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Nashville Scene Fake Scares, Real Scares

Remembering Halloween pasts

By Walter Jowers

NOVEMBER 2, 1998:  As far as I can remember, I only went trick-or-treating one time, when I was about 6. I wore a drugstore-bought red devil suit, which came with scratchy pants, a matching pullover shirt, and a mask with poorly spaced eyeholes.

About dusk, I went to my room, took the suit out of the box, and tried to put it on over my regular clothes. It wouldn't fit, so I stripped down to my jockey shorts, then squirmed into my devil duds. Next thing I remember, my sister Ann, 10 years older than me and dressed convincingly as a witch, was popping me on the ass with her broom and telling me to get out the door.

Sister Ann had a serious sweet tooth. As proof, I offer this true story: Our father, Jabo, once worked on a job at the Hollingsworth candy factory, in Augusta, Ga. One day, as Jabo was going about his business, welding and riveting and sweating and cussing, he just happened to come across two giant boxes of candy very near the door where his truck was parked. Because Jabo was the job foreman, he was duty-bound to be the last man to leave the job that day. And because Jabo was a little sweet-toothed and weak-willed himself, those two boxes of candy left with him, riding shotgun on the seat of the pickup truck.

When Jabo got home, he put the candy boxes down on the coffee table, cut off the cellophane with his pocket knife, and helped himself to what looked like a cream-filled chocolate. "Ow! Damn!" Jabo cussed as the candy stuck to his eyetooth. "It's wax!"

Jabo had stolen wax replicas of Hollingsworth candy, meant to be displayed in hot storefront windows. My mother, Susie, trying to make the best of a bad situation, put the fake candy in a candy dish and displayed it on our coffee table.

That night, Ann got up in the middle of the night and ate the wax candy--the whole dishful. Knowing what I know now, I'm pretty sure it was a burst of obsessive-compulsive behavior. Or it could have just been undiluted, wide-open optimism, with her thinking that the next one of these flavorless sonsabitches had to taste better than the last one.

Anyhow, when Ann took me out on Halloween, she meant to come home with two sacks full of real candy. So we didn't just go a couple of blocks and hit all the cousins' houses. Nope, we continued even past the second-cousins', all the way into the next town. We were a mile away from home when I started complaining about the cold, which was cutting right through the devil suit and causing some serious conflict between my little 6-year-old nipples and the scratchy shirt. So we turned back.

When we got home, my mother got her first look at me in the devil suit. "Good God, boy, I can see right through that suit, and so could everybody else. Why in the world did you leave the house with nothing but your drawers on under that?"

"That was the only way it would fit," I shrugged.

"Lord, y'all just please tell me you kept your masks on." Susie folded her arms and put her head down on the kitchen table.

After that, all I remember about childhood Halloweens are those chewable orange wax lips. I followed the directions and spit 'em out after the flavor was gone. Sometimes I imagine my folks in bed at night, and Jabo whispering to Susie, "Well, at least we raised one child who won't eat wax on purpose."

These days, I enjoy Halloween. Daughter Jess has been trick-or-treating since she was old enough to walk. Lucky for us, we live in a neighborhood with pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, lots of little kids who like to dress up, and lots of grownups who turn their porches into little spook-house theme parks on Halloween night. Most of the neighbors give out high-quality candy like Goo-Goo Clusters, Snickers, and Kit-Kats. A few stingy ones give out Halloween-Scrooge stuff, like those godawful orange marshmallow slices that even birds and squirrels won't eat. Still, for the most part, Halloween around here is pure, giddy, little-kid fun.

Of course, there have been a few exceptions. A few years back, wife Brenda gussied up our front porch big-time, with bats and ghosts and pumpkins and spiderwebs. Then some bucketheads came along and stole the stuff.

Because of her hellfire-and-brimstone upbringing, Brenda figured the guilty parties were an anti-Halloween goon squad, people who believe that Halloween is a night given over to devil worship and pure evil, and that all who observe the "holiday" are secretly working to turn this country over to godless Communism.

I figure frat punks stole Brenda's ghosts. But while I'm on the subject, you anti-Halloween people need to get a grip. Regular American Halloween is about little kids playing dress-up, OK? It's about friendly little visits with the neighbors, and having just a little too much chocolate. It's Americana, right up there with baseball and big-ass cars with fins. There's not a thing wrong with it.

Of course, if you know for a fact that there are some seriously alienated types gathering to carve up helpless chickens or swear allegiance to Satan, call the cops. Just don't let your paranoia tell you that a little girl dressed up like a princess is going to bring down a plague of boils. It ain't that way. I promise.

Visit Walter Jowers' Web site at http://www.nashscene.com> or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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