GRASS VALLEY HALLOWEEN

PHOTO: THE OLD EWE

Halloween!  The very word still brings back a secret little thrill of excitement–not for Halloween itself, but for the day after.  That was when we found out what the big boys had been doing the night before.  When I was growing up in Grass Valley in the ’30’s, I had never even heard of Trick or Treat.  Did we carve pumpkins, wear costumes, have parties, bob for apples?  I don’t remember doing any of those things.  It was the depression after all, and there were few extravagances.  At school we cut orange jack-o-lanterns, black cats and witches out of orange and black paper.  But everything we did, or might have done, paled in the waiting, as one did on Christmas, for THE NEXT MORNING!

In those years, what one who had the freedom and strength of male teen-agers, might do in the role of spook, short of murder or bank robbery, was limited only by the imagination.  Today it would be called vandalism, but back then it was just good old eye-popping un-clean fun.  The next day, we would go off to school, which was on the other side of town, eagerly looking for soaped windows, flat tires (de-aired, not slashed), toilet paper bedecked cars/ shrubs/ signs/ fences, and any other indication there might have been of demons on the loose.  The epitome was tipped-over toilets.  Outdoor toilets comprised the fresh-air third of bathroom facilities for many people at that time, including us, and tipping them over was at the top of the Halloween list.  We peeked into people’s back yards looking for those reclining small houses, always hoping for the worst.  We always walked through the town park on our way to school.  Finding the public toilets there on their backs one year produced an especially shocking thrill because they were WPA toilets!  That meant they had been built by government workers, and they were bolted to steel straps set in a concrete slab and had to be sawed through with a hack saw in order to be upset.  How resourceful!  How daring!  The noise of steel-on-steel sawing should have been audible at some distance.  Where were the police?  Answer: there weren’t any.  There was a sheriff.  But there was only one of him excluding his size, which was big enough for two, thus making it difficult for him to move at any rate of acceleration.  Furthermore, the sheriff’s office was at the county seat, ten miles north.

When we got to school we would learn of all the other things that had been done, things not visible en-route.  One thing we always asked was what had happened to Mr. Stowe this year.  Mr. Stowe, or Pappy Stowe as he was commonly called, was most consistently victimized because he kept goats—this, even though he lived right in town.  Goats were not acceptable animals in cow country.  Neither was Mr. Stowe.  He was German with a heavy accent, and he had a shoe repair shop with a sign on its high, narrow false front that read:

R A STOWE

JUSTICE OF THE PEACE

SHOE AND HARNESS SHOP

SICKLE GRINDING 10¢ A FOOT

SAWS FILED AND GUMMED

AUTO PARTS AND PIPE CUTTING

DRIVERS LICENSE AND REFUND BILLS

It was an anomaly in any language.  This sign had been photographed and appeared in more publications than probably any other place in Eastern Oregon.  I was told once that it was even in Life Magazine.  What the sign did not say , but could have, was RESCUER OF GOATS TRANSPORTED TO STRANGE PLACES AT HALLOWEEN.   Sometimes the goats would be taken out in the country and turned loose.  Sometimes parts of them would be shaved or painted.  But the more common thing was that Mr. Stowe would be out the next day looking for his goats, having to figure out how to get them back home in time to be milked and commiserating with the owners of now devastated gardens in which they might have been interred.  In retrospect, I do not understand how this could have happened to Mr. Stowe year after year without him lying in wait with a newly purchased shot gun, or at least, getting a watch dog.   Mr. Stowe where are you now?  Could it be that you enjoyed the game as much as everybody else, and so never took any precautions?

Goats were not the only attraction.  There was the horse of another color.  One year someone spray-painted a horse–probably with a fly sprayer since spray cans had not yet been invented.  It was red, blue and yellow, and the overlaying combinations thereof.  This horse was in a field adjoining a neighboring town and easily visible from the main highway so we would see it every time we went by and thus be able to assess if and how much the paint was fading.  Old fatty sheriff, where were you when the ghouls were climbing over the barbed wire fence and committing this indiscretion?

One year the combination hardware and farm equipment store was broken into and all the machinery that could be transported through double doors was hauled out and stacked up in the middle of Highway 97.  Fortunately the highway was straight for a long way in both directions so the pile, which was about five feet high, could be seen at a distance and night travelers, usually truckers, had a chance to slow down and go around through the empty-at-night parking places next to the sidewalks.

Another year, the school was broken into and a cow was led up the stairs to the second floor and put in the principal’s office.  It was tied to the steam heat register and left there, after which, in its lunging fright, the animal  loosened the pipes and flooded the floor which leaked through to the first story.  This was not to mention other effusions that came from the terrified cow itself, making quite a steamy and malodorous mixture.  Other tricks were hiding tractors, letting people’s livestock out or shaving strange brands on them.

Am I missing anything?

Yes, indeed.  There was something that happened on our own property.  It was the incident of “The Old Ewe”, an aristocrat of our family.  This female sheep’s real name was Flossie, but that name implied softness.  She was anything but soft.  Only my oldest sister, Gracie called her Flossie because she was Gracie’s pet.  The rest of us called her “The Old Ewe”, with a derisive accent on the EWE.  It was probably this name and our tone of voice saying it that soured her personality.  She had been a bummer lamb, which is to say, a lamb who’s mother rejected it (as any self respecting mother would have wisely done) so she was raised on a bottle and in a sequestered environment.  In fact this cloven hoofed female menace had been so isolated from other sheep that she thought they were beings from another planet, and would run in terror when the herd from the ranch came near; this, even though she had been so well fed that she was bigger than any of them.  That fear did not extend to people.  She grew up to be a tyrant and a bully.  In fact she was so aggressive that we younger children were afraid of her.  Her modus operandi was to sneak up behind one of us small and pitiful cowards and give that unsuspecting weakling a big butt in the butt–or, in more civilized parlance: in a place calculated in her scheming brain for our maximum overturn.

One Halloween, in the middle of the night, one of the Rolf boys came to our place by the back way through the ranch pasture with the sly intention of doing something unmentionable to our toilet.  He was met at the lower gate by The Old EWE in charging mode.  She did not even wait for him to turn his back, but let him have it right in the bread basket.  It happened so fast and was so frightening that young Rolf must have had need of the very structure which had been his destination with malice aforethought.  The Old Ewe was a sort of wispy light gray color–a camouflage almost certainly promulgated by herself, the better for sneak attacks on foggy days.  So, young Rolf may have thought from his position on the ground, that it was a real Halloween ghost on stilts.  At any rate he “high tailed it”, as we used to say, and our toilet was saved.  Gracie was, at that time, in one of the upper grades at school and heard about it from other students the next day.

Maybe it is safer that children today go Trick or Treat from door to door and gorge themselves on candy, but I will say this: it isn’t nearly as exciting!  The worst they can get is a tummy ache.  But is that really in the spirit of the thing?  Does it require any imagination?  Does it prepare them for the real world?–for life in the trenches, so to speak?  Wha-da-ya think?