halloween collage

"Don't Go Near the Anderson House..."

By Jeff Owenby

Perhaps the most fun holiday I could ever want to have as a kid would have to be Halloween. It was so much fun to dress up in a cool, or scary costume. In school, the anticipation of it was wonderful; it was like a holiday that no adult ever recognized, or could possibly understand. Halloween was that one special evening that belonged to us kids. Night, candy, scary things, ghosts and goblins, and neighborhood ritual all comprised this beloved event that came every October.

The events we carry around in the suitcase of our memories are often those that seem so mystifying and marvelous that they increase sharply with age. Often, I never believed what my parents told me unless it was something that interested me greatly. For example, if my dad claimed that he saw a strange light in the sky, I was sure it was a UFO, and I believed him. If he told me there were no such things as ghosts, I would not believe him. An instance such as this was one particular Halloween of 1962, and the Anderson house that was deemed to be haunted by every kid on the block.

It was on this Halloween that I went as a hobo. My Dad burnt a cork to use for my whiskers, and my Mom made me a "hobo bundle" to carry over my shoulder. Trouble was, I had to carry that bundle and my Halloween candy sack. For dinner we always had these festive treats like hot dogs with melted cheese or something special that just we boys liked. Food with yellow, orange and black colors was served on Halloween night. She even made this really cool orange cake that was made into a jack-o-lantern, and used Hershey bar squares to do the face with.

Then came the gearing up for going outside and heading off into the dark unknown; At first, the streets were filled with kids and parents tagging along. I can still feel the cheap thin plastic of the masks that were sold at the local grocery store. They were sweaty after a bit, and it felt hard to breathe without fogging your face into a cold sweat. As a kid, the masks often slid down a bit, obscuring my vision. I'd struggle to peer out of the plastic eyeholes, straining my neck to look upwards as the Halloween candy was stuffed into my bag. Doorbells were ringing in tandem, and treats were dispensed by neighborly hands. To this day, I can still hear the familiar voices that echoed such greetings as: "Oh my, what do we have here? A mummy? Oh my!" or "Who is this behind this ghost mask?" This was all part of the ritual. It was normal and to be expected. However, venturing out farther, where streets weren't as familiar, was what the real thrill of Halloween was all about.

This is the part where my brothers or my friends all dared me to tresspass the property of the most dreaded house on the block. These "haunted houses" were always named after the residents who haunted them. In our neighborhood, it was the "Anderson house". It rested just off the bumpy dirt road about 4 blocks away from the school. I remember on that afternoon that the sky was a deep gray with no clouds whatsoever. It was a bit windy, and of course, such ambiance was perfect a Halloween day. By dusk, and when our sacks were safely full of candy, I remember venturing toward the Anderson house while my brother narrated all of the evil and horrible happenings perpetrated by the witch that lived there.

Old lady Anderson was a witch, or at least, that was the legend. As I grew older I realized that she was just a quiet old woman who lived alone. Unfortunately, she was the perfect fodder for childish rumors of witches and ghostly happenings. The house seemed fearsome and dreadful in the daylight, so after dark, its presence was pure evil. It was cold out, and the wind blew our pant legs to one side or the other. Stars were obscured by clouds, and the only light provided was that of what few street lamps there were. It was a widely known fact that ghostly things lived in the shadows, and we were just scant feet away from negotiating the very threshold of terror.

At first we hushed; there was no sound except for the wind rustling October branches. Fallen leaves scraped across the ground like animated dead things. At such a young age, it hadn't occurred to me that if my brother was so brave, why was he standing right next to me? Better yet, why did my friends all dare me to go to the porch? Why didn't any one of them go? The answer was simple, a dare is a dare, and daring your friends into doing stupid things was what kids did for a living.

So, the time came to either get brave, or chicken out. I walked a bit closer to the dead grass that played host to the evil edifice. An old rusted mailbox leaned to one side. I could hear my tennis-shoed feet crunching the gravel as I neared the property. The porch was wooden, and only one rickety step led to the door. The wind was creaking the screen door on the front porch and there were no lights on anywhere. The house, I'll admit to this day, was creepy, but it was just a house badly in need of repair.

I moved across the lawn as carefully as a solider would traverse a mine field. Suddenly the wind kicked up; it blew the screen door open, then slammed it shut again! We all scrambled, running for our lives in fear of the witch who could reach out and grab us before we reached the safe haven of the street we lived on. It had to have been she who made the screen door slam. It was a warning to us all to go away and never come back. We never did.

The only thing that followed us home that night on that dark, dirt road near the Anderson house was the memory of what we wanted to believe. Halloween just wasn't the same without the horror, the terror nor the demented curiosity of the neighborhood haunted house. I, like many, kept my terror alive through memories and distorted re-tellings. Yes, those were the days, and I miss them every year come Halloween, and I think my favorite memory is of that old house on that old dirt road, and the Halloween of 1962.