RAY BRADBURY’S HAL­LOWEEN HIJINKS

Ray Bradbury re­calls his fam­ily’s zeal for Hal­loween

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I HAVE AL­WAYS CON­SID­ERED Hal­loweens wilder and richer and more im­por­tant than even Christ­mas morn­ing. The dark and lovely mem­o­ries leap back at me as I re­call my ghostly rel­a­tives, and the things that creaked stairs or sang softly in the hinges when you opened a door.

For I have been most for­tu­nate in the se­lec­tion of my aunts and un­cles and mid­night-minded cousins. My grandma gave me her old black-vel­vet opera cape to cut into bat wings when I was eight. My aunt gave me some white candy fangs to stick in my mouth to make the most ter­ri­ble smiles. A great-aunt en­cour­aged me in my witchcrafts by paint­ing my face into a skull and stash­ing me in clos­ets to in­duce car­diac ar­rest in pass­ing rel­a­tives or up­stairs board­ers. My mother cor­rupted me com­pletely by in­tro­duc­ing me to Lon Chaney in The Hunch­back of Notre Dame when I was three.

In sum, Hal­loween has al­ways been the cel­e­bra­tion for me and mine. And those Hal­loweens in the late 1920s and early ’30s come back to me now at the least scent of can­dle wax or aroma of pump­kin pies.

AUTUMNS WERE A com­bi­na­tion of that dread mo­ment when you see whole win­dows of dime stores full of nickel pads and yel­low pen­cils mean­ing School Is Here and also the bright prom­ise of Oc­to­ber, that stir­ring stuff that lurks in the blood and makes chil­dren break out in joy­ful sweats, plan­ning ahead.

For we did plan ahead in the Bradbury houses. We were three fam­i­lies on one sin­gle block in Waukegan, Ill. My grandma and, un­til he died in 1926, grandpa lived in the cor­ner house; my mom and dad, and my brother Skip and I, in the house next door to that; and around the block my Un­cle Bion.

One of the prime Hal­loween years was 1928. Ev­ery­thing that was grand­est came to a spe­cial cli­max that au­tumn.

My Aunt Neva was 17 and just out of high school, and she had a Model A Ford. “Okay, kiddo,” she said around about Oc­to­ber 20. “It’s com­ing fast. Let’s make plans. How do we use the at­tics? Where do we put the witches? How many corn shocks do we bring in from the farms? Who gets bricked up in the cel­lar with the Amon­til­lado?”

“Wait, wait, wait!” I yelled, and we made a list. Neva drew pic­tures and made paint­ings of the cos­tumes we would all wear to make the hol­i­day truly fas­ci­nat­ing and hor­ri­ble. That was Cos­tume Paint­ing Night. When Neva fin­ished, there were sketches of

Hal­loween didn’t just stroll into our yards. It had to be seized and shaped and made to hap­pen!

Grandma as the nice mother in “The Mon­key’s Paw,” paint­ings of my dad as Edgar Al­lan Poe, some fine grisly ren­der­ings of my brother as hunch-backed Quasi­modo, and my­self play­ing my own xy­lo­phone skele­ton as Dr. Death.

Af­ter that came Cos­tume Cut­ting Night, Mask Paint­ing Night, Cider Mak­ing Night, Can­dle Dip­ping and Taffy Pulling Night, and Phono­graph Play­ing Night, when we picked the spook­i­est music. Hal­loween, you see, didn’t just stroll into our yards. It had to be seized and shaped and made to hap­pen!

My grandparents’ home, then, was a caul­dron to which we might bring hick­ory sticks that looked like witches’ bro­ken arms and leaves from the fam­ily grave­yard out where the ban­shee trains ran by at night fill­ing the air with be­reave­ments. To their house, up­stairs and down, must be fetched corn shocks from fields just beyond the bury­ing tombs, and pump­kins. And from Wool­worths, orange-black crepe ser­pen­tines and bags of black con­fetti that you tossed on the wind, yelling, “A witch just sneezed!’’

OC­TO­BER 29 AND 30 were al­most as great as Oc­to­ber 31, for those were the late af­ter­noons, the cool, spicy dusks when Neva and Skip and I went out for the fi­nal procur­ing.

“Watch out, pump­kins!”

I stood by the Model A as the sun fur­naced the west­ern sky and van­ished, leav­ing spilled-blood and burnt-pump­kin colours be­hind. “Pump­kins, if they had any brains, would hide tonight!” said I.

“Yeah,” said Skip. “Here comes the Smiler with the Knife!” I beamed, feel­ing my Boy Scout knife in my pocket.

We reached our un­cles’ farms and went out to dance around the corn shocks and grab great arm­fuls and wres­tle them like dry ghosts back to the rum­ble seat. Then we went back to get the har­vest-moon pump­kins. They bur­rowed in the grass, but they could not es­cape the Smiler and his friends. Then home, with the corn­stalks wav­ing their arms wildly in the wind be­hind us. Home past real grave­yards with real cold peo­ple in them, your brother and sis­ter, and you think­ing of them and know­ing the true, deep sense of Hal­loween.

The whole house had to be done over in a few short, wild hours. Then, ev­ery­thing set and placed and ready, you run out late from house to house to make cer­tain that the ghosts and witches will be there to­mor­row night. Your go­rilla fangs in your mouth, your winged cape flap­ping, you come home

Prepa­ra­tion was 70 per cent of the mad game—more en­chant­ing than the stam­pede it­self.

and stand in front of your grandparents’ house and look at how great and spooky it has be­come, be­cause your sappy aunt and your loony brother and you your­self have mag­icked it over, doused the lights and lit all the dis­em­bow­elled pump­kins. You sneak up onto the porch, tip­toe down the hall, peer into the dim par­lour and whis­per: “Boo.”

And that’s it.

OH, SURE, HAL­LOWEEN AR­RIVED. Sure, the next night was wild and lovely and fine. Ap­ples swung in door­ways to be nib­bled by two dozen hun­gry-mice chil­dren.

But the party was al­most unim­por­tant, wasn’t it? Prepa­ra­tion was 70 per cent of the mad game. As with most hol­i­days, the get­ting set was sweeter, sad­der, more en­chant­ing than the stam­pede it­self.

That Hal­loween of 1928 came like the rusted moon up in the sky—sail­ing, and then down like that same moon. And then it was over. I stood in the mid­dle of my grandma’s liv­ing room and wept.

Later, I went to bed. “Darn,” I said in the mid­dle of the night.

“Darn what?” asked my brother, awake in bed be­side me.

“A whole darn year un­til Hal­loween again. What if I died, wait­ing?”

“Then,” said my brother, af­ter a long si­lence, “you’ll be Hal­loween. Dead peo­ple are Hal­loween.”

“Hey,” said I, “I never thought of that.” I thought: 365 days from now. Gimme a pad, some pa­per. Neva, rev up that Model A! Skip, hunch your back! Farm­yards, grow pump­kins! Grave­yards, shiver your stones! Moon, rise! Wind, hit the trees, blow up the leaves! Up, now, run! Tricks! Treats! Gang­way!

And a small boy in mid­night Illi­nois, sud­denly glad to be alive, felt snail­tracks of his tears…a smile. And then he slept.

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