Quick note: I hope everyone had a great Halloween! I meant to post this earlier on in the week, but was waylaid by an illness. (I’m better now!) Anyway, who’s to say Halloween cheer needs to end now? It’s always Halloween in our souls.
As a child, I was something of a wimp. I never could stomach most of the things my friends considered “scary.” Roller coasters made me miserable, and haunted houses made me burst into tears. Horror movies were right out: even the fun kid ones, like Hocus Pocus or The Witches, scared me too much. To this day, I haven’t seen any of the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, or even Jaws movies. I never liked anything with a lot of scary, unexpected twists and turns, literal or figurative.
But being a wimp didn’t mean that I didn’t have a taste for the macabre. At seven, I turned my Playmobil dollhouse into the Bates Motel from Psycho (one of the few horror movies I was too young to understand and thus not scared by.) At ten, I was drawing wounds on my Barbies and Kens and tying strings around their necks (until my babysitter told me to stop because it was “creepy.”) At ten, I knew Bruce Coville’s anthologies of scary stories by heart, and would recite them from memory at Girl Scout campouts. By twelve, I was wearing all black, talking constantly about death, and memorizing Smiths songs. It’s remarkable to me now that I never really had a formal goth phase.
Naturally, I loved Halloween. I felt nervous and afraid every single day, but one day a year, I felt in control of it. The scary stuff was expected, safe, and fun. Even better, I realized that while I didn’t necessarily like being scared, I loved being scary.
My family didn’t decorate much or have a Halloween party, no matter how much I begged. One year we didn’t even remember to carve the pumpkin we had bought, and left it in the backyard. (We forgot all about it until we found some strange vines growing in the flowerbed the following Spring.) My mother, never a wimp and always a big fan of roller coasters and horror movies, never cared much for Halloween. She always seemed to find it too much of a hassle — unsurprising, as she had five children to wrangle into costumes and coax down from sugar highs. My stepmother liked Halloween just fine, but not enough to invest much time or energy into it.
My father, however, loved it. He’s a practical, cerebral, soft-spoken man, and you wouldn’t expect it, but it’s his favorite holiday. “It’s the one day a year I can go out without a mask,” he’d always quip. One of his favorite ever tapes was called “Horror Sounds of the Night,” full of creaking boards, wind blowing, wolves howling in the distance, and maniacal laughter. He’d play it a lot in October, but also just whenever we’d let him, regardless of the time of year. He always had a mask or costume ready to use, and always wanted to go all out with the decorations. We could just never get it together enough in time.
Until the year we did.
I was in fifth grade, and a new makeup supply store, Cinema Secrets, had opened nearby. Their Halloween selection was unbelievable: an entire store was devoted to costumes, prosthetics, and every kind of yard and house decoration. We went the night before Halloween “just to look around” but came home with a carload of supplies. We bought, among other things, lights, tombstones, fake cobwebs and spiders, a rubber bat, a movement activated ghost, a new Horror Sounds album — on CD this time! — and a rubber severed hand.
The next night, after we’d carved our pumpkins — and after my dad continued our tradition of shoving my hand deep into the gooey pumpkin guts — we decorated. We had borrowed some caution tape from someone who worked in the fire department, so we hung it around the carport and drew chalk outlines in the driveway. We put the headstones, the rubber bat, and the ghost in the front yard, and hung pumpkin and skeleton lights in the windows next to a few of my “dead” Barbies. The horror sounds CD went on, and the cobwebs and fake spiders went everywhere.
“What are we going to do with the hand, though?” I said. “We could put it in the garden, I guess? So it looks like it’s coming out of the ground?” My mom had always said nothing scared her more than the hand coming up out of the ground at the end of Carrie.
My dad grinned a mischievous grin. “I have a better idea,” he said. Wordlessly, he got out our blender and a jar of pasta sauce. He poured the sauce into the bottom of the blender, then put the hand into the blender, right over the blade. I gasped. It was funnier, grosser, and creepier than anything I could have imagined.
“Oh my gosh,” I said. “We can put the candy in between his fingers! Like he’s our helper or servant — like Thing! We can call him ‘Hans!’ Get it?” My dad laughed, and I laughed, and for the first time, I knew exactly where I got my macabre side.
Hans was a big hit with the neighborhood kids, who gratefully accepted the candy he “handed” them. He was probably an even bigger hit with my older brothers and their friends. He was the pièce de résistance of the best Halloween ever, my dad’s dreams fully realized. Yet, when I tell full-grown adults about Hans now, they seem shocked. Even the ones who love haunted houses and horror movies seem to think we went a bit too far with that one.
I’d never want to scare anyone who didn’t want to be scared, of course. But I think people underestimate just how creepy most kids can be. As my dad would say every October, “It’s fun to be scared just a little bit, isn’t it?”
Stuff I Did This Week: Reconnected with some old, old friends! It was lovely to see my “big sister” and my “big brother” and my incredibly handsome “stepdad.” Seriously, how does Pierce look the same as he did twenty-five years ago?
Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: The Witches of Belgravia