Scarecrows and Snickers bars. Free candy by the skull full. Halloween reigned supreme. You got to sneak and eat as much candy as you wanted, nobody told you no. Costumes were as free and cheap as a ripped up bed sheet. My personal hits were Jezebel and a pregnant hillbilly. That’s right, a religious feminist figure right out of the Old Testament and a costume that comes off a little too easy around our town.
In the Deep South, Halloween is as divisive a day as the whole of college football season. You can celebrate, but not too much because this is the Devil’s Day after all. Those who partook in the pagan ritual, well, they would be sucking the teats of Satan come Rapture, which would most likely happen on November 1st at 3 a.m. right when you fall into a candy coma at the Devil’s Hour.
Churches kept children off the streets with Bible-based costume parties and haunted fellowship halls. One year I was dressed like Jezebel tricking and treating amongst a sea of Marys and Josephs. Glitter packed black lined eyes. Shadows boxing across my cheeks. Hair righteously teased and crimped. The dress of a gypsy.
And about religion, I didn’t just go to church. I went to Churches. I was determined to figure out what it was that would keep me from burning in an Eternal Sea of Flames.
To all the sudden look around and have no one else around you because you missed the Rapture? Oh, the dystopian hell on earth that would commence as written in the Book of Revelations. When the final fall harvest is reaped with the mighty sickle of God, demons crawling out of the woodwork, only sinners left here to torture one another. And Flames, oh the Flames!
The thought of that happening at any possible time was unfathomable and I was determined. Determined. The problem was adults around me were not exhibiting the same behaviors they preached about to those in the pews. When it came to churchgoing adults, even the cussing lines were crossed.
“Don’t say God’s name in vain” would come out of the same mouth of a church leader saying, “Goddamn it” the next day at the house. I myself was a cusser and I wanted to know the words I could get away with and not burn in eternal damnation for it.
Belting out the blues of Chuck Berry, “Hail, hail rock and roll!” right along with Maggie and Bart. I had The Simpsons Sing The Blues spinning on my cassette so I could get away with saying hell all the time. I loved finding ways to slip in cussy sounding words.
Do you know what a dingleberry is? I do. Ain’t caught me calling a kid a dingleberry.
“Go look it up.”
Dictionary Time was a pleasure, right along with the punishment of having to write something a hundred times. When I got punished with sitting at the kitchen table writing, “I will not cuss” just like a little Bart Simpson? That was heaven on earth.
“It means a ball of animal poop stuck to the hair of its butt. And also a foolish person, it says a dingleberry is a fool.”
“Do not say fool, that’s the same as cussing.”
I could not win.
Cussing is also the reason I got suspended from the school field trip in the fourth grade. That and a few other disciplinary actions. It was this boy that got me in trouble. The same kid every time. Calling him a cuss word from across the classroom was what finally drove my teacher batty and she did it. Suspended. From the school field trip!
If these religious leaders were going to get into heaven with a little cussing, then maybe I could be a little cuss, too. The thing with going to Churches was I could learn more about religion and try and figure this thing out.
For one, why do we have congregation this and congregation that? Are we all right or all wrong and who’s really going to get Left Behind? And the more I was in church, the less I was out there sinning. You can’t rightfully sin in church. Or so I thought Until I committed the Ultimate Sin in church.
More About Church:
Easter egg hunts
Vacation bible school
Sunday evening service
Wednesday evening service
Cleanings on Saturday mornings,
Spending time with the saintly, all-smiling preacher’s wife.
Then there were:
Revival meetings throughout the week, and random breakfast meetings with church leaders we attended. Church singings with groups from out of town coupled by choir singing practice where I played the tedious and timely tambourine.
Church, the all-encompassing.
Services on all religious holidays were Supersized. This started with packed pews stuffed with sinner sons who only showed up on holiday Sundays to make their moms happy. Tack on an extra hour or more of preaching and singing, especially if said holiday was affiliated with religious hymns.
Holiday church services also meant one heck of a massive potluck with every church lady bringing her best banana pudding and fried chicken freshly picked up from the local chain in between the short time the preacher said, “You are dismissed,” and the first of the chow line started moving down in the fellowship hall.
The timing had to be just right. Twenty minutes tops. That’s how long it takes to run over to the local KFC or other fine fried chicken establishment. Because all good church ladies know you can’t be Sitting in the pew and Serving hot fried juicy poultry in the heart of chicken country by 2 pm at the Same time.
One year I went to a not-my-congregation church to celebrate Halloween with a Harvest Festival. We were Holiness, these people were Baptists. Their church fellowship hall was a mansion at three floors. The festivities all started on Ground Level of the fellowship hall.
Everyone splashed through water barrels of bobbing apples, and tossed fishing poles with clothes pin hooks through a black fabric hole for prizes. From there we proceeded up a floor to the start of the Haunted Halls.
Each room was themed to taunt and haunt, each Sunday school class creating their own. The last rooms were made by the teen classes. The final room I made it to I sat down on a sofa positioned in front of a television set straight out of “Poltergeist.”
The Sunday school room was transformed into a typical living room scene with a mirror, coffee table, a rug, and fake plants. As we sat watching scenes from random scary films, the mirror gave me a glimpse.
Freddy Krueger entered the room. Brown hat, striped shirt, hands clawed in metal fingers. He crept down behind the sofa and slipped his metal claws onto my shoulder. Pointy sharp stabbing near my ear, I screamed and scrammed fast from that sofa!
Flying out the door, running down to the second floor, and making it without dying to the Ground Level where everyone laughed and carried on so jolly sweet!
Outside, grabbed some hot cocoa and jumped on the back of the wagon trailer stuffed with hay like a giant scarecrow and spent the rest of the evening hay riding far from the horrors within that church building.
Them Baptists think differently about staying out of hell and backsliding, too. I was taught that just because you were saved didn’t mean you were really saved. If you sinned, at any time, before you repented, you were a backslider unsaved from the pits of fire and eternal damnation. That’s why you cannot do anything wrong—Ever. And if you do, start repenting fast.
As someone who was raised differently from the start, I didn’t have the same engrained understanding of this Holiness belief.
This is also why I chose to dress like a pregnant hillbilly one year I was a trick or treater. Five-foot-five in fifth grade, my overalls’ stomach stuffed and a straw cowboy hat. Extra painted on freckles and a pair of pigtails. But that look of the lady at that first house I trick-or-treated—she wasn’t sure whether to pat my belly or give me a religious pamphlet. In the end it was a look of scorn and a miniature size Snickers. And the loss of my Halloween innocence.
Every Halloween I was out before dusk and didn’t come back for hours. Most years by bicycle roaming neighborhood after neighborhood between the house and the school. It was about a mile in each direction so there was a lot of candy to cover. Halloween. The one holiday where kids get to run wild and be free like they should be.
Halloween when I was 14 was also the last time I saw my dad alive.
He pulled up in his gray boat of a classic 1976 Lincoln Town Coupe to which there is nothing small about. He passed me two things through the window. The first thing he gave me was a giant Gobstopper. The second thing he gave me was a pocket knife. It was a cheap plastic fold-up one with little flowers painted on the handle that’s long been lost.
He told me to be careful. I was set to go on a trip with one of those uncle-cousin-bros, but it didn’t happen because I moved to a new foster home first.
Then he was gone.
I like to believe he’s still out there, cruising neighborhoods at that hour right before dusk on Halloween in that sleek steel beast. Giving the good kids giant Gobstoppers and pocketknives, mischievous grins and sound advice.
What genre is “No Name,” supposed to be? Well, I mean, horror-fantasy fiction-memoir?
Little girl grows up hooked on opioids and ends up haunted by the demon of her childhood—Lit.Er.A.Lly. Southern Gothic + Growing Up in the Nineties. This is not your mommy’s “Friends” or “Full House,” Not unless you inject those with racists and thieves, religious fanatics and the biggest horror of them all, the US foster care system.
Closest I can tell you I think of this book as something coming from the likes of David Sedaris’s mind inside the soul and body of Karl Ove Knausgård with Flannery O’Connor’s Southern feminist writing spirit guiding the whole muster.
If you like those writers maybe? Maybe you’ll enjoy this. I think so? But it’s also got some serious Stephen King infused in there. The horror, oh! The horror!
Thank you for reading…all the way to THE END!