My grandchildren sure are lucky and the reason is because their Granddaddy is just about as big of a kid as they are when this time of the year comes around. I love this time of the year when the trees across Tennessee allow their leaves to turn an array of colors that would cause an artist's paint palette to seem dull in contrast to what we see on our hillsides. Fall has always been my time of the year since the early beginning of my life and the fun of Halloween has always been a huge part of the experience. The parties, the stories, the earlier beginning of evening as the season changes, the chill of the air and the excitement of the unknown still brings out the kid in me.
Just the other evening after spending the day decorating my front yard in Halloween décor for the grandkids, consisting of a small smiling spook hanging in a tree, I had settled down in my bed for a good night's sleep. At about 2:00 a.m., right outside my bedroom window, a coyote decided to make a long distance call to the rest of his pack with a scream that would have woke up the dead, which nearly included me! I had always heard the term "hair standing on the back of your neck" and that night I experienced it.
It reminded me of a Halloween night at the age of eight when I thought my existence was coming to an end. I have told this story before and it is so close to Halloween. It all began with a free plastic mask, a graveyard and popcorn balls. I grew up at a time when the only place I had a chance to trick-or-treat was at my grandparents' house about half a mile across the road. That Halloween, I had been lucky enough to win a plastic mask at a school party. It was designed from the Disney movie "Lady and The Tramp" and the mask was the face of the cocker spaniel dog Lady. Yes, I know, Lady was a girl dog and I was a little boy, but being only eight and going only to my grandparents' house to trick-or-treat, it didn't matter that much. Besides, they thought it was cute and it helped me get an extra popcorn ball.
I'll never forget that night. To get to their house I had to walk past an old family graveyard and I had to go alone. I did it everyday, but not at night and especially not at Halloween. But armed with a genuine plastic Halloween mask and the visions of popcorn balls dancing in my head (I know, it does sound like words from another story that includes a fat man in a red suit), I headed out to grandma's house.
The moon was full, the temperature was warm and the sky was clear. It was a perfect fall night to walk over to grandma's for a popcorn ball. Everything went well until I reached the graveyard. At night with the full moon shining down, the tombstones cast long shadows that I never saw during the day. And the fall night sounds seemed to be a little louder than I remembered when I left home. With my Lady mask on, I was also getting a little warm and looking through the eyeholes of that plastic dog, there was only just so much you could see and a whole lot you could hear. The pace of my steps increased automatically as I walked by and just as I reached about half way up the long lane beside the graveyard, I heard a strange sound like someone trying to whistle. However, whenever I would stop, the whistle would stop as well. The faster I would go, the more prevalent the whistle would be. I was now sweating under that stupid dog mask and the whistler was right behind me.
By the time I got past the graveyard, I was in a full run and the thoughts of popcorn balls were no longer dancing in my head. Instead, the hot mask and the fright of being caught by the whistler had caused by head to swim and I tripped over my untied shoe that my mother was always telling me to tie and fell sprawling into the yard of my grandparents'.
Looking up at the moonlit farmhouse through the eyeholes of the mask, I knew I had made it and the whistler had retreated back into the graveyard from which he had come. While lying there and trying to get my breath, feeling good that I had survived, I suddenly heard the whistle again. Not moving a muscle and holding my breath, I listened, then looked back toward the graveyard through one of the mask eyeholes. Nothing was there. Taking a deep breath, I once again heard the whistle, but this time it was really close. It was too close. In fact, the whistle was coming from me!
It had been my nose all the time and inside the plastic mask it had been amplified. But in the mind of an eight-year-old boy, a graveyard at night and a hot smelly dog mask, the sound was enough to last as an exciting memory for a grown man today.
So now I've moved up to coyotes from a plastic Lady mask, but it is still fun - young or old. Enjoy the fall season and maybe you too can make some memories happen. But be sure to blow your nose before venturing out into the night around graveyards. Happy Halloween!
-Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org