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A Halloween Story
When my niece Heather posted this photo of me and her
dad (my brother Bratley) on my Facebook page last night
I'm pretty sure she had no idea how spooky her timing
was. This photo was taken exactly 47 years ago tomorrow
and was one of the most memorable days of my life.
The tale of events leading up to this
photo is one of tragic death, terror, suspense and
mystery--in other words, the perfect story to tell on
Halloween. Let us begin.
On a crisp Fall afternoon just before
Halloween 1961, a friend of my dad's came to our house
for a visit. While he and Dad sat on the porch talking
for a couple of hours, Bratley and I played in the yard
nearby, blissfully unaware of the tragic events that
would soon unfold.
It was when Dad's friend got into his
car to leave that tragedy struck. Unknown to any of us,
the warmth coming from his engine had tempted my beloved
kitten Ribbon to take a cozy afternoon nap under the
hood. She was having such a nice snooze that the sounds
of him getting into the car didn't wake her, or at least
didn't wake her in time to make tracks before he started
The next few minutes are forever
burned into my memory like one of those slow motion
segments in a horror film. I remember this as if it
happened yesterday: we heard the 'varoom' of the engine
starting and then a horrifying, gut wrenching scream
came from under the hood. Ribbon came flying out from
underneath the car screaming in a tortured cry of agony
that came from the deepest pits of hell. She flung
herself up in the air over and again, then fell to the
ground where she writhed and screamed for what seemed
like hours but was probably only a moment or two. And
then she went quiet and still.
I do believe I became completely
hysterical when I saw this. I have absolutely no
recollection of what Dad was doing or where Brad was,
nor what my Dad's friend's was doing, nor what happened
after Ribbon stopped moving. All I have is a foggy
memory of watching her and then my Mother rushing
outside from whatever she had been doing in the house,
and her grabbing my arms and telling me to stop
screaming, and of me not being able to stop. And the
next thing I remember is Mom slapping my face for the
only time in my life and telling me to stop screaming
and then her hugging me and telling me Ribbon wasn't in
pain anymore and was now in Heaven. And I vaguely
remember hearing my parents trying to comfort the friend
and telling him I'd be alright.
I don't remember one single thing that
happened next, although I do hope there was a proper
funeral service for Ribbon and I hope I attended.
Fast forward to Halloween. Because we
lived in the boonies (zip code E-I-E-I-O), trick or treating
was an affair that required a car and driver. Just
before dark when trick or treating was the spookiest and
best, Mom dressed Brad and me in our gypsy and hobo
costumes (we were always dressed as a gypsy and
hobo--thinking up new and innovative costume ideas was
not Mom's thing) then she loaded us up in the Buick to
head out for booty.
Mom knew all the best places to go,
too: the houses with mothers who gave out homemade
popcorn balls or cookies and that one special house
where the mom handed out the motherlode of all treats,
homemade candy apples.
After a successful night of trick or
treating, we arrived back home. The moment we pulled
into our driveway my mother froze in her seat and issued
an order in her most powerful, no-nonsense voice: "You
kids stay in the car". She had spotted an alien object on our
There, right in front of the door
where we couldn't miss it, sat a wooden orange crate
with a lid on it. With a muttered oath about someone
putting a skunk on our porch (the named suspect being an
associate of my teenage brother Roger) and with a final
stern warning for me and Brad to stay put, she got out
of the car and gingerly approached the orange crate.
She crept up on it, and while keeping
a cautious distance between herself and the suspicious
crate, she peered between the slats to see what evil
lurked within. And then she said a bad word that starts
with an "s" which was totally out of character for
Mom and flung open the lid.
And out of the crate came cats. Lots
and lots of cats. There were cats of every color,
description and size--fluffy cats and short haired cats,
big cats and little cats, black cats, white cats, brown
cats, spotted cats, stripey cats. That orange crate was
the clown car of cats.
Cats kept pouring out of that
crate and when I saw them I sprang out of the car and
dove right into the middle of them. I grabbed as many
cats as I could hold in my arms and started hugging
them and kissing on them, all the while dancing around
the porch in pure unadulterated joy.
The mysterious question of how those
cats arrived on our front porch was answered later, most
likely a confession extracted during a torture session
administered by my mother. My Dad's friend had felt so terrible
about what had happened that he'd done his very best to
find me a suitable replacement. In hopes of finding that
one special kitty that might replace Ribbon in my
affections, he had gone around asking people if they had
an extra cat, and apparently everybody did. When he'd
gathered up a nice selection he had gift wrapped them in an
orange crate and made his delivery while we were out
trick or treating.
And that's the story of one of the
happiest days of my life. It's a tale that's repeated in
our family almost as often as the one where we
accidentally forgot Bratley in the graveyard, and even
today if you mention that friend's name to my mother who
is now in the fog of Alzheimer's, she'll say that same
bad word and talk about that damn crate full of cats
that showed up on our front porch 47 years ago.
I, on the other hand,
still feel joy when I think back on that magical night
in 1961 when I had all the cats in the whole world right
there on my very own front porch.
PS In case you wonder what we did with
all those cats, they worked it out amongst themselves.
All but one of them took off for parts unknown over the
next couple of weeks, no doubt to find a house with less
competition for the hugs and kisses of a five year old
Or maybe...you don't think....you
don't suppose that Mom....nahhhh...