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October 2010 Volume 12 , Issue 10 submit to us!
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The+Cracked+Face%2c+Crooked+Eyed+Ghost
by Mary F French -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

Mama dragged the box down from the shelf in the living room closet. It was way up high but so light weight that she didn't even consider that it might slip and bonk her on the head. When she sat the tattered box on the living room floor, I felt the despair in my heart. There it was. AGAIN. Our Halloween costumes.

I took the layer of dusty newspaper off of the topless carton and peered in at the dismal contents.

Yup! There it was. The cheap, cracked, dull white plastic ghost mask with the crooked eyes. The red smudges from the lipstick I'd tried to apply to it last year just made it look sadder. I picked the mask up and glared at it. The thin elastic band that kept it in place on my head was going to have to be retied through the hole for the one millionth time. And the crack where I'd stomped on it two years ago seemed just a wee longer. I had thought that if I destroyed it, mama would relent and buy me a new costume. Little did I realize that mama may have been willing. But that didn't put any pennies in her purse to satisfy my tantrum.

The rumpled sheet with the arm holes cut in it lay in a heap in the box. I dragged it out and sullenly bemoaned the fact that I hadn't at least tried to fold it before I'd jammed it back in the box last year. I shook the sheet a little bit and studied it's pitifulness. It had originally been a flour sack. My grandma would bleach the flour sacks and then sew them together to form sheets for our little youth beds. This sheet had outlived it's usefulness not only for housing flour, but for covering my lumpy mattress as well. A faint outline of the original label from the flour bag still persisted in showing. There were washed out stains of every size and color, and there was the crooked arm holes that matched the crooked eye holes in my disgusting mask. I had cut those arm holes myself. I tried using my little dull paper scissors and when they failed me, I just ripped the rotten fabric until I thought it was right.

It WAS! If you had one arm growing out of a shoulder and the other growing from a hip!

I was "Jody" and I was eleven years old. And a hundred years ago, when I'd made my costume, Mama was delighted. When she made her routine trip into town she went to the five and dime and bought me the new shiny white ghost mask.

"That was twenty nine cents!" she told me. "So take care of it because it can last until next year."

Now it was a thousand years later and that stupid, mashed-in-nose mask was still haunting me!

All of the trouble started last year. Up to that point I wasn't truly happy with my old costume, but I tolerated it. At least it was better than my friend Alice's costume which consisted of a pair of her brothers overalls and her dads straw hat. Alice really wanted a mustache and beard, so we fashioned those for her by smearing her face with burnt cork. But her mama threw a fit and we used the last of Alice's mama's Pond's Cold Cream to give Alice that "clean shaven" look.

Our parents would haul us from our prospective farms to "uptown" and our little village main street for the Halloween carnival. Now saying "carnival" is certainly using the term loosely. There were no rides or vendors or monkeys running around on leashes. But we thought it was the greatest night of the year.

Each of the four to five stores (depending on the number of store owners that were still alive that year) on main street would set up little tables in the street and hand out treats and gossip. I clearly remember that when the owner of the tractor dealership died, all of us kids mourned audibly. There went another treat stand! And he always gave out key chains too! Rats!

There would be apple dunks and apple cobbler and homemade candy apples and apple cider with warm donuts. The orchards came alive in October and we never got tired of the little gems and their yummy products.

Pumpkins from the local farmers gardens were displayed by the dozens. Every shape and size imaginable. And when the carnival was over, every kid was encouraged to pick out a favorite and take it home for carving. The mama's were also treated to pumpkins. Smaller "pie punkin's" were their reward for whatever effort they'd put into the carnival or covered dish supper.

One of the highlights of the chilly October festival was the cake walk. Every woman in the community would throw herself into the task of baking their very best cake. Half way through the evening the bakers would then gather and walk in a circle carrying their home baked treasures as the crowd rallied around and decided which of the cakes they would bid on in the following auction. All of the money from the cake walks would go to the local school PTA. Our school housed all twelve grades which amounted to about three hundred students. One never had trouble knowing the names and farms of every attending kid in the school.

That same year, a new girl joined our fifth grade class. Her name was Becky and she had moved from the city. I had never seen such white skin. I surmised that there must be no sun in the city. Alice and I had sun tans any place that clothes didn't interfere. Becky's skin was like cream. And she had pierced ears and a fragile gold chain around her neck. The only necklaces Alice and I had were the one's we made from macaroni. I had one other that was a special favorite. It was silver with a tiny Statue of Liberty dangling from it. A hand-me-down from some relative of mama. But it was green most of the time and mama said she couldn't get it clean. So Alice and I were happy just wearing our macaroni.

Becky's parents had purchased the Morton property. Mr. Morton was the dead owner of the tractor dealership. And on that property was a building that Mr. Morton used to store stuff for his business. Alice and I discussed it and decided to ask the new girl if she'd seen any of the whimsical key chains in that shed. That would be our way of introducing ourselves.

So on Becky's second day of school, Alice and I approached her and told her our names. Without further ado, we immediately pressed Becky about the storage building on her parents place.It kind of went..."Hi. This is Alice and I'm Jody. We were wondering if you've seen any of the great key chains in that red shed by your house?"

Becky gave us a blank look and backed up a few inches.

"What kind of key chains?" she asked.

"There's some with John Deere stuff on them and some with peanuts in the shell and apples and there was one that had Scottie dogs. TWO of them! They're magnets and stick together, but you can pull them apart and stick 'em on the stove or ice box." I offered.

"Or the car!" Alice added. "They'll stick on the car!"

"Well," Becky said thoughtfully. "I haven't been in the buildings. Just the house. So I don't know."

WHAT??? Alice and I were bred and born farm girls. We couldn't believe that this pearly skinned girl hadn't investigated that property from fence to fence. Most of our lives were spent sashaying around the farms peering and peeking and looking for adventures. This city girl Becky had some big lessons to learn. So we told her she really should look into the keychain mystery, and the poor thing just sort of quietly wandered off in a daze.

As time went on, Becky became a kind of part time third wheel on our two wheeled cart. But I'm not sure that her mama considered that a plus. When it came time for adventures of any kind, Becky would always say she had to go home. And we were never invited to play on the Morton place. Mama chalked it up to "city people being a little different".

As Halloween approached, Alice and I talked at great length about the new costumes we might get.

"I think I'm going to be a cowgirl this year," Alice said. "Maybe I can even borrow Mrs. Bennings pony. Nobody rides it since Petey went off to school."

"Well," I began. "I've decided to be a witch. And I want the pointiest hat I can find. I saw one at the five and dime. And I want shiny buttons on my black dress."

"Do you have any money?" Alice asked.

My good mood suddenly turned to curdled milk.

Alice was immediately apologetic. Really sorry she'd ruined my dream.

"Maybe we can make our costumes," Alice suggested.

"With what??" I whined. "I have no black sheets or shiny buttons! I don't even have sharp scissors!"

"I already have my costume. "It was Becky chiming in.

"You do? What is it?" Alice probed.

"Its just an old thing. I wore it in some plays at my old school." Becky muttered. "I have to go home now."

No matter how hard Alice and I tried, we just couldn't like that strange city kid.

So when mama dragged that battered box with it's sad contents down from the closet YET AGAIN...my heart felt like a dead weight. I made one feeble attempt to talk to mama about it and held my battered sheet up as evidence that it was in ruination.

"...and my mask is even worse!" I pleaded.

Mama took the sheet from my hands and looked it over.

"Pretty pitiful, I'd say." she observed. For a fraction of a second my hopes elevated. But only for the fraction.

"I'll wash and iron this," Mama finished. "As for the beat up mask...that's of your own doing. Why don't you paint a face on a grocery bag and just cut out the eyes and mouth?"

And away she rushed with my ragged sheet dragging behind her. I snatched the cracked ghost mask from the box and carried it to the kitchen sink where I desperately attempted to scrub off the lipstick smudges with mama's vegetable brush and daddy's black Lava soap. No luck. So I found the white adhesive tape that mama used for making bandages, and I taped the crack to keep it from splitting the mask clean into. I didn't care a whit that some of the tape blocked part of one crooked eye. I couldn't see out of the stupid thing anyway.

That evening my uncle and his wife came by for supper. He was my daddy's brother and they would cut each other's hair. And there was always a lot of hooting and laughing and joke telling. Most of the time mama would shoo us kids out of the room to give the men "their peace".

That night while my daddy cut uncle's hair, I heard them talking about Halloween from the year before. I immediately remembered the incident they were relating and couldn't help but snicker at the picture it brought to mind.

There were four big boys who lived on farms around us. Most of the time they were just hard working farm kids who spent most of their days and nights helping with chores and fields.

BUT ON HALLOWEEN...they took on all new personas! It was my belief that it had something to do with the moon and evil spells.

At that time it was rare to find an inside toilet in a farm house. While we were wee kids, there were thunder mugs and potties kept under beds. They were daily scrubbed and bleached and kept as sparkling as mamas dishes. But when you got old enough to recognize those urges...off you went to the outhouse. And the mamas celebrated the end of "potty training".

The old outhouses came in many forms. Some were painted and ventilated and had real toilet paper inside. Some were none of that and had old catalogs that you crumpled well to soften the paper before using. Ours was kind of a mixture of the two. It stood all alone off of the back yard and it had a small window in the door and sometimes real toilet paper and sometimes the old Montgomery Wards catalog. But no paint.

Wasps loved our outhouse and built their own homes inside. A kid soon learned not to make sudden moves or swat at them because they'd nab you before you could get your second leg into your britches. Spiders loved the decrepit little buildings too. So look first before sitting!

Bags of lime were kept in the outhouses and after you'd done your business it was your job to dump a little lime on top of it. And do not breathe it in OR let it get in your eyes or you were gonna suffer!

The outhouses were built over a hole. The hole was dug and then a few men would hoist that little house and sit it over the hole. There it would remain until the hole was nearly full. Then the house would be moved a few feet again and the hole filled up with lime and dirt. A new beginning!!

It was these outhouses that became the targets of the evil big boys in the community. They would sneak up on Halloween night and tip the little houses over and then run like kildeers. The farmers made a special effort the day after Halloween to go around helping one another resurrect the toilets.

That past year, my daddy's sense of humor and self preservation got the best of him and he asked uncle and a friend to come help him move the old toilet. They deftly picked the building up and with straining farmer muscles, moved it several feet back. After that, Daddy very carefully filled the lime in and then just a little dirt. Pine needles were spread over the bare spot and we were warned about which direction to approach the toilet.

That Halloween night when we got home from the carnival, daddy went directly to the toilet. We could hear his guffaws from inside the house. There, in front of the outhouse was a big hole with the pine needles sunk about three feet into the ground. The odor of the contents in the hole filled the entire back yard.

"Well," daddy laughed. "I don't know which or how many of the boys took a swim here tonight, but I bet they needed a good rinsing before they went home!"

The toilet was still standing.

Today was it. The big day. Halloween was here.

I dismally asked mama about my sheet and she handed it to me all washed and freshly ironed. I wound it up in a ball and squeezed it a little. No self respecting, crooked-eyed, lipstick smeared ghost would ever be seen in a crisply ironed sheet!

Mama reminded me to put on long underwear under my costume because it was cold outside and I always squawked about wearing a coat over my ghost suit. Alice came to meet me so that she could ride with us in our pitiful car to the carnival. I patted her shoulder in sympathy as she stood unsmiling in her overalls and straw hat with her long underwear sticking out of her shirt sleeves. And we headed for uptown.

At first we begrudgingly started having fun. I was having some trouble with the tape on my mask because it actually covered the part of one eye that I had previously been able to see out of. But Alice, true friend that she was, would lead me carefully around all obstacles.

We rushed around and got our treats from the tables and bobbed for apples and surveyed the pumpkins...and then just as I put my mask back on...there SHE was! It was prissy, pale, mamas-girl Becky! And she was a ballerina!!

Becky's costume was perfect! Her mask had some kind of glitter on it and her hair was in big curls and her tutu was pink to match her dancers tights! It was too much for me. I glanced at Alice who just stood there with her mouth hanging open.

I could see the reflection of the three of us in the window of the insurance office and if I hadn't been experiencing the wave of meanness that was engulfing me...I would have cried!

My sheet hung crookedly off of one shoulder and my mask was turned crosswise to give me some vision out of one eye. The tape made me look like a cross between a sickly ghost and a mummy who was bleeding from the mouth. Alice just looked like her brother! And then there was . . . BECKY!!

"Hello BECKY!" I couldn't believe the vitriolic tone of my own voice. "That long underwear makes your legs look fat under your tights!"

"I know," Becky responded softly. "But mama made me wear them. You both look nice. I really like your mask, Jody. It's scarey."

Alice had finally started breathing through her nose again. "Becky," Alice said. "You look like an angel. You have rouge on. Mama won't even let me wear cork."

That twerp Alice was turning on me! I wanted to smack her stupid!

"I have something for you both," Becky said and started fiddling with the strings on her BEADED purse! "It's like my Halloween treat for you."

I was completely speechless for the first time in my pitiful life. Becky's hand came out of her purse clutching a thousand key chains!!

"Holy toads! You found them!" I shrieked. "I can't believe you found them!"

Right there in the middle of Main Street, we sat down on the pavement and began sorting through our treasures. City and country disappeared in a pile of Scottie magnets. Becky's face beamed at the sheer joy she'd brought us. After we'd evenly divided the trinkets, I offered Becky the only gift I could think of at the moment. And it came directly from the humble part of my heart that hadn't turned wicked on that Halloween.

"Your legs really don't look fat Beck," I said with humility. "You look really pretty. Alice and me are just jealous." Alice shot me a helpless look and shook her head as I led the way to the candy apples.

The following year, Alice, Becky and I decided that at age twelve, we were far too mature for costumes. Our interest had turned to a couple of good looking, suntanned, clean-cut farm boys who rode our school bus. It was no surprise that Becky and I both had our sights set on the same boy. Barely into September I started haggling mama for new jeans, a pastel hued sweater set and saddle oxford shoes. There was no way BECKY was going to sideline me this time.

I got the clothes. A little faded. A little stretched. A little scuffed. They were all handed down to me from my big sister.

BUT...I got the boy!

 
 
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Features -- October 2010 -- Beginning Month Issue