The Attack of the Graveyard Ghost… Happy Halloween

 

It's that time of the year when my sister and I get together with my wife Peggy and Nancy's husband Jim for our annual pumpkin carving contest.

It’s that time of the year when ghoul

I had lunch with my sister Nancy and her husband Jim yesterday. With Halloween a day away, my thoughts turned to the the Graveyard we grew up next to. While my brother Marshall and I had a healthy respect for its inhabitants, my sister Nancy Jo’s fear of dead people bordered on monumental. This tale relates to her encounter with the Graveyard Ghost as a teenage girl. I trot it out every couple of years for Halloween on my blog, so you may have read it before.

My sister was seven years older than I and lived on a different planet, the mysterious world of teenage girls. Her concern about ghosts makes this story a powerful testimony to teenage hormones. It begins with Nancy falling in ‘love’ with the ‘boy’ next door, Johnny.

Johnny’s parents were good folks from a kids’ perspective. Marshall and I raided their apple trees with impunity and Mama, a big Italian lady, made great spaghetti. I was fascinated with the way she yelled “Bullll Sheeeet” in a community-wide voice when she was whipping Papa into line. He was a skinny, Old Country type of guy who thought he should be in charge.

I use the terms love and boy somewhat loosely since Nancy at 15 was a little young for love and Johnny, a 22-year-old Korean War Veteran, was a little old for the boy designation, not to mention Nancy. Our parents were not happy, a fact that only seemed to encourage my sister.

Her teenage hormones aided by a healthy dose of rebellion overcame her good sense and she pursued the budding relationship. Johnny didn’t make it easy. His idea of a special date was to drive down the alley and honk. Otherwise, he avoided our place. If Nancy wanted to see him, she had to visit his home.

It should have been easy; his house was right behind ours. But there was a major obstacle, the dreaded Graveyard.

Nancy had to climb over the fence or walk up the alley past the Graveyard to visit. Given her feelings about dead people, the solution seemed easy… climb the fence. Marsh and I had been over many times in search of apples. Something about teenage girl dignity I didn’t understand eliminated fence climbing, however.

Nancy was left up the alley without an escort.

While she wasn’t above sneaking out of the house, Nancy asked permission to see Johnny the night of the Graveyard Ghost attack. She approached Mother around seven. It was one of those warm summer evenings where the sun is reluctant to go down and boys are granted special permission to stay up. Marshall and I listened intently.

“Mother, I think I’ll go visit Johnny,” Nancy stated and asked in the same sentence. Careful maneuvering was required. An outright statement would have triggered a parental prerogative no and an outright question may have solicited a parental concern no.

Silence. This communicated disapproval, a possible no, and a tad of punishment for raising the issue.

“Mother?” We were on the edge of an impending teenage tantrum. Nancy could throw a good one.

“OK” with weary resignation followed by, “but you have to be home by ten.”

What we heard was TEN. Translate after dark. Nancy would be coming down the alley past the Graveyard in the dark and she would be scared. Knowing Johnny’s desire to avoid my parents, we figured she would also be alone. A fiendish plot was hatched.

At 9:45 Marsh and I slipped outside and made our way up the alley to a point half way between our house and Johnny’s. Next we took a few steps into Graveyard where weed-like Heavenly Trees and deep Myrtle provided perfect cover. Hiding there at night was scary but Marshall and I were operating under inspiration.

Marsh stripped the limbs off of one of the young trees, bent it over like a catapult, and draped his white T-shirt on the trunk. We then scrunched down and waited.

At exactly ten, Nancy opened the back door and stepped outside with Johnny. Our hearts skipped a beat. Would he walk her home? No. After a perfunctory goodnight, Johnny dutifully went back inside and one very alone sister began her hesitant but fateful walk down the alley.

She approached slowly, desperately looking the other direction to avoid seeing tombstones and keeping as far from the Graveyard as the alley and fence allowed. At exactly the right moment, we struck. Marshall let go of the T-shirt and the supple Heavenly Tree whipped it into the air. It arched up over the alley and floated down in front of our already frightened sister. We started woooooing wildly.

Did Nancy streak down the alley to the safety of the House? No. Did she figure out her two little brothers were playing a trick and commit murder? No. Absolute hysteria ensued. She stood still and screamed. She was feet stuck to the ground petrified except for her lungs and mouth; they worked fine.

As her voice hit opera pitch, we realized that our prank was not going as planned. Nancy was not having fun. We leapt out to remedy the problem.

Bad idea.

Two bodies hurtling at you out of a graveyard in the dark of night is not a recommended solution for frayed nerves and intense fear of dead people. The three of us, Nancy bawling and Marshall and I worrying about consequences, proceeded to the house. As I recall, our parents were not impressed with our concept of evening entertainment. I suspect they laughed after we went to bed. Sixty years later, Nancy, Marshall and I still are.

One of many pumpkins we have carved over the years.

One of many pumpkins we have carved over the years.

NEXT BLOG: Beautiful fall colors are surrounding our home on the Upper Applegate River in Southern Oregon. I will take you on a tour.

Mr. Fitzgerald Is Dead, Very Dead… Ghostly Tales

Marshall and I with the family dogs. I am on the left holding Happy. Marshall has Coalie.

Marshall and I with the family dogs in a photo taken about the time of our graveyard adventure. I am on the left holding Happy. Marshall has Coalie. The Graveyard starts about 30 feet away.

Ghosts  are out and about. I saw several today. And scary things they are with their booing and disappearing and haunting and tattered sheets. I thought I better get with the season and reblog some earlier ghostly tales from my youth.  Our family lived next to a graveyard. Many were the encounters we had with the creatures of the night. I would like to begin by reporting Mr. Fitzgerald is dead, very dead.

He has been for decades but I still have a clear memory of spying on him, trying to get my six-year-old mind around old age. I was perched in my favorite lookout, a Black Locust tree on the edge of the Graveyard. Dark clouds heavy with rain marched in from the Pacific while distant thunder announced the approaching storm. A stiff, cool breeze sent yellow leaves dancing across the ground.

Mr. Fitzgerald was a bent old man preparing for a future that might not arrive. He wore a heavy coat to fight off the chill. I watched him shuffle around in his backyard. He sharpened his axe on a foot operated grinding wheel and then chopped wood.

When he slowly bent over to pick up the scattered pieces and carry them into his shed, I scrambled down from the tree. I located a convenient knothole in the wall so I could continue to spy on him. He stopped stacking wood and stared intently at where I was, as though he could see through the weathered boards.

It frightened me.

I took off like a spooked rabbit. Mr. Fitzgerald was intriguing but his age and frailty spoke of death. I already knew too many dead people. They lived next door.

The Graveyard was out the backdoor and across the alley. We lived with its ghostly white reminders of our mortality day and night. Ancient tombstones with fading epitaphs whispered of those who had come to seek their fortune in California’s Gold Rush and stayed for eternity. Time had given their resting place a sense of permanence and even peace. But not all of the graves were old. Occasionally a fresh body was buried on the opposite side of the cemetery. I stayed far away; the newly dead are restless.

At some time in the past, Heavenly Trees from China had been planted to provide shade. They behaved like weeds. Cut them down and they sprang back up twice as thick. Since chopping them down provided Diamond Springs Boy Scout Troop 95 with a community project every few years, they retaliated by forming a visually impenetrable mass of green in summer and an army of sticks in winter. Trailing Myrtle, a cover plant with Jurassic aspirations, hid the ground in deep, leafy foliage.

During the day, it took little imagination to change the lush growth into a jungle playground populated with ferocious tigers, bone crushing boas and half-starved cannibals.

Night was different; the Graveyard became a place of mystery and danger. Dead people abandoned their underground chambers and slithered up through the ground.

A local test of boyhood bravery was to go into the Graveyard after dark and walk over myrtle-hidden graves, taunting the inhabitants. Slight depressions announced where they lived and tripped you up. My older brother Marshall persuaded me to accompany him there on a moonless night. I entered with foreboding: fearing the dark, fearing the tombstones and fearing the ghosts. Half way through I heard a muzzled sound. Someone, or thing, was stalking us.

“Hey Marsh, what was that?” I whispered urgently.

“Your imagination, Curt,” was the disdainful reply.

Crunch! Something was behind a tombstone and it was not my imagination. Marshall heard it too. We went crashing out of the Graveyard with the creature of the night in swift pursuit, wagging her tail.

“I knew it was the dog all of the time,” Marsh claimed. Yeah, sure you did.

NEXT BLOG: The Attack of the Graveyard Ghost. 

The Great Tree Race

My grandson demonstrates his tree climbing skills on a large madrone.

“I can climb that tree, Grandpa,” my six-year old grandson announced proudly to me yesterday. It’s a refrain I’ve heard frequently over the past week from the visiting six-year old. His three-year old brother has similar ambitions, if not abilities. Their father is building them a tree house in Tennessee. It’s the ultimate dream of all impassioned tree climbers.

I remember when my dad (Pop) built a tree house for my older brother Marshall and me in the graveyard next to our house.

I’ve posted earlier blogs about the graveyard’s jungle-like nature. It’s potential as a playground was impossible to ignore. Young Heavenly Trees made great spears for throwing at each other.

That game ended when we impaled Lee Kinser’s hand. Neither Lee nor his parents were happy about this development and our efforts to master spear throwing were brought to an immediate halt. But a greater challenge remained.

Two incense cedars dominated the Graveyard. From an under five-foot perspective, they were gigantic, stretching some 75 feet skyward. The limbs of the largest tree started 20 feet up and provided scant hope for climbing. As usual, Marshall found a risky way around the problem.

Several of the huge limbs came tantalizingly close to the ground at their tips and one could be reached by standing on a convenient tombstone. Only Marshall could reach it; I was frustratingly short by several inches.

Marsh would make a leap, grab the limb and shimmy up it hanging butt-down until the limb became large enough for him to work his way around to the top. Then he would shimmy up to the tree trunk, four to five Curtis lengths off the ground. After that he would climb to wonderfully mysterious heights I could only dream about.

Eventually I grew tall enough to make my first triumphant journey up the limb. Then, very carefully, I climbed to the heart-stopping top, limb by limb. All of Diamond Springs spread out before me. I could see the school, and the mill, and the woods, and the hill with a Cross where I had shivered my way through an Easter Sunrise Service. I could see the whole world.

Except for a slight wind that made the tree sway and stirred my imagination about the far away ground, I figured I was as close to Heaven as I would ever get

By the time I finally made it to the top, Marshall had more grandiose plans for the tree. We would build a tree house in the upper branches. Off we went to the Mill to liberate some two by fours. Then we raided Pop’s tool shed for a hammer, nails, and rope.

My job was to be the ground man while Marshall climbed up to the top. He would then lower the rope and I would tie on a board that he would hoist up and nail in. It was a good plan, or so we thought.

Along about the third board, Pop showed up. It wasn’t so much that we wanted to build a tree house in the Graveyard that bothered him, or even that we had borrowed his tools without asking. He even seemed to ignore the liberated lumber.

His concern was that we were building our house too close to the top of the tree on thin limbs that would easily break with nails that barely reached through the boards. After he graphically described the potential results, even Marshall had second thoughts.

Pop had a solution though. He would build us a proper tree house on the massive limbs that were only 20 feet off the ground. He would also add a ladder so we could avoid our tombstone-shimmy-up-the-limb route.

And he did. It was a magnificent open tree house of Swiss Family Robinson proportions that easily accommodated our buddies and us with room to spare. Hidden in the tree and hidden in the middle of the Graveyard, it became our special hangout where we could escape everything except the call to dinner. It became my center for daydreaming and Marshall’s center for mischief planning. He, along with our friends Allen and Lee, would plan our forays into Diamond designed to terrorize the local populace.

It also became the starting point for the Great Tree Race. We would scramble to the top and back down in one on one competition as quickly as we could. Slips were a common hazard. Unfortunately, the other boys always beat me; they were two to three years older and I was the one most susceptible to slipping. My steady diet of Tarzan comic books sustained me though and I refused to give up.  Eventually, several years later, I would triumph.

Marshall was taking a teenage time-out with our grandparents who had moved to Watsonville down on the Central Coast of California. Each day I went to the Graveyard and took several practice runs up the tree. I became half ape. Each limb was memorized and an optimum route chosen. Tree climbing muscles bulged; my grip became iron and my nerves steel.

Finally, Marshall came home. He was every bit the big brother who had been away at high school while little brother stayed at home and finished grade school. He talked of cars and girls and wild parties and of his friend Dwight who could knock people out with one punch.

I casually mentioned the possibility of a race to the top of the Tree. What a set up. Two pack-a-day sixteen-year old cigarette smokers aren’t into tree climbing but how can you resist a challenge from your little brother.

Off we went. Marsh didn’t stand a chance. It was payback time for a million big brother abuses. I flew up and down the tree. I hardly touched the limbs. Slip? So what, I would catch the next limb. Marsh was about half way up the tree when I passed him on my way down. I showed no mercy and greeted him with a grin when he arrived, huffing and puffing, back at the tree house.

His sense of humor was minimal but I considered the results a fitting end to The Great Tree Race and my years of close association with the Grave Yard.