Halloween

The year I turned twelve, my big brother invited me to go out with him on Halloween. I said yes. I always said yes when he invited me on one of his adventures. This time, though, I didn’t really want to go. I wanted to go to the Halloween party at the Whitaker’s farm. I had fallen hard for Hannah Blumenauer. My first, unspoken, love.

“We’ll go to the party, I promise,” Steve told me. “Scarlett expects me there too. But first we’re going to sneak around and tip over some privies.”

Steve had just broken up with Scarlett. I was surprised to hear him mention her. She was just about as wild as he was, so they made a good match, but their split-up was famous all over the county because of the public fireworks it produced.

“I don’t think Scarlett is going to be waiting for you,” I said.

“Sure she will,” Steve said. “You’ll see. She’ll forgive and forget.”

Since I had never had a girlfriend, I let it go at that. Just the same, everybody said Scarlett was still mad as a hornet at Steve. She was telling anybody who would listen that she was going to get even with him for being a two-timing rat.

“We’ll never tip over a privy,” I said. “You know how careful everybody gets on Halloween.”

“We’ve got to tip one,” Steve said. “I’ve got a bet with Charlie that we do. He’s got to tip one too.”

I just shook my head. Maybe I was only twelve and he was older and wiser, but I knew from the start that we weren’t going to get near an outhouse after the sun went down, never mind turning one over.

When dinner was through and we had cleaned up the kitchen – Steve washed and I dried – we put on our costumes and set out. I was a sailor and Steve was a soldier. Our dad left at the same time, taking our younger brother and sister to a party for the little kids at the church. Mom stayed home with a pie she had baked, in case somebody showed up.

The farms in Greene County are all spread out. If you want to trick-or-treat on Halloween, you can’t get to very many farmhouses on your bike. On the other hand, you’ll be given a nice, fresh-baked treat at every place you go. After you’ve sat and eaten a couple, you’re ready to quit for the night.

We headed over to the Olafsen place first. We left our bikes by the road and made our way through the orchard next to their house. The moon was almost full so we didn’t need our flashlights. We had cut through that orchard a million times before.

“I wish a cloud would come along,” Steve said. “I feel like we’re as easy to see as if it were daytime.”

There weren’t many clouds in the sky. We were in for a bright night, getting brighter as the moon rose higher. We climbed through the fence rails and circled behind the barn. We hadn’t got halfway to the privy when the barking started.

Olafsen had chained his mastiff Chuck out by the privy to keep watch. We were old friends with Chuck. The problem was, he was making a lot of noise. Olafsen would hear Chuck’s barking turn happy and know what was what before he even came outside. We turned tail. Chuck’s disappointed whine followed us.

Next we rode over to the Kelly place. We took the dirt road that ran between our pumpkin field and a fallow alfalfa field. As we came on, we could see a glow up ahead. By the time we pushed through the corn stalks behind the farmhouse, we could see that Mr. Kelly had set out lanterns all around his privy. Never mind the moon. The lanterns lit the structure bright as day.

“We should have brought masks,” Steve said. “We can’t do anything with all this light.”

So much for the Kelly place.

We had to ride a mile down the county road to get to the Rickenbacker farm. We left our bikes on the shoulder and took a path that skirted a lot of blackberry bushes. No dogs. No lights. The only thing we spotted as we crept toward the privy was a solitary figure sitting in a cane back chair smoking a pipe.

“Rickenbacker,” Steve said in a whisper. “Who sits out all night guarding a privy? That’s just stupid.”

With that, we gave up and headed over to the party at the Whitaker farm.

“Are you interested in a girl at this party?” Steve asked as we rode. He knew that I had started noticing the other sex.

“I told Hannah I might dance with her,’ I said.

“Hannah. Good for you. She’s real cute,” Steve said.

“Are you still going to try and get back with Scarlett?” I said.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“She hates you,” I said. “You broke her heart.”

“Brother, you just don’t know girls yet. If I play my cards right, I’ll be back on track with her by the end of the night.”

“You’re nuts,” I said.

The party was well along when we got there. The Whitakers had a large family room in the back of the house and it was decorated with black and orange crepe paper and bats on strings and cornstalks and so forth.

They had already played Murder and Bandage the Mummy and now they were listening to records and dancing. I went over to Hannah, who was talking to her friends Anne and Daphne. They were all dressed as princesses and Hannah looked like one for real.

“Where have you been?” she said.

“Nowhere,” I said.

“Un huh. Did you have any luck nowhere?”

“Nah. We should have come here in the first place.”

“Why is Steve talking to Scarlett over there?” Anne said.

“He thinks he can get back together with her.”

The three girls all shook their heads.

Hannah and I danced. We drank punch and ate cake. The Whitakers had some candy for everybody to take home.

I saw Steve and Scarlett go out back. I knew he had a pack of cigarettes. If Mom or Dad caught the smell on him, there would be the devil to pay, but Steve would just laugh it off. He got me to try cigarettes and cigars and a pipe, but I didn’t care for any of them. Not yet, anyway. I didn’t want to chew or dip either. I didn’t mind drinking beer when the opportunity arose. No sign of any at this party, though.

When it was time to go home, the Whitakers brought out a hay wagon pulled by a tractor. Most of us climbed on. Steve and Scarlett had disappeared somewhere. It was a swell hay ride, passing by each farm and dropping off kids as we went. Hannah and I held hands, which made me a little light-headed. Luke Whitaker on the tractor waited at her house while I walked her up the drive to her door. I didn’t have the nerve to kiss her but we did agree to see each other at school the next morning. Which wouldn’t be hard because the school was so small.

When I went to bed, Steve still hadn’t come home. The next morning at breakfast, he came down with a cast on his arm. Mom wasn’t talking to him but on the way to school on our bikes, Steve told me that Scarlett had talked him into going with her and Mary Beth and Charlotte to tip over the privy at her house. She told him she was mad at her parents and wanted to pull this trick on them.

We were taking it slow because Steve was riding his bike using just one arm.

“Once we got to her place, the four of us sat in Charlotte’s car for a while, drinking beer and smoking. Once we were drunk enough, or at least once I was drunk enough, we snuck around the house and headed out back. Scarlett told me that after we tipped over the outhouse, she’d take me back to the barn and we’d snuggle. My reward for helping. But you know, I don’t think the girls had drunk much at all.

“We got back there and all of a sudden, Scarlett shushed us. Then she told me to hide for just a minute in the privy until the coast was clear. I wasn’t thinking too well and I went in and because of the beer, I decided to do my business while I was waiting. But Scarlett had mounted a latch hook on the door in advance and now she locked me in. Then the three girls tipped the thing over. I landed on my arm and got a fracture.

“The girls ran off. Mr. Hutchins came out and dragged me into the house and called the sheriff. The sheriff took me over to Doc Morris to get my arm set and then brought me home. Mom and Dad were up and worried. The three of them gave me a good talking-to.”

“I told you Scarlett was crazy,” I said.

“I can’t help it,” Steve said. “I’m in love with her. I can’t wait to get to school today and get my one good arm around her.”

This is a good example of how I learned about life from Steve while we were growing up, although in this case I’m not exactly sure what the lesson was.

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