Column: As a youngster, my life was one long Halloween

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 30, 2003

With the passing of years, the house in eastern Nebraska where I spent much of my childhood, grows less and less distinct in my memory.

My close friends in my hometown are for the most part dead or long since moved away. I meet a few of them now and then at class reunions and for a time I met others who knew my family and even pretended to remember me.

I don’t fault them for having so little remembrance of me. It seems to me that every individual has a certain color and I fall into the oyster beige group. The first time I returned after being away for 30 years, former neighbors made kindly expressions of surprise.

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All of them said things like, &uot;My how you’ve grown!&uot; A majority of them even emphasized my change in height by leaning over, holding a hand two or three feet from the sidewalk and remarking, &uot;Why the last time I saw you, you were only this high.&uot;

I had just graduated from high school the last time they saw me and if I were as short as they remembered, my parents should have tucked me into a sideshow somewhere. After all, there was a depression at the time.

My former schoolmates, of course, remember me a little better, but it is all too obvious that they can’t remember much about me. In what I appreciate as a kindly effort on their part to give me identity, there has grown up a myth that I was a courageous, if not a downright reckless creature &uot;Not afraid of anything.&uot;

Quite right, too. I was not afraid of anything; I was afraid of everything. Not just sensible things that any normal person should be afraid of. Despite the fact that my parents, ahead of their time, sheltered me largely from superstition, they were fighting a losing battle.

I have a theory that those of us with a Celtic background always have one foot in that other world. After all, we contributed Halloween to the holiday roll call. And, however practical we may appear, we are often on the verge of exclaiming, &uot;From ghillies and ghosties and four-legged beasties and things that go boomp in the night, good Lord, deliver us.&uot;

One doesn’t even have to listen to ghost stories. Though I listened to more than my share, I had a gift for making up my own. I remember when a friend and I, in a fit of daring, braved a Halloween trek through the cemetery in the dark of night; she carried for protection a revolver whittled from a piece of wood. I carried my grandmother’s prayerbooks.

My life was one long Halloween. To top it off I discovered, when I was 14 or 15, Bram Stoker’s &uot;Count Dracula.&uot; Horror stories of the type were not quite so common then as they are now. I stayed up half the night reading it and finally fell into an uneasy sleep.

My bed was just below the only window in the room and in the summer I enjoyed the moonlight as I dropped off to sleep.

In the daytime a cotton brocaded spread covered my bed, but at night I took it off and folded it at the foot of the bed. On the night of which I write, the folded spread slipped to the floor, landing not in a neat fold, but in a standing triangle. Waking up, I could see on the floor in the bright moonlight what looked like an enormous bat.

Afraid to make a sound less it sink its fangs into my throat, I squirmed to the head of the bed, where I crouched staring at it, not knowing what to do next.

Finally I remembered one of my cousins telling his younger brother, &uot;If you have to get into a fight with someone bigger than you are, hit him first. The surprise of it will give you an advantage.&uot;

Rolling myself into sort of a ball, I made a tremendous leap, realizing only as I landed, what I had landed on. It made quite a noise. The house seemed to quiver. My parents came rushing in to find out what had happened. I didn’t correct their conclusion that I had fallen out of bed.

I did tell my best friend, who annoyed me by telling her older brother, home for the summer from the University. He thought it was funny but longed to read the book, so I lent it to him.

It was some consolation to me that his sister told me that after he read from it one night, they found the next morning all the window draperies in his room pulled off their rods.

(Love Cruikshank is a resident of Albert Lea. Her column appears Thursdays.)