The Ghost of Halloween Past

October 30, 2020

As a kid growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, there were three holidays that were kid-centric, Christmas, Valentine’s Day (I will save the Columbus, Georgia tradition of “throwing valentines” for another post), and of course, Halloween.

Some kids liked putting together models of cars. I was the strange macabre kid who loved putting together models of monsters. I had a glow in the dark Frankenstein that scared my Aunt Kathy every time she babysat for us.

My fascination with horror films only added to the mystique. To this day, I like creepy movies (check out the movie Signs and A Quiet Place.) I remember watching Village of the Damned, a “B” movie classic about alien children with a death stare. I purchased books through Scholastic detailing the best scary movies of all time. To date, I believe the most suspenseful film is Jack Nicholson’s classic role in The Shining. When Shelley Duval’s character discovered reams of paper typed with the line, “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” it sent shivers down my spine.

I looked forward to the radio show produced in the early 70s on CBS, Mystery Theater, and the Friday Night Frights late in the evening. I rushed home every day from school to watch the cult classic, Dark Shadows. It was there I was educated on the rules of vampirism. After the third bite, they become full-fledged vampires, and vampires can’t see their reflection or go out in the sunlight. They certainly don’t “shimmer.”

I don’t know how many bottles of ketchup I used as blood in my driveway plays. Just typing this makes me worried that I was a disturbed child.

To this day, the Jaycee’s haunted house in Columbus was one of the scariest fright fests that I have ever experienced. In particular, I remember a platter with a live head being served for dinner and a realistic reenactment of the legend of Lizzie Borden, complete with her running after you with an ax as the climax.

After my parents declared that I was too old to trick-or-treat (I protested), I asked if I could make a haunted house with the expressed request to keep any leftover candy. That gave me the incentive of making the scariest haunted house possible.

Staples of my yearly House of Horrors included skeletons popping out of caskets made of cardboard rigged with fishing wire. My guillotine made of tin foil and a refrigerator box was terrifying. I remember collecting dark grapes and juicing them to produce a blood flow from a headless body. I greeted my guests with a clammy rubber hand that protruded from my jacket sleeve. The results were humorous. There was always candy leftover from frightened children.

Even today, I hide a speaker in our bushes and play ghost and screaming sounds when kids ring the doorbell. It brings me great entertainment and all the leftover candy.

Happy Halloween!

Visitin’ with Kinfolk

I was raised in Columbus, Georgia but moved away when I was 14 years old. I now reside in Southern California. Life here is sort of surfer casual yet a far cry from the warm, family charm of southern hospitality. This entry is best read in a slow, distinctive, Georgia accent.

Visitin’ time was divided equally at my three sets of grandparents’ homes, and you better not miss one of them! I was told we would cause “such a ruckus” if we skipped visiting someone. In my childhood memory, Saturday nights were spent with Carmen Brown, and Jesse James (seriously) Perry, Granny and PawPaw, my maternal grandparents. 

The Perry household, a small, two-bedroom home, had a formal living room that we were never allowed to play in. The sofa was encased in plastic (it’s that memory of something beautiful being wrapped in ugly material that has been my argument against an iPhone case.) I only remember two signature dishes being served on Saturday nights. It was either fish and grits or chipped beef on toast (I later learned there was also a vulgar name for that meal, but we were not allowed to cuss!). It was salty enough to raise even a child’s blood pressure.

On Sundays after church, we packed the wood paneled station wagon and drove, without seatbelts mind you, to my Great Grandparent’s. William D. Hamilton and Annie May Kidd Hamilton’s house, which I wrote about in another entry to this blog. The adults sat around a large beautiful table while the kids were relegated to a card table. My Great Grandmother cooked up Turnip and Collard Greens (nasty!), always something fried which I bathed in ketchup (except fried chicken, even at that young age I knew that was a sacrilege!), and something sweet and yummy. After dinner, we would usually play tag or hide and seek with my cousins, Charles, Maryanne, Ronnie, and Leslie.

From there, we loaded the car to drive to my paternal grandmother’s apartment. I can still hear her deep voice (probably from being a smoker.) She was quite ill with cancer during most of my childhood years. I’m sure that memory prevented me for from never touching a cigarette.) I have a specific memory of her introducing me to American cheese, and I absolutely hated it! I would not try a cheeseburger for many years before falling in love with them.  As her treatment progressed, I remember her shocking the kids by pulling off her wig to reveal her bald head. It is a memory that forever is etched in my mind.

When we left Gram’s we headed for Evangel Temple for the 6 PM Service (because everyone knew true Christians went twice on Sundays.) It’s a good thing schools did not give homework over the weekend. There was little time for that!

I treasure growing up in a small, Georgia town with extended family close by. I played by the Chattahoochee River, ate boiled peanuts, drank Coca-Cola and sweet tea. I fished with a cane pole with a little floaty thingamabob that moved when the fish was nibbling, and went clear underwater when you had hooked one.

What memory brings you to that state of reverie? What stories bring a smile to your face? I would love to hear them. Please add them in the comments section.

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Sundays After Church in Columbus, Georgia

I felt ready. I had faced down this foe many a time but continued to falter. In Columbus, Georgia, the two brick-red pillars in front of the house at 1553 15th Ave. were something I determined to conquer. I do not remember when I finally landed that leap, but I know after many failed attempts, I was able to jump from one pillar to the next. I was on my way to much grander adventures.

We spent many a Sunday after church in this home. My great-grandfather, William Dolphus Hamilton, had built this house on a dirt road in the city of my birth. It was a gift to his new bride, Annie May Kidd Hamilton, the daughter of a widowed, fiery preacher (and proficient moonshiner,) Jefferson Davis Kidd.

The couple occupied the house after their nuptials, May 3, 1914, and lived there until Papa Bill’s (my great-grandfather) demise, February 14, 1978. Annie would stay there alone for the next seven years. She passed away August 3, 1985. She is buried next to her husband in Riverdale cemetery, not far from the slow moving Chattahoochee River, where she had lived all her life.

As you walked up those stairs you entered a traditional Southern patio complete with rocking chairs and gold spittoon for the two of them. I remember snapping snap peas from a bushel while the grown-ups shared some boring conversation as they rocked in their chairs and snapped peas themselves.

When you walked into that house, the first thing you noticed and the only furniture in the hallway, was a small table with the White Pages phone book and the most massive phone I have ever seen or felt. It was a black, rotary dialed monstrosity that could have easily been used as a weapon. The first door on the left led into what seemed to be an expansive living room that was far grander in my mind than it really was. Everything seemed so much bigger as a child.

Sunday dinners were always a treat in that house. The smell of poundcake and fried chicken permeated the small house almost every Sunday. My great-grandmother jarred apples that were candied by Red Hots and were a glorious shade of red.

The kids, who were numerous, were always relegated to card tables somewhere else in the room. The gathering was a conglomeration of cousins, aunts, uncles, and of course, our family of six, of which I was the eldest. When someone new was brought into the fold, the regulars knew to pass the food from both directions to that person at the same time, of course that led to much laughter from all of those in attendance.

Once the children had said, “thank you very much, I enjoyed that. May I be excused now?” we set out on the day’s adventures.

My great-grandmother liked to hide marbles in the darkest place of the house. The best way to describe it was a hub that led to the bathroom, dining room, spare bedroom, and the hall. The floor in that space was warped and creaky. Our treasures were found in small knickknacks, behind books, and old copies of True Detective magazines.

After completing our exhaustive search, we would often head out to the backyard. There was a garden for tomatoes and peppers, and then there was a freestanding metal garage. It was a foreboding place that I do not recall if a car was ever parked there. Inside there were rusty tools and old light fixtures all covered in cobwebs. I distinctly remember seeing a large wicker flower stand like the kind used for funerals. We were quite sure vampires lived in that garage.

We moved away from our hometown when I was 14. When I returned years later I found that house dilapidated and vacant. As I peered into those windows, I was so surprised to see how much smaller it was than what I remembered. Time marches on, but memories are sweet. I can almost smell the poundcake.