Cowichan Valley author Joy Sheldon offers this excerpt from her book Cowichan Kid: Hijinks at Stratfords Crossing near Duncan in the Fifties for Halloween.
The Scary Apple Witch
The crème de la crème experience in the Fall, of course, was Halloween. We’d stew for weeks over ‘what costume to make this year’. Usually a pirate, a farmer or a cowgirl. Witches and ghosts were popular. The costume had to be manufactured from the materials at hand. A bed sheet (or part thereof) made a convenient ghost. Dad’s work coveralls could double as farmer or logger. The kids at school would vie to see who could make the most imaginative creation. I don’t remember what year it was, but I distinctly remember the circumstances:
A Halloween party was held at the old school on Herd Road. We attended and they had a costume parade. Nearly everyone there, kids and adults alike, were wearing costumes. That night, I saw, bar none, the most humorous and effective costume I have ever seen. As he toddled along in the line-up of people, the ladies, particularly, laughed uproariously. He was middle-aged, hairy chested and fat. Bald as a playground ball. He had a baby bottle stuck in his mouth, a ribbon bonnet on his head, and was wearing only one simple garment-a diaper. (His wife must have custom made it to fit his adult and not-very-small bum.) As he toddled along, unsteadily, he made the appropriate gooing and ‘ga-ga’ noises. He won the costume contest.
‘Trick or treating’ at Halloween time was the highlight of our Fall festivities. As soon as the slightest hint of dark appeared, we kids would head out. Of course, when we were really small, my Dad would accompany us. After age eight or nine we’d hook up with a few of the neighborhood kids on the road. Then the delights began:
We’d usually go to the ‘far away’ neighbors first. My Dad always told us how far away we could range and approximately when he expected us back. Generally, my Dad never gave us a curfew. But I remember that, on Halloween night, we had to be back in by nine o’clock or so. Otherwise, he would come looking for us. Mother would further admonish us: ‘Do not go near the gravel pit at the big corner-especially you, dear’ (meaning me). Bad things can happen in there.’
We never knew exactly what the bad things were, but by high school, suspected. I never went into that gravel pit except once, in the company of my brother to ‘check it out’. It didn’t look too scary to me except that it had a rounded, but fairly flat, bottom, and bowl-shaped sides. I guess that anyone who got trapped in there could not easily get out.
Usually, as it was growing dark, we’d start at our house and proceed south. When we got to Myrtle’s we’d have to be on our toes. She’d open her door with her elderly husband behind her, silhouetted, and usually with a big grin on his face. They’d demand a ‘trick’ in exchange for the treat. Usually, we’d sing a song or recite a poem. Old ‘Cougar’ was adamant that no kid would get a treat unless a feat was performed.
Onward down the road to the two other Smythe families and the teacher’s house. All made a point of being home so that they could treat the kids. When finally we got to the Crossing House we’d start quaking in our shoes. It was time to face the: Scary Apple Witch.
She lived on a small access road that jutted onto Somenos just behind the Crossing House. To us little kids, she was REAL SCARY. We never knew if the outfit she wore was a costume or if she just always dressed in dark, flowing garments. She had a long driveway that was black as pits. We’d try to take turns each year deciding whose turn it was to run up her steps and rap on the door. Usually, the kid who did the rapping stood well back as she opened up. Weird wails and noises emanated from within. We never knew what caused them but oft fantasized that they were the moans of tortured kids.
I can’t remember exactly what she looked like, but it seems to me that she was short, bent and supremely ugly. May have been wearing a witch’s hat. However, the ‘reward’ was worth the scare because she always had the best, most luscious treat of all the neighbours. Homemade caramel apples. I’ll bet the apples came off her own tree; they were deliciously crisp and coated in rich, golden caramel. We’d snatch our treat, yet thank her politely, then make a run for it. The caramel delights were so yummy that we’d have them eaten before they made it to our bags.