Old Haunts & New
By Patricia Paris
I could hear the hum of the a/c compressor as I worked. During the summer months, I can adapt and block out the noise but today the humming seemed strange and intrusive. It is November. Yesterday was Halloween.
I made another attempt to capture and bag a few more willow oak leaves that make their way each week into the yard, flowerbeds, ground cover, and driveway. They drift into piles on the porch and each time the door is opened, one or two will rise and take a sudden flying leap into the foyer. Each fall I rake and sweep and bag as many of the slender leaves and tiny acorns as I can before it becomes too cold to work outdoors and I’m forced to leave the rest to nature.
When I planted that tree thirteen years ago, it stood eye to eye with me, five foot two. Until that day, I’d never heard of a willow oak but the man at the nursery informed me that’s what it was and that’s what I needed. I’d asked for a tree that would provide shade against the hot afternoon sun and explained that it couldn’t grow very large; there wasn’t enough space. He assured me a willow oak would be perfect. He looked me straight in the eye and told me it would not grow more than twelve to fifteen feet and that it would not have a wide spreading root system.
That little tree just stood there and looked around for the first three years and I wondered if it would make it. I fed it and watered it during the dry months. Each December I wrapped a single string of lights around it, reaching to the top without tiptoeing. After the third year, there were some growth spurts and I climbed a small ladder and, after many attempts, lassoed the lights to the top. Now at thirty feet, it towers above my two-story dwelling and I shudder when I think of where those roots might be going. The only ladder tall enough to reach its top is somewhere on a fire truck, so the willow oak no longer celebrates Christmas.
At mid-morning, my neighbor, A. Jacks, came loping across the yard.
“I saw you out raking earlier. It’s too hot to be raking leaves, Patricia.”
"How right you are! It’s supposed to be cool; seems unnatural in this heat.”
"Speaking of unnatural, I believe this was the first Halloween ever that I slept with the a/c on. By late October-November, we’re usually on the edge of winter.”
“Absolutely. I remember when my children went trick or treating. They’d wear extra clothing under their costumes, and I’d trail behind, nearly freezing. Speaking of Halloween, did I ever tell you the story about my grandfather?”
“No, I don’t think so. Sam’s named after him, right?”
“Right. My grandfather’s the original. There’s been several Sam’s, even a daughter once. They named her Sammy...Sammy Ruth.”
Now, back to my story. They lived in a small town in East Tennessee, which hadn’t caught on to Halloween yet. School children cut jack-o-lanterns from construction paper but other than that, it had always been just another day on the calendar.
“Then one Halloween night in the late 40’s or maybe ‘50, my grandfather answered a knock on the door and there stood a criminal. It was really just his neighbor with a stocking pulled over his head. ‘Trick or Treat’ had come to Small Town, East Tennessee and the neighbor, a fun loving type, was eagerly joining in. He said ‘trick or treat, Sam’ but ‘Sam’ didn’t understand so he kept backing away from the door, trying to put some distance between he and that criminal. After the neighbor revealed himself, ‘Sam’ never completely understood. In the years that followed, he would recall that night, “You know, he came here one night with a stocking pulled over his head. Nearly scared me to death.”
“Halloween’s moved along at a fast clip since then, Patricia. Now there are parties, haunted houses, and some mighty fancy costumes. Some of the kids who came to my door were wearing some cool stuff.”
“A friend stopped by and we went for a long walk. We saw over a hundred kids in every costume imaginable. Some of the houses had great decorations. One had a long, black, covered walk, like a ‘tunnel’ that led up to the steps and ‘fog’ billowed from the inside. We could glimpse all sorts of spooky things inside the tunnel. Scary music drifted from several houses. We just blended in with all the spooks and goblins and had a great time listening to the kids.”
“Blended in? Were you dressed up for Halloween too?”
“Sure! We wore regular clothes and went as two middle-aged people.”
“How original, Patricia! Hope you didn’t scare the kids.”
Copyright 2009 Patricia Parispatriciaparis@gmail.comMember: Tennessee Writers Alliance, Int’l Women’s Writing Guild, Tennessee Mountain Writers, Chattanooga Writers Guild.
Patricia Paris shares her lifelong love of writing with readers everywhere as she delivers her unique, tongue-in-cheek style in her southern-style newspaper column, "Patricia's Porch Talk" in various newspapers across the United States. Managing Editor of JPS Features (2006-2007), a Chattanooga-based website for writers. Currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Chattanooga Writers Guild, her third term as an office.