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Thoughts While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller

The Halloween House Haunt

Every Halloween when I was young, we children invented elaborate costumes and practiced eerie skits, bizarre dances and scary songs to earn our treats. The neighbors rewarded our every effort generously with frosted cookies from old Mrs. Blume, chocolate fudge cake decorated with orange candies from my mother, melt in your mouth pumpkin cupcakes from Mrs. Kaplan, and the best caramel apples this side of the Mississippi invented by my Aunt Tick.

In the fall of ’45, the mansion across from our place had been vacant for almost a year and it looked like an illustration for Wuthering Heights. The place was the perfect setting for a terrifying Halloween extravaganza. “Let’s haunt the McCarthy’s old house for Halloween this year,” I said to my cousin, Jessica. “We can give everyone our own treat instead of begging from door to door.”

“But I invented a spectacular routine to “Aren’t You Glad You’re You?” said Jessica. “Wait till you see my high kicking spin that ends in the splits. “

“This will be even more fun,” I assured her. “You can save that number for our Thanksgiving Revue. Wouldn’t you rather be the headless horseman galloping across the roof of the house?”

Jessica shook her head. “I don’t like that idea,” she said. “ Why can’t we just dress like a witches and run across the lawn with a broomsticks?”

“Because that’s not scary,” I said. “Ichabod Crane seeing a headless horseman is terrifying and that’s the mood we are after. Your Dell would make a perfect horse and you are little enough to ride him. The only problem is making you look like you are carrying your head under your arm. Would you mind if you couldn’t see for a while? We’ll have to put your coat on over your head to look like your head is gone.”

Jessica’s bravado was a neighborhood legend. At the age of six, she had amazed the entire block by riding a two wheeler with no hands blindfolded. “I can do that easy,” she said. “What part are you going to play?”

“I’ll be Ichabod Crane,” I said. “I’m the tallest and besides, I know how to act frightened better than anyone.”

I closed my eyes and shivered. “I can see it all now. This will be our finest effort. I’ll bring over my victrola and we can play those sound effect records Daddy brought home. . . the ones with falling chairs and tin cans and screaming women. And we can cut out cobwebs from black paper for invitations and pin them on every door like the angel of death did in Egypt.”

It took us two weeks to train Dell not to bolt when Jessica got on his back and train our line up of ghosts not to trip on their sheets or roll on the ground like snowballs. At our final rehearsal, everyone got synchronized and our panorama was even more ghastly that I dreamed it could be. Jessica and I pinned our cobweb cut outs to a big white sheet of paper and wrote:




Watch for him Halloween night.

Refreshments served.

“That will really bring a crowd,” I assured her. “Do you think you can get the cast here by six? I’ll need help draping the house with branches and weeds and setting up the table with drinks and cookies. I told my mother I needed spooky cookies for school and she made adorable marshmallow ghosts with chocolate chip eyes. I am going to the A& P to get Cranberry Punch and I’ll label it Fresh Dragon Blood.”

Jessica shook her head. “No one will drink it if you call it that,” she said.

“Sure they will!” I said. “You’d be shocked how blood thirsty people are.”

“What about pumpkins and skeletons. When are we going to make those?” asked Jessica.

“Tonight,” I said. “Can you come over after dinner?”

That night we carved our pumpkins and set candles in them. “You certainly are making a lot of jack-o-lanterns this year, girls” said my mother. “Is this a special school project?”

“You could call it that,” I said. “The teacher said it would be good practice to get ready for our soap carving unit for Thanksgiving.”

“I wonder,” said my mother.

Halloween night was clear and the moon shone down on our haunted house like a klieg light. I draped orange crepe paper streamers along the front walk and black streamers all around the house interspersed with pumpkins and rotten apples. Jessica fed Dell early and managed to get the silver harness around his neck she had borrowed from Happy Hollow when she went there the weekend before to ride the ponies. “Spectacular,” I said. “All the kids look very ghostlike. I just hope they stop giggling when our audience arrives.”

I clapped my hands. “On stage everyone!” I called. “Jessie! Up you go!”

Jessica nodded and dragged her anxious pet up to the roof. She tried to mount him but he bucked and reared like real horses in cowboy movies. The children watched from the holes in their sheets and screamed with laughter while Maureen Zeitz and Mary Kaplan galloped across the lawn howling, ”Whooo, whooo, whooo,” and whirling their broomsticks like sooty batons. The two canaries hurled themselves against the bars of their cage screaming like banshees. Their yellow and black feathers floated through the air, dotting the lawn and my cast like chrysanthemum petals in the wind. It was spectacular!

I got all ready to point a bony finger at Jessica. Her legs and arms were wrapped around Dell’s neck like chains to keep from catapulting from the roof. Right at the moment when I thought Dell would hurl my cousin to her death, three fire trucks pulled to a screeching halt and twelve fireman came out and pointed their hoses at us. “Get out the net, boys!” said their captain. “There’s a victim on that roof.”

I pointed at Jessica and shouted “STOP!!! That is no victim! That is a headless horseman.”

“My God!” shouted one of the people aiming hoses at the ghosts and witches on the lawn. “I better radio the animal protection patrol.”

I paused. Something was wrong with this scene. These weren’t fire men.

They were all women and I knew every one of them. My mother was the captain and my Aunt Tick was aiming a hose at her very own daughter. I ran up to the ladies of our neighborhood and I shouted, “Why are you spoiling our pageant?”

“No we aren’t, Lynn Ruth,” said my mother. “We are improving it. All right girls! It is time to fortify the troops!”

I watched amazed as our mothers set up long tables filled with Halloween goodies and began to serve a steaming brew of Witches Soup to everyone. “Now, who wants some dessert?” asked Mrs. Blume. “I made pumpkin cream pie this time and Mrs. Zeitz did a cider you would not believe.”

“How did you know what we were going to do?” I asked my mother. ”And where did you get the fire engines?”

“I read it all on your forehead, Lynn Ruth.” said my mother. “And Uncle Harry is a volunteer fireman.”

That was the Halloween I learned a fact of life every successful diplomat knows: When mothers steal the show, they always bring dessert.

It is a double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.

Jean de la Fontaine


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