Carol McCrite

When I was slightly past the age of accountability (according to my Granny’s definition of probabilities regarding sin) I thought ... “Why not trick-or-treat one last time?”

The parents OK’d the adventure. Secretly I felt they had fingers crossed, hoping to share the cache. The rules were clear – only neighborhood houses where I knew the people and be home before dark.

Daddy was an enthusiast when it came to fulfilling my request – a cool costume that would scare the britches off a Billy goat. He surpassed my expectations with a real skeleton head. I repeat ... real … because sometimes when I share this story that fact is missed on first take.

My grandfather was the only dentist in our small Georgia town. He never turned folks away because they were short on cash. People would bring flour or a slab of meat, can of lard or in one isolated instance a very strange IOU.

The poor man was in pain. Needed some teeth pulled. Had no cash and nothing with which to barter. He asked my grandpa if he could make a short will of his skeletal head. The deal was struck as my grandfather wrote out a paragraph and the man put an X beside his printed name. In due time, the man passed and my grandfather proudly displayed the skeleton head in his dental office complete with gold fillings in the teeth still intact as absolutely necessary to chewing food.

After my Papa passed, the skeleton head (which Papa named Joe) was strategically posted at the edge on the loft of Daddy’s garage. The head – framed in a car’s beams as it pulled into our back yard – became known as Daddy’s “security system.”

Anyway, Daddy had a great idea for my costume. He rigged Joe on top of a sawed-off broom handle with a makeshift pully attached to the jaws. I could jerk on the small rope and sync my scary-sounding “trick or treat” voice to the movement of Joe’s mouth. A white sheet draped over my body – with only Joe’s terrifying reality sitting comfortably aloft – completed the killer costume! I was good to go.

First house: the McNeil’s. I rang the bell and Mrs. McNeil flung open her door, took one look at Joe’s head protruding out the top of my sheet and let out a blood-curdling scream. I didn’t even get to say “Trick or Treat” and ... oh no! I didn’t get one small piece of candy in my brown paper bag.

Next house, the Randell’s. Three costume-clad little kids quickly came to the door and just as quickly fled, screaming for Mommy. Mommy caught a glimpse of me and Joe, yelled for the kids to RUN and she slammed (and I’m pretty sure bolt locked) the door. Two strikes. No candy. Totally not going like I planned in my room back home.

Still, I was determined to scarf down some good M&M’s, Almond Bars, Hershey’s, Mars Bars, or heck, I’d even settle for jelly beans.

As much as I hated to do it, I removed Joe from under my sheet, exposed my own face, and marched down the street waving that skeleton head on a stick like a flag in a parade!

At the Mason home I made my third pitch. The door opened and Mrs. Mason smiled. “Hello dear... What a clever idea... carrying your granddaddy’s old skeleton head on a stick. I bet your Daddy put that together for you... blah blah blah.” Her nursing career no doubt softened the blow of seeing a real sho-nuff skeleton head. Still ... she seemed to know its history. I pushed that aside as she loaded me up with divinity, popcorn balls and fudge! Score!

The rest of the neighbors in that one square block were equally as generous. Joe was grinning (or perhaps he was just slack-jawed from my releasing his strings) as we arrived back home, as the sun set and the witches and ghouls were readying themselves for a busy night.

Joe was returned to his regular spot on the garage rafter, serving many more years as a security guard. As the parents sifted through the stash of goodies, I’m pretty sure my grandfather was smiling down on the entire scene. Nevertheless, before I went to bed, I could also hear him whisper in my ear a stern reminder, “Don’t forget to brush!”

Carol McCrite is a former columnist, feature writer and author who is retired and lives in Whittier.