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Who Likes to be Scared?

downloadIt’s the season for haunted houses and horror movies and ghosts. Slaughterhouse. Dead Land Haunted House. Spooks Galore. The Haunting. Night of Demons. Halloween. Cemetery of Terror. A frightening list could fill this column and none would appeal to me. I don’t like being scared and don’t understand why anyone does. One ghost encounter was enough for me.

When I was a high school student, several girlfriends and I spent the night with our friend Nelda. An after school, Friday night slumber party on a late summer day.   We piled our books and overnight bags in Nelda’s room and went outside.

Nelda’s family’s farm was on a gravel road and not another house was in sight. We sometimes walked through the barnyard and across a field to a small cemetery. But that day, we walked the long way around on the country road because the field was planted with corn. Corn stalks, much taller than us, grew and the paths between the rows of corn were too narrow to walk through without being scraped by razor-sharp leaves.

In the cemetery, we laughed and talked. We made up stories about the people whose names were on the tombstones and those whose graves were marked with slabs of unmarked stones. We sat under the low branches of oak and hickory trees as the sun settled low in the sky. Then we got quiet. Quiet enough to hear silence –an eerie sound.

Someone whispered, “Ghosts.” Silence and twilight and tombstones were frightening. Ghosts? Where? Did you see one? My friends and I stood and huddled together. Nelda told us that someone had recently been buried in the back of the cemetery close to the woods. When we looked that direction, the sun probably cast a shadow or maybe a tree branch fell or perhaps a squirrel jumped from a limb to the ground or maybe nothing happened. Someone screamed, “Ghosts!”

We ran. Through the cemetery. Across a graveled road. Climbed a wire fence at a wooden fence post and ran into the cornfield. Corn leaves slapped our faces and scraped our arms and legs. Scared. Hearts beating fast. Away from the cemetery ghosts. A friend’s shoe fell off and still we ran through the biggest cornfield in Tennessee. Screaming for each other to keep up. Hurry.

When we finally made our way to a clearing, Nelda’s dad stepped out of the barn and more than one of us cried. Nelda told him we’d been in the old cemetery and heard scary noises. Maybe ghosts. Her dad was a man of very few words. He walked with us to the house and turned on the outside water spigot. Nelda’s mother handed us a bar of soap and towels. We scrubbed and rinsed and dried.

None of us were really sure what we saw or what we didn’t see. There were later times we same girls sat among the same tombstones, giggled and told stories, as teen-age girls do, but we never saw ghosts again.

Once was enough.

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Clowns – Not all Bad

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-7-10-38-amI’m sad about what’s happened to the image of clowns. I like clowns – those happy, smiling, white faced, bright red-mouthed clowns. Clowns that make people laugh and clowns that touch the heart’s soft spot.

            I know that sinister, evil clowns have appeared throughout history. All the way back to ancient Egypt to the Joker, the archenemy of Batman, and characters in Stephen King’s bestsellers. I avoid scary, evil clowns. Don’t read the books or see the movies.

During the Middle Ages, clowns, known as court jesters, performed for royalty. In the 19th century, three ring circuses travelled around the country, and sad, hobo clowns became popular. In the 1950s and 1960s, Bozo and other silly clowns entertained children. And that’s when I grew up.

Maybe it was Red Skelton that first made me like clowns. My family didn’t miss his weekly television show that began in the early 1950s, and we especially liked when Skelton took on one of his comical characters. Clem Kadiddlehopper, a big-hearted, singing country cabdriver who was a bit slow witted. Sheriff Deadeye with his thick bushy mustache and eyebrows and wearing a fringed western vest.

Freddie the Freeloader, a tramp with a blackened chin, white mouth, crushed top hat and who chewed on a cigar was my Dad’s favorite. He laughed as soon as he saw Freddie and by the end of the skit, Dad had bent double, slapped his knees, and laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. I laughed as Dad did this week when I googled Red Skelton and watched Freddie on YouTube. And Skelton ended each show saying, “Good night and may God bless.”

Before her birth, I decorated our firstborn’s nursery with clowns and bright primary colors. I sewed curtains from fabric printed with circus clowns riding bicycles, balancing balls on their noses, rolling huge hoops. Husband painted a wooden rocking chair bright blue and the crib yellow. There was even a clown lamp and a matching light switch cover.

When our children were young school age, Husband, Son, and Daughter marched as clowns in Cookeville’s Christmas parade. They smeared Zauder’s superior Clown White on their faces and necks and painted huge red mouths. Husband wore a multi-colored wig and blue jean overalls. The kids wore traditional one piece, long sleeve, and two-colored clown outfits.

That was about the time I started a clown collection. One of my favorites is a Norman Rockwell porcelain figurine entitled The Runaway. A clown wraps his arm around a young boy’s shoulder, holds him close with one hand, and wipes his eye with the other. A black dog sits at the clown’s knees. It’s a feel-good piece. A runaway child cared for by a stranger.

Because family and friends gave me almost every clown that sits among the books on our bookshelves, I like them all. The Emmett Kelly, the traditional sad faced hobo who became one of the world’s most famous clowns, is a reminder of the depression years. I treasure a two-inch unpainted clay clown that Daughter created and the tall blue and white one blowing a horn and the cow clown. After only a few years, I announced my collection was complete. Twenty-five was enough.

The current clown panic means there probably won’t be any kids wearing clown outfits thrown together at the last minute and shouting, “Treat or Treat!” this Halloween. I agree with Stephen King’s recent tweet as reported in The Week magazine, “Time to cool the clown hysteria – most of ‘em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.”

It’s Pumpkin Time

search-1 “What happened to that pumpkin?” my young Grand asked. She pointed to what looked like a normal pumpkin to me so I asked what she meant. Why did she think something had happened? “It’s a funny color. Did it fade?” she asked.

No, it didn’t fade. It was a tannish-orange colored pumpkin like the ones that everyone cut to make jack-o-lanterns when I was a kid growing up in Pickett County. A plain pumpkin. The same kind of pumpkin that Mother cut up, scooped out the meat, and used to make a pumpkin pie. A field pumpkin.

Field pumpkin – an apt name. Dad grew them in a field, usually close to or in the cornfield. He and I would walk among the dry corn stalks, which scratched and scraped my arms, searching for a perfect jack-o-lantern pumpkin. It had to sit flat and not tip over. The skin had to be smooth with no ugly bumps, at least on one side. I liked a tall, skinny pumpkin. Then there was plenty of space for a face to be cut out. Triangles for his eyes and nose and a mouth with jagged teeth. And we’d dig out a place inside on the bottom to stand a tall, maybe a six-inch tall, candle. A real candle.

My Grand’s questions made me notice all the many varieties of pumpkins available at Farmer’s Market that Saturday morning. So how many kinds are there? A website for seeds (http://www.johnnyseeds.com) lists 67 pumpkin varieties. Looking at the pictures, I counted 45, almost 70%, bright orange ones. Only one was the color of every jack-o-lantern my daddy helped me cut.

The seeds available on the website promise to grow pumpkins in many shapes and colors, and all sizes! Most are traditional round shapes, but some look like gourds and one like a banana. Most are bright orange, but some are green or blue-green or white or speckled with orange and green splotches. The Marina Di Chioggia variety is the size of a softball and has a “blistery, bubbled, slate blue-green rind.” A five pound Bliss has a “mottled appearance that resembles a frog’s skin.”

The Dill’s Atlantic Giant variety commonly grows to be 100 pounds and can be up to 1500 pounds. I wonder if the 1405 pound pumpkin that won first place for giant pumpkin at the Great Pumpkin Festival in Allardt, Tennessee a couple of weeks ago was a Dill’s Atlantic?

While my Grand and I wandered through Farmer’s Market that day, I told her that she could choose a pumpkin to take home. One that would be all her own. She chose a tiny one – bright orange of course – that just fit in her small hand. I’m pretty sure it’s a Wee-B-Little.

And I bought two pumpkins for fall decorations, although my Grand said they probably weren’t real pumpkins because they weren’t the right color. A soccer ball size white one and a green and white striped one that looks like a big gourd. And we bought a tall, bright orange one to cut for a jack-o-lantern. Why choose a faded pumpkin when you can have a bright orange one?

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