Ohio Halloween Horrors

I saw Halloween decorations and costumes displayed in one of the big box stores tonight. Later, I was moving a bunch of old slides out of Kodak slide trays and putting them into plastic sleeves to save space when I ran across this copy slide of a print. The two events brought a story to mind.

What’s that hanging in the tree?

I was blasting through the rural Southeastern back roads on my way back home right after dusk when, rounding a curve, my headlights picked up something odd on the side of the road. When I got to where the beams lit it up a little better, I slammed on my brakes. It was a body hanging in a tree out in the middle of nowhere.

Murder wasn’t unheard of in that part of the country, but I hadn’t read about any lynchings in our area in decades, so my first thought was a suicide. (All of the murders I had worked were pretty straight-forward; they just got the job done without getting creative.)

I positioned my car to where it lit up the area, then cautiously approached the scene. When I got close enough to get a flashlight on it, it became clear that I had been taken in by a dummy hanging in the tree. I looked around to see if there were any teenagers laughing at the sucker, but there was nobody around.

Only a journalist would have mixed emotions about this: happy because it wasn’t a body; feeling foolish about being suckered in; being disappointed because he didn’t break a story.

The next morning I mentioned my find to some of the guys in the office. “Oh, yeah,” one said. “They’ve got a quaint custom in that area of hanging dummies at Halloween time. If you go back, I bet you find more.”

Indeed, when I went back in the daylight, I found this guy hanging in the middle of downtown Shawnee.

“It’s too grim”

Wife Lila,  proofreader when I finish a post before she goes to bed, and general arbitrator of good  taste, said, “It’s too grim. I didn’t make any changes, but I didn’t like it.”

So, to lighten the mood, here are some examples of Halloween costumes she inflicted upon the kids over the years.

I’d be lion if I said Matt made a pretty woman

Son Adam, left, went for the full-face mask effect the year Wife Lila did this makeover on Son Matt.

I shouldn’t mock Son Matt too much. Mother managed to make me into such a convincing girl that I won a prize in Mrs. Kelpe’s first grade class because nobody could guess who I was. I was still in costume when we went down to visit my grandmother in Advance. She had a bunch of club women over that afternoon and they were properly impressed with my transformation. Just to set the record straight, I scrawled “I BOY” on a piece of paper and kept showing it to them.

Going to the dogs

Both boys got a crack at the dog costume. This was Matt in 1978.

Matt as firefighter

This might have been the only costume I contributed. Matt swiped my bunker coat, fire helmet and Red Wing boots for this Halloween.

How to Repel Flies (Maybe)

Mother and I were cruising around Jackson scoping out yard sales and looking for something for me to shoot. Out on 34 west of town, we saw a sign on a small BBQ stand that said Fresh Strawberry Pie. We pulled in to sample it  The joint doesn’t have a name out front, but Google Maps show it as Cook’s Bar-B-Q & Catering at 1931 West Jackson Blvd.

Right next to the order window was a note that said not to compare them with the guys at the north end of town. That would be Wib’s, a Steinhoff favorite for five generations. They implied that Cook’s actually puts meat on their sandwiches and that they are cheaper. Well, a challenge like that has to be checked out.

On the plus side, the sandwiches DID have a fair amount of meat on them and they were cheaper than Wib’s. On the con side, at least for me, the pork was shredded, not sliced, and it was “wet.” It had more the taste and feel of a Sloppy Joe than what I would call a good barbecue sandwich. The sauce was nowhere as good as Wib’s and the meat wasn’t as tasty as Hamburger Express in Cape. Barbecue is a highly personal choice, so some folks may prefer it.

The strawberry pie, on the other hand was excellent. Good crust and made with fresh strawberries.

Why are those bags of water hanging there?

But, that’s not the reason I’m writing this. When we looked up, we saw a Ziploc plastic bag, obviously freshly filled with water hanging over our heads. Inside the bag were several pennies. The bags were tacked to the overhang with heavy upholstery tacks. When our server slid open the screen-covered window to hand us our order, I said, “I bet I’m not the first person to ask this, but what’s with the plastic bags of water?”

Not wanting to engage in a lengthy conversation, she said, “It’s for the flies,” closing the window before I could observe, “Must be working, then. ‘Cause there’s plenty of them.”

While we were sitting at the outdoor table eating our pie and shooing off the occasional fly, a fellow walked by who elaborated on the bags. “They’re supposed to keep the flies away. It’s got something to do with the way the fly’s eyes work.”

When I mentioned that there still seemed to be a lot of the winged creatures flying around, he said that he had just put the bags up. The one over our heads was the first one to go up, he explained, and he said he could already see an improvement on our end of the seating area. I was going to take his word for it.

Mother was intrigued by the idea

Mother kept coming up with all of the places she could put up the bags and wondering if shiny pennies would work better than run-of-the-mill pocket pennies. Should you put them over the door to keep the flies out or do you put them on the inside to run them away? If you did both, would the ones entering and the ones exiting have head-on collisions, killing them all? Weighing all of the possibilities kept her occupied the rest of the afternoon.

I did a quick Google search and found that one of my favorite debunking sites, Snopes, had addressed this issue and found it —WHAT?!?!?—“Undetermined. ” You’ll have to read their conclusions for yourself. It’ll be good practice for you to know how to find them to check out your own hoax questions.

I should have shot them the first time

Anyway, after kicking myself for not taking a picture of the magic bags, Mother and I saddled up the pony and drove back over to Jackson. After standing around for several minutes waiting for someone to open the magic screened serving window so I could tell them what I was doing, I got tired of waiting, shot my photos and left. I didn’t REALLY need another piece of that strawberry pie. I DID ask another customer if she had heard of the concept and she said, “My mother has them hanging in her garage.”

We ended up at Mario’s Pasta House where our lasagna was good as always, served promptly by friendly and attentive wait staff. (I started to type “weight staff,” thinking, obviously, of the size of the portions.)

The Principal Was Not Amused

I don’t know if I was driving by the school or if someone tipped me off, but I took a picture of the American Flag flying upside down over the Nell Holcomb School on Sept. 7, 1967. The flag in that position is an international signal for distress.

International Distress Signal

The Southeast Missourian ran the picture with some kind of cute cutline.

The ink on the paper must have still been wet when the principal called to ream me out for embarrassing him and his school. You can’t really SEE purple veins sticking out on someone’s forehead over the telephone, but I had a clear sense that they were.

After letting him vent for awhile, I gave him the only answer I could come up with: “I’M not the one who raised the flag.”

That reminds me of an important lesson that proved more valuable than anything I was ever taught in school.

How to deal with irate callers

I was dealing with an irate caller at The Jackson Pioneer one afternoon, being as nice and polite as only a well-brought-up high school kid can be.

When I got off the phone, the editor, with a bemused look on his face, said, “Kid (they always called me Kid), let me show you how to deal with that kind of call.”

He picked up the telephone receiver and said into it, “Yes, mam, that was clearly the most egregious act of nincompoopery that has been committed since the cooling of the earth’s crust. If it was within my power, I would have that incompetent jerk flogged, if not shot, as an example to the rest of the profession.”

Hang up

‘Now,” he continued, “here’s the trick. Right in the middle of your diatribe, hang up. Right in the middle of the sentence. Nobody would ever think you’d hang up on yourself; they’re going to assume it was a telephone glitch. If you’re lucky, you’ve managed to work them out of their mad and you’ll never hear from them again. To be on the safe side, though, NOW would be a good time to walk across the street for a cup of coffee. Let one of your coworkers be the one to catch the call if she’s still got bile to spill.”

The only thing they remembered

After I moved out of the newsroom and into telecommunications, I’d tell that story when I was training call center personnel. I never actually heard a customer service agent do that, but I know that it was usually the only thing they’d mention from their training when I’d run into them in the hallway years later.