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Archive for October, 2010

“My mates and I poured out the door and scattered into the blustery autumn wind like a flock of well-dressed scarecrows . . .”


Trick orTreatHalloween was due on a Thursday in 1946.

As school was dismissing on Wednesday, Miss Greenlee made another one of her famous announcements – only this time with an added caveat that would change life as I knew it before nightfall the next day.

The innocuous sounding part was, “Anyone who would like to wear a costume to school tomorrow for Halloween may do so.”

That in itself was enough to conjure a roomful of mixed emotions. But the caveat was the kicker.

“You will please design your costume by yourself.”

And that was the rule. No cheating.

Miss Greenlee wasn’t forbidding us to scroll forward in time a few decades and buy costumes from store aisles that didn’t exist yet. She was just saying we couldn’t let anyone else make creative decisions for us. And we only had a few hours to decide.

We’d already spent the week swapping ghost stories on the playground, thinking we’d have some orange cookies and punch on Thursday and call it a Halloween. So you can imagine, on such short notice, how many straw-hatted farmers toting buckets and rakes and sheet-clad ghosts and high-heeled, beaded ladies stumbling over their mothers’ dresses were likely to show up for the “Extras” cast on Halloween morning.

But refreshingly, most of Miss Greenlee’s students managed to notch up their level of costume design to suit the “Supporting Role” category . . .

Villains and War Paint

Bobby Blackstone and Teddy MacDougal played villains, of course. They’d rubbed coal all over their faces and wrapped themselves together in a big. black funeral parlor awning.

They wouldn’t have said how they came by the awning, so nobody bothered to ask. But they were more than prompt to accommodate anyone cheeky enough to sneak a peek at them, baring their teeth and hissing in campy, Bela Lugosi voices, “We are the vicious two-headed spider and we’ve come to eat you up!”

Me, I just wanted to keep it simple.  And I sure wasn’t wearing a dress . . .

I had my fantasies about turning into a butterfly, but that wasn’t happening yet. Not according to the mirror, at least. My stubborn habit of dressing like a “tomboy” (as the gossips put it) wouldn’t permit such a delicate appearance in public on my part, anyway.

But the usual braids and overalls didn’t qualify as costume in Havenwood. So I got the idea I might use the occasion to honor my Native American ancestors, tied a strip of buckskin around my forehead, two mockingbird feathers in back and said I was an Indian. At least it was easy.

And as it turned out, I was also glad I’d declined Mama’s offer to borrow her lipstick for war paint. Katy Winthrop’s cheek rouge was enough for one day . . .

Fruit Bowl MosaicWhen I guessed correctly that Katy’s cheeks were meant to look like big red cherries to compliment the plastic fruit piled on her head, you’d think she’d just won the lottery, the way she squealed and carried on to thank me. But I must say, for a shy, plain girl who sat in the back of the classroom and kept to herself, I had to admire her daring on that headdress.

In my opinion, Katy was clearly the star of the show. And since Miss Greenlee’s other rule was that nobody could make fun of your costume, I figured she’d be safe in that respect.

Righteous Miss Hickey, however, was so offended by the blasphemy of such a thing as anyone ever wearing a costume (let alone to school) that when Mister Attabee gave us permission to stage a costume parade over lunch time, you could practically see locomotive smoke shooting from Hickey’s ears.

As we single-filed, smiling and waving in our disguises, past the open doors of the cafeteria and classrooms along the hall, older students whistled and cheered and teachers waved back and applauded.

Quilt by Susan Propst

Quilt by Susan Propst

Some played like they were afraid; others looked duly impressed, especially with Blackstone and MacDougal’s two-headed whatever-it-was. Even the weird science teacher, Mister Salamander, raised his eyeballs off the jar of brains on his desk long enough to refocus on mad-cow Clayton and the Siamese spider twins.

But all Miss Hickey could do was sputter and fume and claw at her breast, like she was being murdered by the very brazenness of it all. And I’m sorry, but that was downright entertaining . . .

All told looking back, it was a day to remember . . .

And when the final bell rang to end it, my mates and I poured out the door and scattered into the blustery autumn wind like a flock of well-dressed scarecrows, clutching our spooky artwork to share with home and family.

~

Excerpts from HAVENWOOD TALES Beginnings

by D.J. Houston

MORE HALLOWEEN MEMORIES at “Halloween Art – School Nostalgia

Copyright©2007, 2013 D.J. Houston. All Rights Reserved.Halloween in the Window

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Halloween Pumpkin SpidersSometime around mid-October, with lots of spookiness and a hint of mirth in her playful voice, Miss Greenlee made a terribly important-sounding announcement.

“Halloween is coming! It’s Halloween! We must prepare!”

Naturally, none of us farm-country kids who’d come up during the war years had ever even celebrated Halloween. We didn’t have a clue where to start. But Miss Greenlee’s exuberance was, as always, contagious as the pox, and the whole class went saucer-eyed.

My own ideas were limited.

On Halloween night the year before, Mama and some of her women friends from the Sand & Gravel plant drove Timmy and me to a harvest festival on a farm way out in the boonies.

Bobbing for ApplesWe played at dodging shadows and bobbed for apples floating in a big washtub along with some other kids, while the grownups traded pumpkins and baskets of corn and nuts and such around a roaring bonfire in the dark. But other than sensing somebody watching me from behind a tree and the hair on my arms standing up, it was pretty uneventful.

As for the idea of trick-or-treating on Halloween, it usually got too cold at night by late October for kids to be running around outside begging candy from Havenwood folks. Nobody had kept extra candy during the war and the habit stuck, and the houses were too far apart for any big hauls if they had any.

But in that freer world of 1946, nothing said we couldn’t celebrate at school . . .

Spiders, Bats and Hump-Backed Cats

With the able tutelage of Miss Greenlee, our gang launched into the spirit of things and learned as we went along.

After a titillating, quick study of the history of Halloween in the Old Country, we created a host of orange and black construction paper silhouettes for decorations, American style. Hairy spiders, hump-backed cats, Happy Halloween Thomas Wood illustrationwitches on brooms and flying bats and toothy jack-o-lanterns got traced and cut and tacked around the classroom walls to leer at anyone who dared to look.

The boys from Shop Class brought in a ladder and hung some from the ceiling, dangling from lengths of feed sack string that let the creatures sway and swirl whenever a draft blew in under the door.

And there were times when they moved all on their own – I know it’s true, I saw it happen with my own eyes. And I wasn’t the only one.

Tales about the figures moving on their own, however, were classified as top secret, and could only be embellished amongst ourselves. That was the rule.

So our whole class had to swear a pact of secrecy. We swore in the Shop Class boys and Miss Greenlee, too, for good measure. And with abundant giggles, loud shushes and plenty of bad acting, we pretended the source of all those spooky decorations was surely “a mystery.”

Halloween Mischief

“Gee, they were just here when we got here.”

“We have no idea.”

“Honest.”

And so the story went for any outsider who might inquire, especially the older kids who thought we were cute and would drop by before their classes to play along. And our impishness and those innocent thrills only fueled further collusion, as the camaraderie between us swelled like a fearsome juggernaut.

The Halloween Muse

The Halloween Muse had sequestered our lives and rendered us unstoppable — a force to be reckoned with.

Halloween MuseWe kept cranking out spooky artwork until we ran out of the whole semester’s supply of construction paper.  Without skipping a beat, Miss Greenlee assigned us to gather up all the fabric scraps we could scavenge and bring them to school. And from every description of colorful cloth, we proceeded to cut out strange-looking trees shapes, people and animals and their various habitats, gluing them onto long panels of brown butcher paper with homemade flour and water paste.

Prissy ran the glue factory crew at a table hidden in the trees behind our building, keeping us well supplied with buckets of yeasty-smelling paste. And while others cut and I designed, the old hardwood floor of the classroom protested our messy business in grumpy silence.

Hand-painted touches were added to make the whole scene look more Halloweeny with hoot owls, ghosts and gravestones. Sketches of skeletons, scary skulls and three pairs of glaring wolf eyes, courtesy of the hooligans Bobby Blackstone and Teddy MacDougal, completed the work. And panel by panel, the kaleidoscope final mural depicting our very own Halloween Village — our masterpiece — was spread across the windows, wrapped around the walls and covered both sides of the door.

We were beyond elated! Life was a Halloween party!

The rest of the school would have killed to know what we were up to. And predictably, the whole happy scenario infuriated the dickens out of dreadful old Miss Hickey.

~

From the novel HAVENWOOD TALES Beginnings

by D.J. Houston, Author

Copyright©2008, 2013 D.J. Houston. All Rights Reserved.

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“For those who would squash dreamers and their dreams, God had surely sent Miss Greenlee as the antidote.”

Miss Lucinda Greenlee was utterly, completely beautiful from head to toe, and then some.

I could tell right away she loved being a teacher because she smiled freely and often, like sunshine in summer. And kids couldn’t help but smile right back at her.

She didn’t look at all like the other teachers in their plain, prim dresses and drab catalog-order suits. Miss Greenlee wore lovely, smart blouses from sophisticated foreign lands, and skirts splashed with patterns of butterflies or colorful birds or bold, bright stripes running down them — or big flowers you could almost smell like a flow of perfume from the quality fabrics.

Sometimes she even wore handsome slacks with a fitted waist, like the women who’d worked in the factories during the war. Only Miss Greenlee’s slacks were soft and butter colored, like a movie actress might wear. And her shiny, blond hair spilled long and glamorous past the back of her open collars, offsetting her clear, blue eyes.

On the opposite end of the food chain, however, I was shocked to discover one teacher at Havenwood School who was certifiably, pure awful . . .

She was old and sour, with withered skin as blanched as baking flour. And every day wore the same depressing, dark crepe dress that reeked of mothballs, with her sparse, slate-colored hair trapped in a twisted knot at the back of her neck.

Her nose was shaped like a wilted carrot, her mouth an unforgiving slit. And her narrow, hateful eyes were black and gleamless.

Naturally, I figured she was about as friendly as a rattlesnake with rabies.

Artistic License

I’d been going to school for less than a week when I spied the old woman out in the schoolyard, planted stubbornly under a hickory tree with her hands on her bony hips, hurling disapproving scowls like javelins aimed at Miss Greenlee’s classroom.

I watched in awe as she sputtered and spewed the-devil-only-knew-what grievances to our handsome, well-groomed principal, Mister Attabee, while he stood there and took it like a saint.

When she finally stopped to gasp for breath, Mister Attabee removed his hands from his trouser pockets and raised them, ever so slowly, to his chest. Then he hooked his thumbs behind his suspenders, cleared his throat and ended that conversation once and for all.

“Ahem!  Pardon me, Miss Hickey, but Miss Greenlee has artistic license.  Don’t you have a Latin class to teach somewhere?”

And away she huffed with her pruney face screwed up so tight it practically swallowed her warts — plotting a lonely revenge, no doubt.

Dream Teacher and Witch

Timmy and Mama had warned me about Miss Hickey; they just hadn’t told me how ugly she was. 

She’d been terrorizing Havenwood School, droning Latin grammar at snoozing students with her witchy voice and a willow switch hidden under her desk, for as long as anyone could remember.  And having witnessed her encounter with Mister Attabee, how she managed to keep her job was a mystery to me.  But I concluded that he must have had his reasons to allow it. 

One thing was sure: He was right to defend Miss Greenlee. 

I imagined she had her artistic license framed somewhere at home, too, because she let us paint pictures of whatever we wanted, She encouraged us to render our art as we saw fit and never questioned our choices.  You could draw conclusions in the dirt and call it art, for all she cared . . .

For those who would squash dreamers and their dreams, God had surely sent Miss Greenlee as the antidote.

It was on my first day of school, as I was gazing out the window and across the distant hilltops toward Silver Bear Lake, when she floated like a whisper past my desk and murmured, “Daydreams are like butterflies.”

And her words set instantly in place a precious and unspoken bond between us.

~

From the coming novel HAVENWOOD TALES Beginnings

D.J. Houston, Author

Copyright©2008, 2013 D.J. Houston. All Rights Reserved.

Spirit Of The Butterfly by Carol Cavalaris

Spirit Of The Butterfly by Carol Cavalaris

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From the novel HAVENWOOD TALES Beginnings

by D.J. Houston

Baseball Wisdom . . .

Timmy was pacing the front yard like a penned up billy goat with his teeth clenched, slamming a battered baseball back and forth with a stinging hand against his stitched-up catcher’s mitt while he muttered out loud to himself.

He was suffering his own walloping case of doubts about my having to go to school.

In the first place, it was his school. And the idea of his naïve, snot-nosed little sister attending that same school would never fit in with his master plan, if he had one. But it was the only school around, so he had no choice:

It was time to lay some ground rules.

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“. . . the magic of that last, abiding summer of my freedom before the era of my schooling years began was too often lost in longing to see Mister Walling . . .”

INSPIRATIONS from the novel HAVENWOOD Tales Beginnings

by Author, D. J. Houston

For all its endless sunny days and amazing Milky Way nights, the magic of that last, abiding summer of my freedom before the era of my schooling years began was too often lost in longing to see Mister Walling.

It took more miles than I could walk in a day to reach his secluded cabin and still make it back home before dark.  But I didn’t dare ask anyone to drive me there.  I had decided that his and mine was a private friendship, and revisiting his world would be a journey I would have to make alone.

And although I would cling to my childhood for as long as I could get away with it, that decision marked a clear beginning of the end to it for me . . .

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A peek at the novel HAVENWOOD TALES Beginnings by Author, D.J. Houston

Family Secrets . . .

I was only just getting to know my father then.  Or at least what he’d become.

Trudie's Tiny Nursery LampHe’d been away to war so long, I’d even begun to wonder if I’d only imagined the times when the uniformed man in the picture frame on Mama’s dressing table lingered next to my crib to play with me by the light of a tiny nursery lamp, tickling my toes and fingers until we laughed out loud at each other.

As the years blended one to the next, the promise of his constant presence in my life dwindled to little more than a mist of wishful thinking, if I thought of him at all.

Envelopes with foreign stamps and the feelings that broke in Mama’s voice when she read passages from his letters to Timmy and me helped keep Daddy alive for us.  The scene I caught of Timmy in front of the chiffarobe, sniffling and blowing his nose on his sleeve while he tried on Daddy’s hats, made its mark, too.

But our father was home now, home to all he’d fought for.  And I was letting the strength of his quiet nature spread around me like calm on a morning pond.

He reminded me of a sycamore tree with his tall, lean build and sturdy limbs.  His skin was white when he rolled up his sleeves to wash his hands in the wintertime.  And his hair was as shiny black as a raven’s wing, only curly . . .

He had a sort of handsome face, I thought, with a strong jaw and a high forehead like Timmy’s.  His eyes were the hazel, Irish eyes my own eyes echoed.  But I was just beginning to see him as something more than a stranger who’d been smart enough to marry my mother.  And she said the war left him with troublesome things on his mind.

I figured he wasn’t ready for me to tell him about Mister Walling.

As for Mama, she must have been quite a catch for anyone.

She was a pretty, plump brunette with light bronze skin and dark violet eyes, who liked to wear aprons with big pockets and her shoes as seldom as possible — a rare free spirit, inclined to practice the time-honored values of her Native American mother over those of her English father.

And while I knew she would hear with her heart whatever I had to say without belittling my reality, some innate, protective instinct prevented me from giving her reason to have to mention Mister Walling, or suffer undue concerns about my comings and goings.

WW II Victory, Freedom and Apple pie. . .

My sweet, brave mother had found balance in her life and I didn’t want to upset it.

She was grateful to be home in her own big kitchen, cooking and baking . . .  with all the sugar and spices and herbs she needed or wanted — away from the hard times she’d endured at the Sand & Gravel plant after Daddy went to war and the money ran low, when rationing of everything from milk to nylon stockings was in full swing and we could no longer survive on barter from our Victory Garden yield alone.

But those times were behind us now. . .

Timmy and the boys at school didn’t have to collect used paper and metal and rubber for the war production scrap piles anymore.  And I didn’t have to stay with that overbearing woman who smelled like pork cracklings and made me call her “Aunt Millie,” while Mama worked long hours at the plant with too many ladies who wished their men were home.

And freedom reigned!

FATHER’S DAY TRIBUTE:  C L I C K  H E R E

Excerpts from the novel HAVENWOOD TALES Beginnings

D. J. Houston, Author

Copyright©2006, 2013 D.J. Houston. All Rights Reserved.

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From the novel HAVENWOOD TALES Beginnings by Author, D.J. Houston

(This excerpt follows “Common Sense Freedom – Heartland America“)

“Be sure you’re back before suppertime, please, Trudie Beth.”

Mama’s gentle reminder faded behind me into the line of thirsty sassafras and yellow-blooming poplar trees on the north shore of Silver Bear Lake.

I was off to meet my destiny.

Drawn by the gift of instinct and trails of friendly bellflowers smiling at me from their delicate, bending stems, I trekked waist-deep through a grassy field and found myself in a vast wildflower meadow, spread around me like the fragrance of wonderland.

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