Archive | November 2013

A Spanish Halloween

Every child has a memory of Halloween that they will never forget. Either they got scared out of their minds or they took in the greatest bag of candy than anyone around. But the Halloween I remember the most was in a small town just outside of Seville, Spain when I was seven years old.

My father had been stationed in Spain as an airmen with the Air Force, and so my four brothers, along with my mom of course, found our way to this beautiful country by way of a US transport plane. There was no military housing for our large family when we arrived, so my dad found us a large villa in a village known as “Little America.” You guessed it…the village only housed Americans. It was a great place to live. We had a pool, fruit trees, maid, hairdresser…and our own gypsies. Behind us, atop a cliff overlooking our neighborhood, was a large deserted Moorish castle that my brothers loved to play in. I had only been in it a few times because I was afraid that the la guardia (police) would show up and haul us and all our friends to jail. (Besides, the older kids had told so many wild stories about scary men that lived in it that I wanted nothing to do with the castle.) But getting back to the story…it was a great place to live. What made it extra special was that the parents always had parties…and when I was seven, they had the party to end all parites for Halloween.

Our family lived at the front of the village and had the most kids. So on the evening of Halloween, my mom voluteered to pick up all of the kids from the neighborhood so that the parents could prepare for the festivities in another villa next door to ours. My mom started at our house and looped around some twenty houses before landing us at the gate of the party. It was a typical spanish styled villa with wrought iron gates and windows, plastered walls, and tiled floors. The house was connected, as was ours, to the neighbors on each side of it. The houses joined at the pool walls. As we entered the front gate, much to our horror, a monster unfurled himself from behind a large spanish jug (exceptionally large flower pot) and scared the living daylights out of every child trying to get into the front door. I screamed and cried, then ran out into the street and refused to enter the courtyard. I was not having any of this party and demanded of my mother to take me home. As hard as she tried, she could not get me to enter the wrought iron gates of hell. Finally all the other children had made it past the monster and I stood with my mom crying. “He’s not real honey” she tried to assure me. Then the monster came out of the gates towards me and I hid behind my mother. “Look” my mother said, pushing me out to see…and that’s when I saw “my dad, the monster” holding his nylon mask and flashlight by his side. I was so relieved that I almost cried again.

I entered the villa and was surprised how dark but festive it was. The arched hallways lent themselves to an era when dracula might have lived and made the party seem even more dramatic. I weaved my way through laughing people and crowded rooms to the outside patio. It was an enclosed area with smoothed stucco walls that raised high above my head. In front of me, children were bobbing for apples out of the raised pool, while there was dancing and stringed marshmellows on the roof of the home. There were other games around me as I looked for my friend Ronda. I finally found her at the food table dressed as a princess. Naturally, I thought I had the better of the two costumes. My mother had made mine and I felt so Spanish. I was one of the gypsies that came begging and trading at our door each week for food. My hair was tied with a scarf and I wore all the  necklace beads my mother owned. My white top was tied up underneath my bossem while my layered pink sheerskirt made from curtains flowed to the ground in heaps. I had full make up  on and even a black beauty mark just off to the side of my lower lip. Ronda agreed that I looked just like one of the gypsies and it made me feel special.

It wasn’t long before one of the fathers called all the kids around him and the party lights were dimmed. “I’m going to tell you a story about the house on the hill. You know the one right up there?” He pointed to an abandon house near the castle that we had all played near but had never entered. We all followed his pointer finger and gulped. “It is said that in that house lives a very old man.” he said.  “This old man never comes out during the day, and no one has ever seen him… But there is something you should know about this man…he eats children.” Well of course you could only imagine the gasps and wide eyes at that statement. “How do I know?” he asked his audience. “Because a few years ago a child went missing while playing up there and I was part of the search party. When I got to his house, I went to knock on the door but STOPPED.” (He raised his voice here and then continued in a whisper.) There was fresh blood on the door handle. I was frightened and called the police. They came to the house and spoke to the man through the door.

“Have you seen the child missing from Little America?” they called out to him.

“No, a feeble little voice answered back. Go away, I am cooking.” Of course, by now I am a terrified seven year old amongst frightened teenagers. So the story-teller continued.

“So we went home for the night. And guess what? The next day another child went missing. All the parents were frightened and locked their shutters tight and bolted their old doors to the child robber. Again I was on the search party and had to visit the house on the hill. And again there was fresh blood on the door.” (His voice was a whisper now and every child sat terrified waiting to hear what he had to say next.) “This time I pounded on the door. “Let me in!” I screamed. But there was no answer only the sound of scraping…something scraping against the floor. “I demand you let me in or I will knock your door down.” I said. But the only thing I could hear was the wind. The scraping had stopped. THEN…(he shouted this) a little voice spoke behind me.

“Go in if you must, but you won’t like what you see…” I turned to find an old disfigured man before me. His ax was covered with blood and he held it atop his shoulder. I GRABBED the door handle and jerked it open..” (By now my heart was about to jump right out of my chest along with everyone elses.) 

“You won’t believe it…but there sat the two kids eating cherry pie and rocking in rockers!…oh…and the little old man with the blood? He cut his hand chopping wood for his fire….” Then the father laughed, leaving all of us there to retrieve our hearts where they had jumped when he had opened the door. It was a story I would never forget…nor did I ever go back up on the hill after Halloween.

After the story we made our way to the apples floating in the pool. Ronda and I each had to stand on stools to reach over the edge of the elevated pool. After several dunks of the face, Ronda emerged with the first apple. She was soaked but didn’t care. But I was the prissing one and really didn’t want to mess up my make up…so I tried to only put my chin in the water. It was a tactical mistake. I no sooner leaned over when I heard the beads burst below me and rat tat tat on the Spanish tiles below me. I tried to grab at my chest to stop them from falling but four strands of beads shattered over the floor, causing others to slip and dodge them as they rolled uncontrollably in every direction. Being seven, I of course began crying. This was turning out to be a lousy Halloween.

I eventually calmed down and found my way to a built in bench opposite of the swimming pool. Above me I could hear the older children playing Pass the Orange…you know…the one where you have to “neck” with the opposite sex to pass the orange. There was lots of laughter. Ronda brought me a cupcake and she pulled herself up next to me. I could still see a random bead here and there as I surveyed the party in front of me. And then it happened…

There we were just minding our own business when thirty feet above the pool a set of green spindly, long black nailed hands appeared. I nudged Ronda in horror and pointed silently to the hands. She screamed a blood curdling scream. Everyone looked at her, but by the time we told them what we saw, the hands had disappeared and they all thought we were just trying to get even for the scary story. But we were frightened and sat almost on top of each other as we watched for the hands to reappear…and they did. This time not only did the hands appear, but the tip of a witches hat moved just above the top of the wall. This time we screamed and pointed for everyone to see. And this time they too saw the horror that was about to haunt my nights for weeks to come. The parents rushed to the roof to see if they could see the witch, but again the hands disappeared and the hat with it. Ronda and I were not sure what to think. This time the parents looked worried. This was NOT part of the party. The children were counted, then the adults were accounted for as well. We, the children, lined the parents up to see if one of them had slipped away. But no one was absent except a few dads that were working. All the children were brought down from the roof top and we were allowed to dance and play where the parents could watch us.

Almost an hour had gone by when the hands appeared again…but this time a body was attached to them! Above us was the scariest greenish sooty witch anyone could imagine. Her hair was long black strands adorned with touches of gray that flew behind her in the wind. She stood above the party on a narrow wall (imagine a balance beam) and began cackaling and pacing back and forth. Then all of a sudden she turned and ran…yes, ran the length of the wall and jumped onto the rooftop towards the stairs to the children. All heck broke loose! All I can remember is hiking up my skirts and running through the house, into the dark street and sprinting full throttle to my own house…my brothers were right with me. We crashed into our front door crying and screaming and completely terrified with our mom right behind . She locked us in and closed the shutters and we sat huddled together before the large fireplace. It wasn’t long before my dad arrived and said that they had chased the witch away and that we would be okay. But none of us believed him so we grabbed our bedding and crashed on the floor together. It had been a horrifying night and I’m not sure if I even slept that night now that I think about it.


The REST of the Story…

Many, many years later I heard the rest of the story. Apparently none of the parents knew who the witch was or where she had gone to after they chased her off the rooftop. She had run back across the narrow wall and disappeared behind the wall of the pool. About a month later during a card game, a man named Rich (Ronda’s dad) complained about his ankle hurting from a fall. That’s when he confessed to being the witch. He had told everyone before Halloween that he had to work…including his own wife. He then snuck back to the house and dressed himself. Then using a ladder he climbed the pool wall…only to have the ladder slide out from under him leaving him dangling with his hands showing the first time.  He then tried it again but got his dress caught in the ladder and again fell to the ground. Of course the third time was when we all saw him and we all ran. How did he disappear you ask? Can you believe he JUMPED thirty feet down to the ground because he wanted everyone to think he really was a witch…thus he sprang his ankle. It was a Halloween I will NEVER forget.


So…I was surrounded by girl scouts in a cabin telling ghost stories when my daughter begged me to tell the story above. So of course I obliged. I had the girls on the edge of their seats and they were scared. I was being very dramatic of course. When I got to the part in the story where I’m telling the missing children story and he goes to jerk open the door… guess what happens????  A darn bat suddenly flies out of a dark corner of the room and buzzes us all and scares the living tar out of us. Poor little fruit bat was never the same after that night I’m sure….


The Rut That Makes Us Old…

The other day I was talking with a friend about how startled I was when I saw my parents recently. It seemed like they had aged twenty years since I last saw them a year ago. How could this be, I asked myself? And then my mom said it, she said, “We’re just in a rut.” I got to thinking about this and that’s when I knew she was on to something.

 I had thought about my own rut phase and how much it had changed me. I had been teaching and every day was just like the next. There were very few changes in my routine and I felt like every day I was wasting away. When I finally retired things changed…I changed. I would run into old friends and they would say how relaxed and young I looked. Imagine gaining back years on your life by just changing one’s routine? I loved the compliments of course, but what I really like was how I felt about myself. My routine had drastically changed and I had something new to look forward to every day. Now don’t get me wrong, I did make myself a schedule just to make sure I didn’t wallow in my bed every day…but I just didn’t know what my free time would look like. I found myself doing all the things I didn’t have time to do when I was working full time. I found that I had so much energy that when bedtime rolled around, I was still up working on a project or doing something I would have never done if I was working.

 So when I was with my parents I got to thinking about the person that has to work, who isn’t at that stage in their lives when they can throw care away and do whatever they want. How do they stay young and active? How do they get out of the rut they are in? That’s when I saw the segment on Kathie Lee and Hoda with Lu Ann Cahn. Lu Ann had written a book called “I Dare Me.” She explains to the hosts that she had fallen into a rut and her daughter had dared her to do something new each week. She then explains that she began doing something new each day.

What a novel and wonderful idea! Think about it. If you (the reader) were to do something new each week or every day…wouldn’t you be happier? Doesn’t happiness equate to feeling younger and living longer? Oh, I know I’m not a scientist proving a theory here…but let’s be real. We ALL believe that when we are happy we feel younger and more alive! I know I do. Imagine yourself having something to look forward to at least once a week? Seriously…think about it right now!….Can you see how this would break down the old routine?

I remember when my mother-in-law was battling cancer. She was given four months to live…she lived a year instead. How did she do this against all odds? Well, first…she was a fighter and never gave up the good fight. But the truth? She gave herself small goals each week. She gave herself something to look forward to. Sometimes the goals were huge, like being at her son’s military ceremony, or being around for one last Christmas with all of her family. But most of the time they were simple, like having her nails done, or spending a half hour alone in Mervyns without anyone hovering over her. These small every day feats kept her alive and yes, young.

 So I was thinking about my parents who are now both seventy-five and completely caught in their daily routine…like most seniors. What would happen if they set up a jar full of new things to try every day…or once a week? Just the excitement of pulling a mysterious “something new” out of the jar would be amazing. They could each sit down and write down things they have always wanted to do. For example, my dad might write that he always wanted to build a bird house and my mom might say she always wanted to take photos of sunsets. (I can’t imagine either of my parents doing these things…but what the hey…maybe they should try them!) Imagine what fun they would have doing each of these things together…something new to talk about, to argue about, to look forward to? Could it give them back ten years like it did for me? Would it be so bad to give it a try? I don’t think so. Who wants to fade into the sun doing the same old things every day, every hour, every minute. Is this living? I think not. So why don’t we all join Lu Ann Cahn and dare ourselves to do something new each week or every day…we just might get out of the rut that makes us old.