All Hallows’ Eve is for much of the world a day of many different interpretations. When I was very young we lived for a brief time at the home of my maternal grandparents in the small village of McConnellstown, Pennsylvania. I do remember that Halloween as it was different from the very first I remember in Hampton, Virginia, when the temperatures were so warm that it seemed more an extension of summer rather than an autumn holiday.
In McConnellstown, at the top of the hill on the street where my grandparents lived was the grange hall and for most of the year it seemed a dark and shrouded building, but for Halloween it was lit up and there was candy and games. The strangest of all to my young brain was bobbing for apples. I could not see the point if we wanted an apple we could simply reach in for one, but better still were all the cakes and cookies. I mean seriously when we’re three years old and allowed to choose between chocolate cake or an apple, who wants an apple? I love cake why would I stick my face in the water for an apple that already had someone else’s teeth marks in it? I was told if I wanted a piece of cake I had to bob for an apple; if that was the game than get out of my way because I didn’t get dressed up with makeup and jewelry for an apple.
I believe I was dressed as a Bride that year, I still don’t think that’s a real costume; it wasn’t like there ever were any little boys dressed as Grooms for Halloween. Being the only girl with two older brothers I had to let my mother indulge in the girly thing for a costume. It is so refreshing to see little girls dressed as pirates these days. I had to wait till I was at least twelve and pilfered my older brothers’ wardrobes for all their gear.
How lucky I was as a preteen to have such fun and adventurous individuals near me to teach me that being female doesn’t mean that I always have to look and act like a girl. Boys have oodles of role models, but it is slim pickings for girls. We really cling to the imagery of Amelia Earhart and Joan of Arc to see us through though those awkward moments as in “Well this feels really awkward but at least no one is going to torch me at the stake.”
We got up to all kinds of things and as I was the youngest in the group by at least a year, they were my mentors before I knew the word for it. Like me they were only daughters too except for Jane and Nancy. We who had only brothers saw that actual sisters could disagree and fight as well. What follows is the type of story that we would wish to tell at one of our sleepovers. Happy Halloween!
The Witch’s Tomb
The candle’s flame flickered in the night breeze and we listened to the oak leaves as they rustled in the tree above. Jane leaned in with the flashlight held under her chin illuminating the hollows of her face and she asked, “Do you all know about the Witch’s Tomb?” Jane looked over each shoulder and she said, “It was here before any of the ships came from England, before even Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.” We nodded and huddled closer together aware that the flame from a single candle was our only guardian.
Jane looked carefully around the corners of the porch and she said with a sly glint in her almond shaped eyes, “When the colonists came it was like they were landing on the very edge of their universe. Sure enough they brought their bibles and preachers to teach the natives about their god, but the natives just nodded and went back to their own ways. The natives knew something or rather someone that the colonists did not, the witch. Heka, she was to the natives. She was older than any tree, and they knew she was here long before them,” Jane pointed her index finger at the terracotta titled floor we sat on and she said, “this was her land and the colonist were only trespassers here.”
Nancy bit into a rice crispy treat the crunch crashing through the seriousness of the moment and we flashed our gaze on her and she put the treat back on the plate. Jane winked at her sister and continued, “Difficulties began, making it impossible for the colonists and the natives to share the same territory. The natives wished to leave but they would no more leave Heka to these white strangers anymore than she would abandon them so they looked for a new place, a secret place where the explorers could not find them. In their canoes they went inland up from the big waters where the strangers would anchor their ships and they came to a place where no people had ever lived, only trees and animals. Here was the place for them to start new, far away from men with hair growing from their faces, false hair on their head and women with faces of paint and powder and no wood skills. Here they established their camp and in the high bank of earth they brought Heka to her new residence.
For a time they lived as they ever had tucked in among the forest on the banks of an inlet of what we now call the York River, but the settlers kept coming more and more until there was no more places for the natives to live in seclusion. Men with muskets told them to leave and when they would not, they killed many natives and others were chained and sold. When this was done it brought a curse to those who had done it for the Witch would not have her people treated as we treat animals.
Once the tribe was removed to the satisfaction of the colonists they established their own homes, but Heka is still there. On dark nights without a moon to illuminate she walks among them choosing the most greedy and false to skin for their hide. These hides are what she sells to the Devil for he is always looking for new britches as the old ones burn up so quick when he goes back down to hell. The skulls she keeps stacked in rows on the wall so she can keep a reckoning of all the ones she damned to hell.” We all just looked at Jane and Debbie asked, “But why?”
Jane looked at us and clicked off the flashlight and picked up a rice crispy treat and she said, “Are you seriously asking me why a woman would keep score of what she has given a man? A liar is a liar, and when you’re in business with Ole Nick you better have your accounts straight. Besides she receives a plate of devil’s food cookies for every six hundred and sixty-six souls she sends down to the Fire Goblin Academy. Chris you’re up next after you pass me the orange soda. I want to hear more about, this Dark Planet.”