Friday, October 26, 2007

A Spook House, a Cake Walk, and a Pocket Lady

When I was growing up, October had two major events: Halloween (duh) and the Henry L. Barger school carnival. First, let me say a big thank you to all those parents who planned and worked the carnival and to all the teachers who suffered through it. Having planned and carried out several elementary school fall carnivals for daughter Kate's school, I certainly understand the work and love involved.

Each classroom sponsored a different event, and to save my life, I can't remember everything that used to be offered up for our autumnal pleasure. Let's see: I remember there was always a talent show, a cake walk (and those cakes were home-baked, I'm sure), a doll show (where you'd choose your favorite, put a few coins in a jar, and wait to see who the winner was at the end of the night), and the biggest, bestest event of all - the spook house. We had six grades and three classrooms per grade - so by my third-grade-Mrs.-Hinkle-math, that makes for 18 little events. Why can't I remember more? Help me out here, Barger alums!

But it was the spook house by which the success of the carnival was judged. One lucky classroom was turned into a dark, creepy, shivery place (not unlike the way it was on standardized testing day in the spring). Parents donned scary (but not too scary) costumes, spread fake spider webs around, blew cold air on the back of your neck, forced your hand into a bowl of eyeballs (peeled grapes) or brains (cold spaghetti) - in short, all the things that would probably get them arrested these days. But, man, we loved it! The line outside the spook house classroom was long, but you were banned from the "cool corner" for a year if you were too chicken to withstand the mind-bending anticipation.

And strolling throughout the school on carnival night was the Pocket Lady. Our principal, Mrs. McCafferty, had a special dress made for the occasion that had lots of little pockets stuffed with small toys. The dress looked like one of those full-skirted square-dancing dresses; I seem to remember it being a dark orange, but I could be wrong. Anyway, you'd give her a dime or a quarter and choose the cost-appropriate pocket for your surprise gift. Again, this sort of behavior is probably illegal today.

At the end of the October evening, you'd say goodbye to your friends and head home. Tummies full of candy apple and popcorn. Little paper bags fulls of cheap gizmos like Chinese handcuffs or ball-and-jacks. Fun and memorable (even 50 years later). It all seems a quite simple and naive now, I guess.

Still, few thrills in life come close to those childhood spook house shivers.

8 comments:

Carey said...

Caught up on your blogs finally. How is it that 7 years later and 300 miles away, the annual carnival in Savoy,IL was PRECISELY as you described yours? Was there a manual for these things, or what? It was the highlight of the year, and I pity my poor children, who don't even get to have a Halloween party at school 'cause some idiot might view it as "Satanic"! By the way, the problem with your DVD player was obviously a poltergeist. Maybe Peeves was irked that Dumbledore rejected his advances and left Hogwarts or something.

MaryB said...

Gosh, Carey, we'll have to get together and talk about school carnivals sometimes! I think they were a product of their times - over-active "Greatest Generation-ers" (the parents) and a massive number of children under the age of 12 (the kids) to entertain. We tried our best to replicate those bygone carnival days at E. Rivers during the 90's, and I think we all succeeded pretty well, though we had to add the obligatory moon-walk, etc.

Yeah, and I hate that those idiots have banned Halloween from schools. Just silly! Why, my own dyed-in-the-wool Southern Baptist mama loved Halloween. It would've never crossed her mind that it was satanic!

Ha! Peeves and Dumbledore! I'm sure the good headmaster was always having to fend off the likes of Quirell.

Jay Branum said...

The " Spook-house" was always the main event. I appreciate all of the hard work that went into the event designed to scare the bejesus out of 8 & 9 year olds. I was always affraid to go too high on old "bug eyes" dress for fear of being accused of trying to cop a feel on the old bag. She should have been in the spook house herself. The atmosphere was always great. You forgot to mention the talent show, or lack ther of. It was there that I broke into "Show Business" with my stand up routine. Oh for smell of candied apples and popcorn balls. It was truly a simpler time that went by too fast.

Anonymous said...

I loved those school carnivals! Mostly the Barger School had the best. Although by that time I was in Jr. High we could still go to the elementary school carnivals. The Spook House was always the best. I recall there was always a fortune teller but all the candy and baked goods and candied apples were high light. I even recall a hayride on an old truck that went around the block. I'm sorry the kids of today can't have those memories because of a few loons.
Big Bro.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Those are some GREAT memories Mary. Life was pretty great back then...and Halloween seemed to be THE big event for all of us kids. Loved this post.....and loved those spook houses too. Somehow they're not the same these days.

MaryB said...

Jay - Ha! I thought of calling Mrs. McCafferty "Old Bug-Eyes" in the blog, but I figured I'd have to explain it. Till the day he died, Daddy always referred to her as "Old Bug-Eyes"! Yes, the talent show was usually hilarious (although meant to be serious . . . ). Didn't know it was your break into show-biz, though. (I never had the guts to try out, so I salute you!)

Bro - Yes, I do remember there was a hayride that drove around the land in the back, I think. And the treats were delicious. I remember one year the Nashville crowd was visiting and we all went to the carnival together. Aunt Frances won a ceramic turkey platter - I can still see what it looked like. (I'll ask her if she still has it.)

MaryB said...

Joy, I know what you mean. The spook houses today are all blood and gore (plus sex, too, I guess). Still - not as scary as sticking your hand into a bowl of wet spaghetti while someone convinced you it was brains! :-)

MaryB said...

I need to give equal time to another view of Mrs. McCafferty, our principal and Pocket Lady. This, from one of her former teachers:

"Mrs. McCafferty loved every one of her children at Barger. She had so
much to give everyone. I remember the unique relationship she had
with former students from Brainerd Junior High, many of whom became
her parents at Barger. They loved her and were an integral part of
what made Barger so special."