Holly Jolly Halloween

Halloween was never a big deal for me, growing up in South Africa. Of course I knew about it, as a dedicated reader of both Ray Bradbury and Peanuts, but it wasn’t anything we celebrated. Then, around about the time the Girl Child hit her teens it became a Thing for older kids, who would go out all done up in blood spatters and ghoulishness (but still, of course, unnervingly sexy) and hang out at the local malls, and frankly that was a scary evening for parents. Disney princesses and plastic pumpkins full of treats didn’t feature; it was a dark celebration.

So anyway, I have now lived through 16 Smalltown USA Halloweens, and I feel ready to share a relevant personal experience, and since I didn’t have an actual Halloween experience worth sharing, at first I thought I’d write about a Traumatic Childhood Fancy Dress Memory.

First off, it’s important to stress that my parents are, and were, good people who didn’t torment me more than they absolutely had to. But … they were the kind of parents who thought that if your chubby, introverted, bespectacled kid was taking part in a church youth group fancy dress party, it made more sense to dress her up as a literary-minded garden pest (“Ha ha! You’ll be cute – you’ll see; you’ll make people laugh and everyone will think it’s a clever idea!”) than as, say, a princess or Little Bo Peep like the boring other girls. So they rolled me up in a luridly yellow bedspread, tied it on with string, and shoved a book in my hands.

Like this, but more dorky, and involving a fair amount of string.
Like this, but less tailored, more dorky, and involving a fair amount of string. And very, very yellow.

Each kid paraded in turn across the stage while everyone guessed who they were, and there were prizes but I have no idea how they were awarded. I didn’t get one, and I wasn’t paying that much attention because I was too busy Actively Ignoring the giggling princesses and sniggering boys. Suddenly it was my turn to cross the stage. Unfortunately, in the interests of verisimilitude, my parents had tied the string all the way round my body right down to my ankles. Parading was not an option. I hobbled to the stage, someone heaved me up onto it, and I rolled around and tried to breathe until the youth pastor hauled me to my feet. At that point the uppermost string started coming undone, and the costume threatened to collapse around my (string-secured) ankles. (I forgot to mention that my arms were tied inside the yellow bedspread, with only my hands sticking out to hold the book. Because, you know, worms don’t have arms. So holding myself together was a challenge that made any parading across the stage completely out of the question.) Mercifully someone in the audience shouted, “She’s a bookworm!” before I was even fully vertical, and the pastor rolled me to the edge of the stage and they heaved me back down and let me hobble off into the outer darkness.

So that’s my Halloween horror story (even though it didn’t technically happen at Halloween, as far as I know), and I thought it would be the best I could come up with for this post. But then this afternoon I was sitting in the Barnes & Noble coffee shop with a friend, and I got THIS post from Himself:

Supper tonite !!!
Supper tonite !!!

At first I thought one of the hens had kicked the bucket and he was being funny, but no, a cock pheasant had foolishly planted itself in a tree out back and stayed there while Himself scurried off to fetch a shotgun.

Here’s another picture:

Looks almost medieval!
Looks almost medieval!

Is it just me, or is it just a tad gruesome to have a dead bird lying next to the kitchen sink on Halloween? Whatever … we went out for Chinese instead, and tomorrow is the NaNo kick-off party, but I expect we’ll be doing fabulous things involving wine and a crockpot and my first wild pheasant on Sunday.

In the meantime, I couldn’t waste such a fabulous opportunity to dress up. THIS Halloween, I’m Minnehaha.

Fine feathers
Fine feathers

And now it’s your turn! Do you torture your children by using them to demonstrate your creative sense of humor? What kind of text messages do your loved ones usually send you? Do you have any good pheasant recipes? Talk to me!

The snake in my suitcase

It was around midday on a hot Sunday, and I had spent a deeply satisfying morning tiling the wall around the bath in our new home. The Girl Child, then aged about three, was off making friends with other kids who lived on the property. I decided to take a relaxing bath before calling the munchkin in for lunch.

I started the hot water running. My glasses steamed up, so I put them on the back of the loo. I peeled off my disgusting, sweaty, grout-smeared clothes, and, naked and short-sightedly peering, I ambled through my new home to the living room, which is where all the boxes and suitcases were piled up waiting for attention.

The front door, which opened into the living room, was one of those old fashioned ones that you occasionally see in South Africa – a solid wood door with a panel of ripple glass set into the top half, and a little railing above it from which one could hang a curtain. My clothes were hanging from the railing, so that’s where I was headed, squinting slightly to focus in order to make my selection … paying no attention at all to where my feet were going … until a loud HISSSSSS caused me to change gear instantaneously from first to reverse. I might have levitated a little.

On the black-painted concrete floor, just inside the door, was a hissing, writhing mass of … something blurry that hissed and writhed.

A bit like this, but blurry.
A bit like this, but blurry. (Pic from SA Reptiles)

Full speed ahead, I scurried to the bathroom, snatched up my glasses, crammed them onto my face, kicked the dog outside, screamed “STAY OUT” at the Girl Child as she and her startled new friends ambled up the garden path toward the back door, remembered that I was naked, ducked out of sight, and skidded into the living room …

… Just in time to see the tail-end of a snake vanishing into a suitcase.

I slammed the suitcase shut, scurried back to the bathroom, turned off the bath tap, yanked my damp and grouty clothes back on, and ran to ask the neighbor mommy to watch the Girl Child while I dealt with the snake. (Well, no, I didn’t know her … but she seemed nice enough and I was planning to know her. And I knew where she lived. Hey, this was more than thirty years ago. People were trusting then.)

Around about then I probably remembered to breathe. It’s not that I’m scared of snakes, exactly – I’ll happily handle them and quite enjoy the way they feel.

Don't believe me? Here's proof.
Don’t believe me? Here’s proof.

But nearly stepping on one when you’re all naked and sweaty and thinking of a leisurely bath followed by a tasty lunch … aikona. Nuh-uh.

So anyway, to get back to the story. I marched boldly into the living room, picked up the suitcase, heaved it into the back of my car, and headed for the Snake Park.

What – you thought I’d just kill it? Why would I do such a thing? Listen, I’ll kill stuff if I must. I once spent a profitable morning with a neighbor, learning how to kill chickens. (This is a skill I have never actually used since that day, but I did acquire it.) I smack flies and mosquitoes. But there was no earthly reason to kill a perfectly good snake when the Snake Park was a mere ten-or-so miles away.

If you clicked on the link, you will have noticed that the Snake Park, today, is quite the tourist destination. In fact the snakes hardly get a mention. It is now all about crocodiles, and they have other animals as well, and you can buy pizza and beer, and if you are adventurous (i.e., completely insane, or an adolescent male with girls to impress) you can fly over the crocodile pond on a sort of foofy slide. Back then, it was a bit different.

Thirty years ago, the Snake Park on a Sunday afternoon was a place that nice people from Pretoria and Johannesburg (which were separate cities in those days) would take their nice kiddies, still nicely dressed in their pretty church clothes, for a nice educational experience, followed by tea and scones with jam and cream.

Dressed like this. Tog te mooi! (Image from http://www.mylearning.org/)
Dressed like this. Tog te mooi! (Image from My Learning)

So when I came puffing up the hill from the parking lot, dressed as previously described and with my hair (did I mention that I had grout in my hair?) sort of bundled together in a pony tail, I didn’t really fit in. And when I barged into the front of the line of Sunday afternooners, I have to tell you, There Were Mutterings.

You couldn’t get inside unless the woman in the ticket booth clicked you through the gate, so I pushed my face up to the grille over her window and said, “I have a snake in my car. I need someone to come get it.”

Well, there was no conning this cookie. She had heard every imaginable scheme for getting into the Snake Park for free. “Two Rand,” she said. (Back then, R2 was worth US$4. Now the cost of entry is R50, which translates to around US$5. No, this makes no sense to me either.) It hadn’t occurred to me, during my preparations for this outing, that I would need any money, so I didn’t have my purse.

“No, you don’t understand. I’m not here to look at snakes – I am here to donate a snake. It is in my car. I just need someone to come get it.”

“Two Rand!” she replied, very firmly.

“I don’t have two rand! I don’t have any money! All I have is a snake!”

By this time the crimplened masses were getting restive and their muttering had reached an ominous level. I was greatly relieved to see a young man in a khaki uniform with a Snake Park logo on the pocket headed our way. I stepped hastily out of the line and explained my predicament.

“You have a snake in your car? Where is it? In the engine?” he asked.

Not like this. (Picture from The Bugle)
Yes, that can happen. (Picture from The Bugle)

“No, no – it’s in a suitcase. But the suitcase is heavy and I’d just appreciate some help getting it up here,” I explained. So he followed me down to the car and heaved the suitcase off the back seat.

“Wow – it is heavy,” he commented. “How did you get the snake to go in?”

“It just crawled in on its own. The suitcase was on the floor – I’ve just moved house and am busy unpacking.”

So back we walked up the hill, past the line and through the gate, with him lugging my suitcase all the way. I followed him as far as the doorway of a tiny room which was lined, floor to ceiling, with class cases full of – you guessed it – snakes. I was happy to watch him unpack my snake from afar, and not have to stand with my back to them. (Yeah, okay, maybe they do creep me out just a little.)

Cautiously, he unlatched the suitcase and raised the lid. At that moment, I realized that this sweet young man was expecting a Rider Haggardesque python, something like this …

This is what he hoped for. (Pic from Dollar Photo)
This is what he hoped for. (Pic from Dollar Photo)

… because I had completely forgotten to mention that, in addition to the snake, my suitcase was full of books. What he in fact got was more like this…

This is what he got.
This is what he got. (Pic from Dollar Photo)

… only a bit more crumpled. And not pink.

To his credit, he didn’t say a word. He just lifted it out and put it in a glass box, then shut my suitcase and handed it to me.

He didn’t even offer to carry it back to my car.

Thanks to Steph at We Don’t Chew Glass for the snake story that triggered this memory!

Your turn! Do you have any interesting snake stories to tell? How do you like to spend Sunday afternoon? Have you ever worn crimplene?