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Why is being scared fun?

Why does anyone watch scary horror scary movies?  Movies that are so poplar around Halloween.  And why visit a Haunted Houses? Is it fun when a terrifying person screams or a horrifying object jumps toward you?

            The only horror movie I’ve seen is the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby, and if I could erase some of its images from my brain, I would.  Even now, fifty years later, my skin crawls and tingles as I remember my fear.  I understand it’s a classic and according to those who rate movies, it’s a great film and could be classified as suspense, not horror.  But parts of Rosemary’s Baby made me cower, close my eyes, cover my ears, and breathe deeply.  That wasn’t fun.

            My favorite Halloween movies feature a small ghost or a round-headed little boy.  With his bright blue eyes and open mouth smile, Casper, the friendly ghost, flits from scene to scene.  The classic movie, It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, dates back to 1966.  While Charlie Brown and friends celebrate Halloween, Linus carries his well-worn blue security blanket and searches for the Great Pumpkin.  I’m entertained by Casper and Charlie Brown, and will never know the stories of Edward Scissorhands or The Exorcist or the other top 40 scariest movies, most released in time for Halloween.

            I’ve haven’t been to a Haunted House.  I don’t like total darkness.   I don’t like not knowing what’s near me.  I don’t like jolts of shock and surprise.  When Son was a teen-ager, he stood behind me while I loaded clothes in the washing machine.  Because the dryer was running and water was filling the washer, the laundry room was noisy.  Son knew I startled easily so he simply said, “Hi, Mom,” in a calm, quiet voice.  I screamed, inhaled quickly, and shook all over.  All who know me well, don’t speak behind my back when I don’t know they are there.  Why would I pay money for an attraction that shocks and startles me?  Why does anyone?  That’s not a rhetorical question.  Why? 

            The fear response does keep us alive because an adrenaline rush helps our bodies react. When we are scared our hearts beat faster, our blood flows more quickly to the brain and muscles, and our bodies are stimulated to produce sugar for fuel. Maybe some people like the adrenaline rush. 

            I was a teenager when I ran from ghosts.  One fall afternoon, my high school girlfriends and I walked along a county road and stopped at a cemetery to rest and talk.  The wind blew dry leaves, both on the ground and atop oak trees.  As the sun set, we heard strange noises.  Shrieking noises.  Then howls.  And somebody saw something – white figures – floating in the woods.

            Adrenaline kicked in.  None of us noticed the scratches and cuts on our arms as we ran through a long farm field of dry corn stalks.  We outran the ghosts.

            Halloween is the time when some people watch scary movies and like to run from ghosts.  Once was enough for me.

Halloween Costume, aka The Yellow Dress

When your doorbell rings tonight, expect to find Spiderman or Angry Bird or Izzy Pirate standing on your porch.  Halloween costumes have morphed into the big time.  When I was a kid I carried a bag, knocked on doors, and shouted, “Trick or treat,” every October 31st, but I remember only two costumes that I wore.  A ghost and a princess.

It was a classic ghost costume.  An old white sheet with cut out circles edged in black for eyes and a rope tied around my waist.  My princess dress wasn’t really a Halloween costume.  It was my spring piano recital dress when I was seven years old.  A beautiful dress – yellow satin, with a narrow covered binding at the waistline and spaghetti shoulder straps.  Mother sewed tiny iridescent and white sequins on the top and she gathered yellow net fabric to cover the floor length skirt.  A shawl, made from the same net, covered my bare shoulders and was tied through loops at my waistline.

I wore that same dress in my 3rd grade class play, entitled The Yellow Rose of Texas.  My classmates wore cowboy boots, blue jeans or long full shirts, and shirts with fringe, and they square danced around me while I stood in the middle of the stage, still and smiling.  The only reason I was the Yellow Rose was because I had a long yellow dress.

I don’t know whose idea it was that I dress as a princess for Halloween.  Probably Mother’s – after all, she’d spent many hours stitching my yellow dress and no doubt wanted it worn for every possible occasion.  We made a tiara and magic wand from cardboard covered with aluminum foil.

All the neighborhood kids walked together from house to house to Trick or Treat.  And we tricked, even when we’d been treated with good treats – popcorn balls, caramel apples, full size candy bars.  It was expected that goblins would soap windows.  With slivers of soap, saved just for the occasion, I drew circles and stick people and trees on windows, even at our own house.  Our huge living room picture window got cleaned twice a year – in the spring before Easter and the day after Halloween.  I had to help clean the big window so why not soap it?

Because we walked, the hemline of my long yellow dress got stained and worn –from dirt and the blacktop roads.  Mother must have let the tucks out of the skirt, cut off the hem, re-hemmed it, and let the seams out of the bodice because I wore a yellow dress for another piano recital.

Will a princess ring your doorbell tonight?  I hope so.  She’ll remember the Halloween that she was a princess and stood beside Spiderman and Angry Bird.  But I wonder if she’ll be wearing her handmade yellow piano recital dress.