laura Brittain and I, among others, have some pieces in the Art Auction at the Frame Gallery. I just got a list of events and it looks like a lot going on in the evening. You can contact Greta Watkins at the Frame Gallery for more information. There will be lots of things going on from demonstrations, exhibits, live music, readings, a movie in the outdoor theatre, and carriage rides.
Please share with others who might be interested, and let me know if you see something that appeals to you!

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