Fish Out of Water, by Thomas Spychalski…

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Posted by Joyce Rhyne on 17 Oct 13 - 0 Comments


I really love Halloween.

Maybe it’s because my birthday is on the 19th of October, so as a child it was always easy to spot when my birthday was coming up. It could be because in modern times, the holiday allowed you to dress up and take on a different persona than your own.

For one day, it is accepted for everyone to play pretend.

Of course, being a kid in a big city like Chicago means you most likely have some interesting and strange neighborhood legends to talk about, and I thought I’d share one of those with you as we draw nearer to the witching hour (insert evil laugh here).

First, a little background.

I grew up in a South Side Chicago neighborhood, one that was mostly all police and firemen, so it was at the time one of the safest neighborhoods in the city. It was near the Ford City Mall, which at one time was a military property. Less then a mile from the Mall is the Tootsie Roll Factory, which at one time was not only the largest manufacturing plant built in the world but was also where the tragic tale of the Tucker Car played out in the fifties.

The neighborhood was quiet and friendly, but not without it’s own little legends, passed from kid to kid in whispers and in playground conversations.

One such legend concerned a house right across from mine, which was said to be inhabited by a witch. Every Halloween the owner of the house would dress up like a witch and scare the daylights out of the younger neighborhood kids. She would grab a child from each group into her house with a maniacal laugh.

Every Halloween I would make it a rule to avoid this house, even though I had seen the owner of the house on many other occasions sans rotten green nose and broom stick.

You might be wondering how this lady got away with pulling small children into her house every year without any parents or adults saying anything. It goes to show you how much our society has changed in thirty odd years. But the fact is she did not really get away with it at all as one Halloween the legend grew in a thousand directions when the police showed up at her door.

The real story was that she had indeed pulled a slightly older child into her house and brandished a knife. Which turned out in fact to be a fake. But the kid went out screaming about a knife and the police were called and that was the last ‘year of the witch.’

For the neighborhood kids the tale was not so simple. You see, we were not told that official story until we were older but we all saw the patrol cars outside the house and we all were told to stay away from the property.

So of course the story became that the witch had thrown a child into the oven to be baked alive and was arrested and taken away. This version of events was helped along by the fact that the woman moved out of the house before Christmas, making the empty and dark house seem even more sinister in the mind of a child who’s age had not quite reached the double digit mark.

Dares were made and the crab apples as we called them that came from the tree that grew on the front lawn were said to bear poisonous or magic fruit. Which gained me a reputation as I thought they were delicious and best of all free, cursed or not.

But then that is the fun of Halloween.

Deep down we all love to be scared and we all have that inner voice born of ancient instinct that occasionally nags at us when we walk through our dark house in the middle of the night. It is the spirit of the Fall season, when old things break away and new things prepare for Spring to be awoken again.

And I love it.

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