What are you going to be for Halloween? This year, I’m wearing my witch hat. It’s not a costume: it’s my true identity. (That’s a little joke. It kind of reminds me of the Rosanne Barr joke that goes something like, “Most people hate having PMS, but I like it because it’s the only time of the month I can really be myself.”) I’m wearing my witch hat, and, if there are any good parties, I’ll put on something velvety and Stevie Nicks-y and go out and howl at the moon.
Just kidding. I’ll be in bed by nine.
When I was a young hippie kid growing up in Lobelia I LIVED for Halloween for two reasons: one, we would go trick or treating in “downtown” Hillsboro, and I would get a whole bag full of real candy. Not that fake carob (“It tastes just like chocolate!”) stuff, or sesame sticks, or frozen orange juice bars, but real, sugar-filled, cavity-causing candy! Oh man. That was the stuff!
The other reason I loved Halloween when I was a kid is because my parents and their friends would throw the most epic parties. Say what you will about being raised by a bunch of free-lovin’, dope smokin’ hippies who refuse to give you candy — you went to some awesome parties.
Most of my parents’ friends lived out in the middle of nowhere — Lobelia, Friars Hill, Brushy Flat. In those days, most of their lanes were impassable by car, which made for terrific decorating opportunities. Oftentimes, we’d arrive at someone’s home at dusk, or even after dark, park our Subaru along some narrow stretch, and begin our walk into the lane.
As our flashlights shined ahead of us, it was not unusual to see jack-o-lanterns lighting the way, and ghosts made of sheets hanging from branches overhead. What better way to approach a party?
Once we arrived, it was time to party. Another thing about hippies is they had a lot of children, so when they threw themselves a party, they also threw one for us. Since it was the ‘80s, parents weren’t too concerned about things like safety or chaperoning the kids–they were there to party and usually just left us to our own devices.
Of course, we all had to check out each other’s costumes, and, since most of us were poor, but had creative parents, there were usually some pretty cool get-ups. One year, my dad dressed as a Samurai warrior and shaved off his beard. I’d never seen him without a beard before, and he looked so strange to me that all night I’d just walk by and not even recognize him.
When I was four we went to a party in Lobelia at the Haunted House, known in and around Pocahontas County as a place where Confederate soldiers had stored artillery during the Civil War. Supposedly, at night, you could the soldiers’ footsteps going up and down the stairs. Located a mile or more off of Lobelia Road, with a lane that couldn’t be driven, it was the perfect place to raise a family. Okay, maybe not, but, it was the perfect place for a Halloween party.
Early in the day, as my mom helped out her friend who lived in the house get ready for the party, I helped an older girl set out jack-o-lanterns along the lane.
“You better watch out,” she warned me. “The boogie man will be out tonight and he’s gonna get you.”
I was scared. I worried about it all afternoon and into the evening as I put on my bumblebee costume. My mom dressed as a disco queen, completely glamorous in her red mirrored jacket and harem pants. At the party, another man arrived wearing a barrel with a birdcage on his head. The barrel had a door, and when you stuck your hand in, he’d give you a balloon!
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him. Tall, dark and lurking, with a mask over his face and a hat pulled low, he stood to the side of the party in the kitchen. He didn’t speak to anyone. I stared at him in disbelief. The older girl had been right–the boogie man had come for me.
I screamed and ran out of the kitchen and out into the living room where all the grown-ups were dancing to the Talking Heads in the candlelight. I couldn’t find my mom! I couldn’t find my dad! I ran up the stairs and then flew right back down, terrified that I’d run into a ghost of a Confederate soldier. By this time I was pretty well near break down level, and eventually, Mom spotted me and scooped me up. The boogie man never said a word all night.
Turns out it wasn’t the boogie man it all–it was just one of my dad’s old college roommates. He now lives in Utah, and the man in the barrel eventually started going to AA and became a triathlon racer. My dad never grew his beard back in, go figure. And, thank God, we all realized that carob was no substitute for chocolate.