by K.M. Zahrt
“How come Ms. Jenny won’t participate in Halloween, Pop-Pop?” asked Tommy.
“A-hee-hee!” Pop-Pop howled. “The ol’ buzzard says celebratin’ Halloween is like askin’ fer hellfire to rain down on yer house.”
“Is that true, Pop-Pop?”
Pop-Pop leaned toward Tommy, very serious-like, and said, “Celebratin’ Halloween prevents the hellfire.”
“Oh, hush up, you old man,” Baba scolded. “You don’t know nothing.”
“I know plenty,” Pop-Pop said.
“Tommy, I think Pop’s done answering your questions,” Mom said.
“As the legend goes,” Pop-Pop continued unhindered, “Halloween started a long, long time ago. At that time, New Year’s Day was the first-a November, so they celebrated New Year’s Eve on October 31. The day signified the end-a the harvest an’ the end-a the growin’ season. Everybody got all dressed up nice an’ came together fer-a big festival. The town crier would count down to the end-a the night, an’ they would set off some kind-a primitive firework display. Well, one year, things went wrong, ya see?”
“How so, Pop-Pop?” asked Tommy.
“There was this old farmer in the town whose wife was-a real witch, ya see?”
“Watch your tongue, Leonard,” Baba warned. “I won’t have this house cursed on account of you.”
Pop-Pop continued, “That year, the old farmer was sittin’ on-a hay bale a little too close to the fireworks, an’ ‘is bale caught on fire. In those days, the emergency practices weren’t too good, an’ the old farmer burned up perdy quick. There was nothin’ they could do. The next day, the whole town was at the funeral. They grieved for the appropriate amount-a time, but then everything seemed normal after that. Everybody went about their regular business, except the old farmer’s widow, of course. She became-a recluse. Holed up, an’ nobody ever saw much-a her again.
“The next summer, there was-a drought. A bad one. By the time New Year’s Eve came ’round, there was nothin’ to celebrate. An’ there was-a general feeling ’round the town that the old farmer’s ghost was takin’ ‘is revenge on the town. So, a group-a five men led by the town crier an’ the priest dressed up like ghosts to go scare the old farmer’s ghost out-a town, once an’ fer all. The plan was to make-a lot-a racket an’ maybe set fire to-a few hay bales, ya see? Did I mention the old farmer’s widow was-a real witch, Tommy?”
“You did, Pop-Pop.”
“Oh. Well, the old witch was waitin’ fer them. She stood there on the front porch as the men came up. Accordin’ to the legend, she said something like, ‘Why don’t you boys come in fer-a treat?’ An’ they said, ‘We’re not here for any-a yer tricks. We’re here to exorcise this ghost, once an’ fer all.’
“The men divided up an’ started settin’ hay bales on fire all ’round the house, an’ that’s when it happened. Suddenly, the hay bales were disappearin’ right out from under them. An’ the old witch was cacklin’ so loud, her eerie laugh echoed throughout the town. The next day, the town crier turned up with nothin’ but four jack-o-lanterns an’ a wild tale. Tommy, the old witch turned them into pumpkins.”
“Nobody ever saw them again, Pop-Pop?”
“Not the men nor the old witch. So, the next year, in fear of-a curse, the young people dressed up like ghosts to try an’ scare the ghosts of the farmer an’ ‘is widow away, an’ when they went to folks’ houses, they would say, ‘Trick or treat?’ If the person had-a treat, then everybody knew they weren’t a witch, ya see? No tricks.
“The day grew to be-a big deal. A real superstitious practice. People started missin’ the regular New Year’s Eve celebrations, so they moved New Year’s Day back-a few months. An’ it’s still that way today.”
“What do you know, old man?” Baba said. “You wouldn’t know the post office from the grocery store if I didn’t tell you.”
Pop-Pop leaned in toward Tommy. “An’ some people believe the old witch still lives on in old wives everywhere. Halloween has to be observed in every town. Otherwise, we’d all be cursed.”
“There won’t be any tricks in this house.” Baba pounded her fist down on the table.
“So, does that make Ms. Jenny a witch, Pop-Pop?” asked Tommy.
Pop-Pop scratched his freckled scalped. At last, he said, “By golly, Tommy, I think yer prolly right ’bout that.”