Try misplacing a sister to be truly scared

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I haven’t been to a Halloween carnival, autumn festival or whatever they’re calling such events these days in many a year.

Perhaps that will change this fall.

I’d like to bob for apples again. I’d like to participate in a taffy pull once more. Don’t know about taffy pulls? Well, that tells me you likely are younger — much younger — than me.

The best Halloween carnivals — that’s what they were called in my towheaded young’un days — always had a spook house associated with them. Well, in those days a spook house didn’t take up an entire house, unless you count the house in which lived that creepy, old spinster down the block. You know the one — she believed in and practiced the science of “roots.”

I recall one Halloween carnival, I believe it was the fall of 1962, which I attended with my sister, Angie. I was 7. She was 5. The carnival was at Santa Margarita Elementary School on Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base where my father was stationed at the time.

To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled at having to take Angie along with me to the carnival. A little sister would cramp my style, if a 7-year-old with a flattop haircut can have style. No use pleading for relief — my mother made it clear it was my brotherly duty to take my sister with me and keep an eye on her. My other sister, Donna, was just weeks old. She was not yet old enough to enjoy bobbing for apples. She could bob for a bottle at home.

Once Angie and I arrived at the carnival, I began looking for something that would make her ask me to take her home. No, the dancing skeletons would not do the trick. No, the three witches (actually three teachers) around the bubbling cauldron (a black kettle with dried ice inside) would not do the trick.

Aha! The spook house would work just fine.

OK, it wasn’t a spook house in the sense of being a house. The spook house was a complex of large boxes connected in such a way to form a meandering tunnel. The tunnel was dark, but not pitch black. One crawled through it toward an uncertain, impending doom.

At different stations throughout the tunnel, one would be frightened. At the first station, the crawler was required to put his or her hands into a box. Inside the box were human intestines. OK, cooked spaghetti was in the box. At the next box, the crawler was required to put hands into human brains. OK, Jell-O was in the box. At the next box, the crawler was required to put hands into a collection of human eyes. OK, peeled grapes were in that box.

I remember exiting the spook house, sufficiently impressed and somewhat scared.

Then I really got scared. I could not find Angie. I had entered the spook house ahead of her so I could scare away any monsters or boogeyman that might be in the spook house. I was going to sweep away the ghosts and goblins so she could traverse the spook house in safety.

Angie entered the spook house, but she never came out its other end.

Was there a real ghoul in the spook house and did it have my sister?

I had dreamed about losing my sister, but the reality of it was not what I had expected. I thought about running away. I couldn’t go home without my sister.

Then, there she was, over by the “fishing” booth, where several of those toy fishing rods had magnets on the end of the fishing lines instead of fishhooks. One would “cast” his or her line behind a wall and reel in a prize attached to another magnet.

During her excursion into the spook house, that collection of boxes came apart, allowing her to exit the spook house before I finished my trip through it. Angie decided the best thing to do would be to wait for me at the “fishing” booth.

The spook house was scary enough, but that minute or two during which I thought I had lost my sister topped the spook-house experience tenfold.

I guess I got more than my money’s worth at the Halloween carnival. I got my sister back.

Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. He’s been to haunted houses, haunted mazes and a haunted boat over the years. Nothing scares him as much as when Congress is in session or it’s a presidential election year.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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