BOOKISH MAMA’S BOY AND LUR THE RED HAIRED WITCH
A Novel in Twenty Minutes or Less
Chapter 9: The Witch at The House on Harding Road
There is a witch in this story, and I think she actually did have red hair. Let’s say she had red hair. Maybe more like auburn hair. I cannot remember if she had any freckles because I did not know her very well. Her name was Mrs. Elsasser. She was the second grade teacher at Victor Mravlag School, but I never had her for a second grade teacher because I was still living in Bayonne when I was in the second grade, deeply infatuated with Ethel until I finally got over her because she never did get over her incomprehensible preference for dopey Howard who also had red hair. At least not while I was still living in Bayonne. I did learn something from Ethel in spite of this thwarted desire, which is that impossible love is not worth pursuing, you’re only going to get hurt. Go ahead, read Remembrance of Things Past if you don’t believe me. Nowadays they call it In Search of Lost Time, which is lame if you want my opinion. In French it’s à la recherché du temps perdu. I do not know the title of the German translation, although I assume there is one.
Everybody loved Mrs. Elsasser, who was unusual in several respects. First of all, we called her Mrs. Elsasser instead of calling her Miss Kupka or Miss Mahoney, because Mrs. Elsasser had a husband and the other thing was she lived in the neighborhood, about a block away from the house on Harding Rd. where Grandpa Ben ate the chicken feet. That did not happen on Hallowe’en, but it would be a suitable kind of a horror story to read about on Hallowe’en, so go right ahead.
Miss Mahoney was my third grade teacher, and I did not like her very much, but that’s another story. She used to take vacations in Mexico and then she made us sing Cuanto le Gusta for the annual Christmas pageant or music night or some kind of event where the parents were invited. Maybe it would have helped if she taught us what the words meant, but she didn’t. Carmen Miranda used to sing that song. Miss Mahoney was nothing like Carmen Miranda, a much more lively character I would say. And – I have a friend who has two daughters named Carmen and Miranda. Go figure.
Anyway, Hallowe’en was a big event in that nice little residential neighborhood in Elizabeth, N.J. where the planes were always crashing. Kids would go around knocking on doors and asking for candy, but we never said “trick or treat.” We said “anything for Hallowe’en?” and people would give us stuff. We always threw away the apples. Shiek Silverman lived in the house across the street from us and if you went inside you could have your choice of any kind of 5¢ Hershey Bar, which was pretty generous for a Hallowe’en treat. I never went there. I did not like the idea of going in that house and having Shiek Silverman making patronizing comments about my Hallowe’en costume and smoking his cigar at the same time. Later on, when I was mooning away about a more grown-up version of Janie Silverman or maybe I should say a vision of Janie Silverman I would have been more than happy to go inside, but by then Sheik Silverman was dead and I was no longer dressing up for Hallowe’en.
Around here we do not see much in the way of trick-or-treat action and what there is generally involves squads of parents escorting their totally bewildered toddlers around asking for candy, which is probably not that good for them. About half the time it's going to be raining and then practically no one goes out.
The witch would have appeared about that same time I was languishing over Janie Silverman, but by then I was the one giving out the candy and making patronizing comments about little kids in their costumes. The little kids came early, just about dusk or a little bit after. Bigger kids came after dark and were sometimes known to cause a bit of mischief like stealing the doormat or festooning rolls of toilet paper on the shrubbery. And then one night when it was really quite dark the door-bell rang and I opened the door and I was frightened out my wits to see an actual witch, all in black, who said “anything for Hallowe’en, sonny boy?” in a for-real witch voice. There were a couple of witch-attendants with her, she had a broom and a pointy hat, but I don’t recall any cats which how on earth you would have a cat with you when you’re out going door to door getting candy for Hallowe’en I would not be able to say.
It was Mrs. Elsasser. I did not realize at first, because her face was made up to look like a witch and she was hunched over in her witch’s cloak with her head down. Mrs. Elsasser was pretty small for a grown-up woman, about Grandma Miriam size maybe, which made her all the more convincing as a witch. I kept my composure and handed her the little paper sack of candy my mother had prepared. Everybody thought it was very cool for Mrs. Elsasser to dress up for Hallowe’en and scare the living daylights out of fourteen-year-old bookish mama's boys who were staying home to give out candy for the first time.
And as I sit here quietly composing this document, I am reminded of that time when Jimmy Longbeard and another guy were up there replacing the shingles down there at the family place in Maine, a fairly noisy operation, but at least they knew what they are doing. Or at least Jimmy did. Not sure about the other guy but not to worry as long as he does what Jimmy tells him. Lyle the Crocodile, was supposed to install the new roof but he had injured his knee and so did not want to risk walking around on a roof and who can blame him. Just as well really, considering how big Lyle the Crocodile is - you worry he might fall through the roof accidentally while he's stomping around in the brisk October breeze.
Both Lyle and Jimmy are neighbors of ours. The Longbeards have lived on that country road for generations, and Jimmy’s brother Danny, who lives across the street, takes care of all the plumbing and plows the driveway in the winter. He seldom sends a bill. Interestingly Danny’s name is Bill. He is named after his father who went around by the name of Dick. Dickie Longbeard and Danny Longbeard never liked calling themselves Bill for reasons unknown to me.
Longbeard is a made up name. I make up names in order to be discreet and respect somebody’s privacy, something I take more seriously these days because of that exchange of views I once had with @vamp maybe two years ago when I was new to Ello. I came up with the name because Jimmy has a notably long beard, which recently has turned quite grey. He also has long grey hair these days, making you think of maybe a version of Captain Ahab, but much nicer really and he has both his legs, an important consideration if you’re walking around on a steeply pitched roof replacing shingles.
Jimmy is a nice guy with some unusual talents. One year we spent Hallowe’en down there, and Kathy had us walk up to the cemetery to have a look at Jimmy’s Jack-o-lanterns. Great grandfather Manuel is buried in that cemetery, and all of his descendants are there as well, except for the ones who are still alive of course. Photography Bob and I used images of some of the tombstones from the time of the Civil War in a film we made together way back in 1973. So we walk up to the cemetery that night, it’s absolutely pitch dark outside, and just as we get to the entrance I can see maybe 100 jack-o-lanterns perched on top of headstones, each one with a different face, each one shining out into the night. It was an incredibly beautiful, witty, slightly macabre spectacle, and I could not believe all those pumpkins were carved in just a few days by Jimmy, and his younger sister, and I think the sister’s boy-friend or maybe one of his nephews. Jimmy's nephews. I do not know if his sister's boyfriend had any nephews or if his sister even had a boyfriend at the time. After a while word got around and for several years there would be traffic jams around the cemetery as people drove up all the way from Portland to have a look. Well, by and by Jimmy got tired of doing the jack-o-lanterns and that was the end of that. I know they do a pumpkin show at the Botanical Gardens here in Montréal, but somehow Jimmy’s pumpkins always seemed to me the true work of art, because “his heart was in the deed, not just his hands” to paraphrase something I just read in a weird depressing story by Philip K. Dick, but try to imagine an upbeat story by Philip K. Dick. I can't either. Jimmy would probably be embarrassed if I told him he was an artist, never mind a lit window in the dark. He paid for his own pumpkins. And thank you @mikacuervo.