Between the ages of 9 and 11, I lived with my parents in a crumbling home in a tiny town in southern Michigan a few miles from the Ohio border. The home itself would be an appropriate reference to Halloween, as I would always hear sounds in the attic (maybe the squirrels?) and that I was told to never go into the basement (which you can be sure I never did). Years later, I returned with my daughter, and the house had decided it could not stand the daily pressures of standing erect and had collapsed inward. There was no telling how long it had been since its demise, but the tumble of ancient bricks and broken shards of window glass saddened me, and I remembered (and still remember) all of the fantastical things I had done while my parents and I lived there.
Like the time I started a bug club, and armed with my assortment of bugs (living and dead) and my Golden Guide to Insects, I implored my friends to join. I finally persuaded a couple of victims to join me on the rickety side porch, but even my dead moth collection, complete with a hyalophora cecropia (cecropia moth) could not persuade them to return after the first meeting.
Or like the several times during and after a hard rain, when my friends and I would plop pieces of plywood into the overflowing ditches that ran along the front and side of our property and use our guiding sticks to pretend they were tugboats. We steered them along, careful not to ground another boat, and we haphazardly made our way to the end and turned around the piece of wood to do it all over again. We were all soaked, and I guess my mom did not care, for I remember doing this many times.
Perhaps the most interesting thing we did occurred on Saturdays in the spring and summer months. I was the proud owner of a makeshift wagon, and each Saturday a friend or two and I would pull the creaking cart from house to house and pester the families in our small town. What did we pester them for? Why, empty soda pop bottles, of course! Even though littering was against the law then, we always seemed to find plenty in ditches and yards. We would ask the owners before we took them (well, most of the time), and my mother would even save up ours to add to the collection.
Once it was filled, we pulled the now-really-heavy wagon to the little store near the main highway. The store owner would allow us to pull the wagon inside, and we would breathlessly watch as she counted the bottles, and I would count by fives (since the deposit was five cents) with her. When she was finished, the real magic would begin: the total would be divided by how many of us showed up to this really crazy Saturday morning enterprise. Armed with my coins, I would spend it all—every bit of it—on Mickey’s Banana Flips and Devil Delites (no Jim Jams for me), Hostess Chocolate Cup Cakes, Pixy Stix, candy cigarettes (IKR?), candy necklaces, Fun Dips, candy buttons, wax bottles, wax lips and marshmallow ice cream cones. Oh, and I would also add a bottle of coke (which, when empty, would be the first specimen we would collect for next week’s roundup).
Afterwards, I would say goodbye to my cohorts, pull the wagon home and stash it in the barn.
Then, the fun would really begin!
That afternoon I would gather all of the candy and cakes I had not yet eaten and sit on the floor in front of the television set to wait for my favorite show, Sir Graves Ghastly Presents, to begin.
I am not sure why I would be attracted to such a show, but I do know I was a fan of classic cinema even then. My favorites were the oldies but goodies: Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dracula and The Mummy. If I remember right, sometimes two films would be presented (at that time, approximately six minutes were devoted to commercials per every 30 minutes). Cat People, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Body Snatcher, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Horror Island, The Ape Man and House of Frankenstein were some of the other films Sir Graves presented. Lawson Deming, the man who portrayed Sir Graves, was a talented actor who would pepper the show
with other characters he had created. My favorite character, The Glob, was one of his strangest, and months would go by before I realized it was Sir Graves’ mouth, upside down, with eyes and a nose painted just under his bottom lip, singing King Kong Stomp. Other characters that Deming created were Tilly Trollhouse, Reel McCoy and the grave diggers. Sir Graves Ghastly Presents ran from 1967 to 1983 in Detroit and Cleveland.
I suppose I am thinking about this show today because it is Halloween, and I still remember the thrill of dressing up and canvassing the neighborhood with my friends, hoping for an abundance of full-sized candy bars (and definitely NOT sticky old popcorn balls or, horrors, candy apples!). I was saddened when I read that many of Deming’s episodes were either lost or burned, as I now consider the show as classic as the movies I watched on Sir Graves Ghastly Presents.
When my daughter, who has autism, was a toddler, I dressed her up and took her to one particular neighborhood in the next city (we lived in the country), and I viewed it as a perfect teaching tool. I taught her the routine most of us have taken part in: 1) say “trick or treat,” 2) hold out bag, and 3) say “thank you” after the candy
was deposited. My goal was for her to follow the other kids and to blend in, and she did well. Of course, she was not overly interested in the candy she accumulated (that would come later), and because I did not want it to go to waste, I sacrificed my waist for the greater good. Her rewards for this excursion were always natural ones (whooping it up and telling her what a good job she was doing), and I am glad she cooperated, since other outings often required food incentives (like McDonald fries).
I know many families are not participating in Halloween because of the pandemic, and we would certainly be one of them. The YouTube videos I have posted bring back lots of good remembrances, and I hope all of you have your own fond memories today and always.