When I was just a little pup, I would frequently spend the time right after the school bus dropped me off at my Nana's house, which was two houses down the road, about a 5 minute walk, if even. (Lots of properties are bigger in Pennsylvania, and sometimes include areas of forest).
I loved the time that I spent there, as my Nana was truly a magical creature. A blend of Mary Poppins and Auntie Mame, she lived alone, except for her dynamic counterpart- a Lhasa Apso named Nutmeg, that I swear was a million years old.
To get to Nana's house, you walked through a path that was in the woods on our neighbor's property. Thank goodness they never seemed to mind that I was always walking through their yard to get to my Nana's house...you see, you could walk on the road, but that isn't fun, is it?
I would pick up a big stick on my walk and use it for protection against any zombies, werewolves, or other ghouls that might be lurking on the path. Though my imagination could swear it saw beasties everywhere, these journeys were always safe and exhilarating.
I would get to my Nana's place, which was basically a modular home (read: trailer) on a lot of land that was pretty sizable, and that included a nice little forest pass through. I played there frequently.
I would ring the doorbell (that would invariably play Scotland the Brave most likely, or whatever seasonal tune the little doorbell thingamajigger had been set on that week by my Nana. She would answer and Nutmeg would bark in torrents for a moment before ignoring you again.
Her house smelled different than ours. Was it her perfumes? Her dog? ( Growing up, we only had outdoor dogs, so the fact that Nana had a dog, let alone a fancy one that slept in a special indoor bed made of wicker and cushions floored me...I had no idea that years later there would be a small asian dog with a smouched in face lounging on my own sofa) And the smell was NOT bad, that isn't what I am trying to say...I liked it, whatever it was...maybe it was all of her antiques. Sometimes when I am in antique shops, I think I can smell the same smell as at my Nana's, but then memory leaves me, and I am not sure anymore.
Nana would frequently play her records, especially on the weekends while cleaning. I listened to a majority of the classic musicals in that home. We listened to Orson Well's infamous broadcast of "War of the Worlds" there. I remember how much it terrified me. I became obsessed with it, wanting to have even every piece of music played during the fake radio show. I even bought the sheet music to Hoagy Carmichel's "Stardust", and learned to play it because of this tape.
I was not the most beautiful duckling. I had red hair and glasses. I even went through a short period where I was redheaded, with glasses, and missing my two front teeth. Hot. I was sometimes..ok, many times I was made fun of in school. All of that negative energy and name calling was lost at my Nana's, though. As my Nana would tell me, "Names will never hurt me."
Maybe it was the antiques, the musicals and Opera playing on the scratchy record player, the fancy pure bred dog in it's bed, my Nana herself, ALL of these things- but whatever it was, I couldn't be touched by any problems while I was at her house.
Much of my affinity for Halloween comes from her as well. She would decorate her own house, sometimes even putting on scary music and dressing up as a witch to scare trick or treaters.
Which brings me to the stuffed dummies.
Where did I get the idea first? I got the idea from a trick that some kids in our "patch" as we called it (read: small neighborhood) would play. What you did was completely stuff a whole outfit, complete with jeans, boots, long sleeved shirt, and a head, and then put it on the road, half on the road, half off; so that it looked like a body that someone had hit with a car. Especially at night, it was convincing. You would stop the car and get out to see if the person was alive or not, and then see that it was a prank. Ha.
I saw one of these one year out front by our house. Then I started to get the idea that I could do the same thing, but with a twist; My creatures would stand in our front yard in a ghoulish display.
I would make them with anything I could find: tree branches, sticks, scrap wood from my father's woodpiles, rocks....literally anything. I could use all of this and create a passable body, but that body lacked one important thing...a scary face. This is where the parents came in. :) I would beg them to buy me the cheapest plastic Halloween masks from the drugstore. My mother would agree to buy me whatever hideous thing that I found for a dollar. I would go home and create another one.
One time I wanted to make a witch on a broomstick, up in one of our trees...I had the face, hat, and broomstick, but what about her clothes? I used Dad's old clothes for everything else, but a witch couldn't be in overalls! Well...she could, but not the kind of witch I was trying to make.
My Nana donated an old black evening gown from her closet. It was gorgeous, even adorned with a few purple and green sequins in certain places. Nana told me that she used to wear this dress when she went out ballroom dancing. I told her that she should keep it then, and not ruin it by hanging it in a tree for a month. She laughed and said, "I think that my ballroom dancing days are over.." I don't know why, but that always has stuck with me. That phrase...right there. The thought of the possibility that a person can reach a point in life where they are certain that they will not be doing something ever again in their lifetime. A wistful sadness.
She and I fashioned some black panty hose into legs, and put the rest of the "witchy-poo" as Nana would call it together.
We got it up in the tree with my Daddy's assistance, and there it was....the most ambitious ghoul I had ever created, and all because of my Nana collaborating with me on it. I was overjoyed.
When the bus came to pick me up for school, I earned some points as they all ran over to the windows and told me how cool my yard looked. I was popular for a day. :)
The other inspiration for the decorating came from watching a film at my Nana's house. It was on a weekend, so she was in her bedroom cleaning. Since she wasn't in the living room, I was scanning the channels for Saturday afternoon horror films. I found a film that was nearing it's ending. The film, as I understood it, pitted 3 or 4 people who had stumbled upon this ancient ship that was floating in the sea, they become trapped on it, and one by one they are killed off by these zombie type things that look like skeletons in hoods and robes. I remember there being a lot of monk chanting in the soundtrack. I remember how these things did not moan, nor move fast, but there was a relentless horror to the film as they slowly stalked their next victim. It was a metaphor. Death comes for us all, slowly but surely. The only two survivors end up jumping off the boat as the boat is in flames. They swim to the shore, and pass out on the beach, exhausted by their swim.
As they sleep, these skeletons in hoods and robes start emerging from the sea, soon all 10 of them are there, slowly walking toward the sleeping couple. The couple stir, wake up, and look up to see these things are all around them, bending down now to reach for them. That is the end.
I got the heebie-jeebies big time.
I went outside to where I usually played. I grabbed a few sticks and wondered what I would do if these creatures were coming for me? I pretended that a thicket of tangled ivy was one of them. I started throwing sticks at it. Then I thought to myself how much the stick looked like those horrible creature's fingers...then...WAIT A MINUTE! I could even use sticks to make these things in my yard! Thus, another source of inspiration for my extensive Halloween decorating tradition.
I have spent years looking for this film, not even knowing what it was called. A few weeks back, I was searching the Netflix Horror list, and about on the 20th page (one I never get to, because I lose my patience by then), I saw a movie listed called Tombs of the Blind Dead"...pictured on the cover were these skeleton things with hoods and robes...That was it! I rented it, and was so confused...same creepy skeleton things, not the same movie.
Last week, when I was investigating this further, I learn that there is a "Blind Dead" trilogy, and that the third movie in the trilogy is called "The Ghost Galleon"! A galleon? A SHIP! I've found it!
I got it in the mail the other day.
I cannot tell you how it felt to watch a film that I haven't seen in about twenty years, and to know that the last time I watched it, I was sitting in my Nana's living room. A place that now, does not exist. It has made me cry a little bit for the past two days. Nothing big, just a tear or two here and there when I think about it.
People laugh at me when I go SO overboard decorating for Halloween. My Nana is the reason that I do this. The passion that I have for this holiday stems from her. This is a holiday in which people dress up to be something other than themselves.
My Nana made this ugly duckling happy to be hisself. Not by hurling sticks and stones at people who picked on me on my schoolbus, but by scaring and wowing them with creatures created out of sticks and stones.
Happy Halloween, everyone. Stay tuned during this coming week for more Halloween haunts, and more fun!