Halloween Memories

                Today is Halloween. I personally have not been out to trick of treat in, oh, forty years or so. Ok, maybe more like forty-five years. Oddly enough, I don’t have a lot of Halloween memories from those days long ago in Amarillo, Texas. Here is a smattering of oddities that come to mind though:

                We generally did not have store bought costumes back then. My usual attire involved one of my Dad’s shirts. I would stick a pillow under it and go as The Hunchback of Notre Dame or, as was most often the case, I would wedge a kitchen knife in the back of the shirt and pour ketchup on it. I don’t know what I was supposed to be other than a guy with a knife in his back. I don’t recall scaring anybody.

                There was always a rumor that some mean neighbor was handing out poison candy or apples with razor blades inserted within. I remember one year one of the neighborhood girls ate some poisoned chocolate and wound up in the insane asylum.  Not a Halloween passed without some “news” of some kid getting poisoned or otherwise maimed by a malevolent resident.

                There was one year a new family  moved into our neighborhood. They had a little boy that went trick or treating and made the mistake of knocking on the door of the haunted house that was behind our street. He had been in town only a week so we had not had time to brief him on all of the resident dangers. You know, stuff like who were the meanest girls, the best times to swipe candy from the local store, and, of course, the locations of the two haunted houses in our area. We did not get a chance to either. He went to the haunted house to trick or treat and was never seen again. So far as I know some forty five years after that night, he is still missing.

                Back then, there were no appointed times that one could go trick or treating. Anytime after dinner and before bedtime was perfectly fine. The first year the city came out with established hours (I think it was 5:30-8:30 or something like that). We went crazy. Everybody knew that the best time to be out trick or treating was after 9:00. It was darkest then and we could hit the same house more than once and not be recognized. We were madder than a striped snake and ready to fight city hall. That is, until one of the neighborhood dads explained that there had been increasing sightings of werewolves in our area and the city did not want anybody to get eaten. We accepted that explanation without comment. The last thing any of us wanted was to be eaten by a werewolf.

My first chili festival (maybe)

                My recent trip to the Texas Panhandle brought back quite a few memories of my youth. Some of those memories I’d just as soon forget but others are food for more stories. One memory is pretty vague though I will do my best to plow the corners of my mind and lay the facts before you as I remember them.

                Dad took us to some small town somewhere for a chili festival. Chili festivals in Texas are a big deal. People come from all around and bring their recipes with them. Some of those recipes are downright lethal and a few have been known to drive the average man or woman to incurable madness. Anyway, it is a big contest and the winner of the best chili is a revered title in the Texas Panhandle.

                Well, we went to this festival on the town square in, I want to say Umbarger (pop.327 people and four rattlesnakes). I may be wrong though. This was, as far as I can recall, my first chili festival and I was bound and determined to taste every pot of chili I could get to. I remember Dad telling me to just try one at a time with the added warning that not all of the chili there was just plan beef. Some of it might be just pinto beans or maybe even a little snake here and there. He volunteered to pick out just the right chili for my young palate (I was 8 or 9 at the time- I think ) so that I would not do myself an injury.

                We walked up and down the line of chili pots looking for the right one for me. Dad tried a few and thought they were too hot for me. By and by, he found a sample that I could have. My brother also agreed and volunteered to get it for me as he wanted some as well. Big mistake.

                My brother brought two big steaming bowls of chili back and set one in front of me. I, of course, wanted to prove that I was, by golly, a real man and could hold my chili. I grabbed my spoon and got the biggest helping I could and thrust it into my mouth.           

                It took about two seconds until I realized that fire was exploding out of my mouth, ears, nose, and eyeballs. My lips were burned completely off and my tongue developed the consistency of lava. This is what it feels like to die, I thought to myself. Through the waves of tears in my eyes, I could see my brother laughing himself silly. I always knew he and my sister had an ongoing plot to hasten my demise and now I knew this was the method they had decided on. I swore to him that I would come back and get him but he just continued to laugh. Meanwhile, my Dad, was chewing my bother out for getting the wrong chili while trying to calm me down (my howling had become a public embarrassment). After what seemed an eternity, the fire ebbed and I calmed down. That lasted only a short time until the chili reached my stomach. THAT is the part of the story that is far too gruesome to tell.  Please don’t ask.

To run, or not to run

                Have you ever had one of those days where your mind tells you you’re still twenty-five but your body knows otherwise? I had one of those days recently and am still paying for it.

                Last Tuesday after work, I decided that I needed to get some exercise. My usual routine is to walk anywhere from two to five miles at a fast pace. That generally does the trick but it can take a long time. Now, time is not my friend these days so have, of and on, looked around for a more efficient use of my exercise time. In my Army days, I ran three to five days a week and was in real good shape throughout my entire time in uniform.

                On this particular Tuesday evening, the little guy in my head reminded me of my Army years and, gosh, we sure were in good shape back then. He allowed that we were a few years older now and we haven’t run in a very long time. Maybe, the first time out, we would do well to run for a minute and walk for a minute. I thought that a fine idea and we agreed to this plan of action. Furthermore, we would limit ourselves to a two mile run. Yes, this would be a good plan of attack.

                 It was a pleasant evening for a run to the park and back. I sensed that I would be back in fighting trim in no time. I finished up the two miles just as I planned. Well, I did not run the last four or five minutes. No need to rush these things, the little guy in my head cautioned.

                The next morning, my left knee was in the early stage of rebellion. No matter what I asked it to do, it complained and ached. Ok, I thought, I’ll just take a pill and it will go away and that’s just what I did. Four hours later, my knee was in full revolt. It had fought off the pain pill I had taken and was now exacting its revenge on mefor the savage treatment I had subjected it to the day prior. I tried a soothing ointment known to treat obstinate body parts. My knee threw off that ministration and continued its torment. Ice was applied. It too was cast off as useless. I went to bed with my now throbbing and swollen knee wondering if it would climb down from its painful ways during the night.

                Things were actually worse the second morning after my run. I walked very much like Festus from Gunsmoke fame. Nothing I did brought any relief to my knee as it upped its plan of vengeance against me for my callous mistreatment. It was not until Sunday that my knee felt it had exacted enough revenge on me and calmed down.  It was about that time that the little guy in my head advanced the opinion that we could probably go on a run again.

               I think not.

Live birth

                My oldest son is studying to be a Physician’s Assistant and is currently in clinical rotations. That’s where they run you to a lot of places to work for different kinds of doctor’s and you get to practice on folks. As I write, he is witnessing his first live birth. I am sure he will come home either a) excited as all get out and can’t wait to get out of school and get to work or b) so completely repulsed by the whole idea that he throws in the towel on this career choice and drives a truck. Being as how I know him pretty well, I suspect he will choose the former.

                The whole live birth episode brought back memories of the live births that I myself attended. It has been my (ahem) privilege to be in attendance at three over my time and I do not care to see a fourth. I was present for the live birth of all three of my kids and each one has had its own distinction. 

                The first, our only girl, began her entry into the world in the morning about the time I went to work. It was not until evening when she got serious about joining us. Our hospital was thirty or so miles away so we left before dinner. I had been told that some deliveries can take all night so felt compelled to stop for self-sustaining snacks. I further surmised that I may not have time to get gas for our car over the next few days so stopped for that too. Through this thirty mile ordeal that included two stops, my bride sat suffering in silence in the car. When I got her to the hospital parking lot, walking was almost too much for her. The nurses settled her into the labor room just in time. The contractions got stronger and stronger and, by and by, she looked at me and said through clenched teeth, “You can leave now!” Being the faithful husband that I am, I declined her assertions and stayed even after her stares at me had all the venom of an enraged rattlesnake. We survived it together. I think.

                The second, the first of two sons, was in a bit of a hurry. We got to the hospital in plenty of time and were told to settle in for a long night. I brought out my requisite snacks and magazines and settled in. Our son must’ve heard them and seen me and decided to make liars out of all of us. His arrival came so fast that I had to change clothes in the hall while on the run. The mid-wife that did the delivery allowed me to cut the umbilical cord while announcing, “I am too old for this quick stuff.” He didn’t cry. He just hollered. I think he was laughing.

                The third born (who is now the tallest of the three) came in such a rush that we never made it to the delivery room. He was the only one of the three that had an audience. I was later told that most of the ER staff had come up to observe. He must’ve known about the crowd as he was most certainly the loudest of the three. I think I may have damaged my hearing.

                Next: advice to new dads.