Joyce’s book is the perfect cure to the everyday sanity of our fast-paced and high-tech world. Filled with wonderfully nostalgic stories and reminisces, Joyce brings back the good old days, and oh, what days those once were!
Dahlynn McKowen, Coauthor
Chicken Soup for the Soul books
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These stories are a continuation from my first book, A Picture Frame of Memories. As most of you know, since 2009 I have been writing a weekly guest column for the Press Argus-Courier. The first story began when I read about the passing of Mrs. Bates, one of the kindest people ever to cross my path. I had no idea people would phone me and reminisce about the things I mentioned. One thing that never crossed my mind is that Kenneth Fry; Editor of the Press Argus-Courier, would phone and tell me I wrote myself into a job. Job? It’s not a job, it’s something I enjoy. Sometimes stories flow like a gentle creek and other times, well, the raging river consumes me.
Like Mrs. Bates, many people have touched me. We never know when someone will enter our sphere of life as the world turns in various directions. It could be through a smile, encouraging words or gentle compassion. We all travel through the same orbit but while on our journey to complete life, paths cross and engulf us. For all the people, large and small, old and young, you have given me the greatest gift. It’s the memories I treasure. Some enter my mind as a soft ball of cotton begging to be touched and others erupt without warning.
We’ve all been through triumphs, sadness, fear and joy and watched as those near us are hurt in some tragic occurrence. Each one of these things bear memories but it’s how we manage our lives that get us through trying times. We try to suffocate some memories as they are painful but to live through them helps give us strength. I have had my fair share of those types of memories but as I reflect on them, they are nothing but a stepping stone…a small speed bump designed to keep me in check. For all memories I try to live this quote, one that I created. “Happiness is the road to success, success leads to rewards, rewards are smiles and smiles are crown jewels.”
As you read these stories in my book, Skipping Down Memory Lane, I hope you remember your own memories, good and bad. They are with us for a reason. All I ask of you is to write down what you remember and share those memories with your families. They are treasures of the heart, mind, soul and body. So, for a little while, come skip with me.
Two weeks before Halloween in 1953, Daddy began reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to my sister and me. The book happened to be one of Daddy’s favorites. Zip through the weeks. It was Halloween night and black as coal tar outside our house. Daddy was at work and I think Mother, on this night, was happy to stay indoors because our young ages made her go with us to collect candy. The elements didn’t allow us to go trick or treating so Mother opened the book.
Mysteriously it popped open on a page I wished stayed shut. This was one spooky night! The streetlight at the corner of Henry Street burned out, or if truth was known, shot out by a sling shot pellet. Lights on street corners were few and far between. The one on our corner looked like an upside down metal bowl with an exposed twenty watt bulb. It was oftentimes on the fritz with flickering, macabre undertones as shadows darted to and fro. Perhaps it was our imagination playing devious tricks on these ominous hours of darkness, but a few reflections from neighboring window lamps told another story.
A dim light we could see out our front door was the stubby candle’s glow inside a pumpkin Daddy carved. Its interior light exaggerated the sharp toothed, grotesque face as it sat on a bench near the front door. It was rainy, dank and cold as the wind picked up, swirling leaves in all directions giving rise to scenes in the book. The pumpkin’s candle extinguished and our front stoop turned dark.
Mother continued to read about Ichabod Crane, the school teacher with gangly arms and legs, flat head, green eyes, huge ears and scared stiff nature. He was superstitious and believed everything was out to get him. Hazel and I were engrossed and anxious to hear what happened when he met the headless horseman. It was short lived when a giant thud hit the top of our house. Mother slammed the book shut and slung it across the room. My hair was static electric, as if someone rubbed an air filled balloon atop my head. My sister’s brown eyes grew large as saucers. Mother, usually the calm, cool and collected one, came unhinged as she jerked us up and hovered over us like the mother hen she was.
Like I said, Daddy was at work and unable to soothe our fears. He was an avid reader, ungodly maniacal prankster and collector of strange objects. Our house overran with grisly, blood curdling bits and pieces of his harboring. Before Daddy did a remodel, we lived in a three room house … yes, I said three room house and we survived close quarters. Hanging above the front door was a sharp, two foot saber in its ugly, brown sheath. The handle had a silver curlicue reminiscent of those in medieval times. It gave light to suitors having a duel. All we needed to complete this scenario was the gray armor perched in a corner. Thank goodness it wasn’t there. Hanging on a wall was a picture of the most horrid, eye chasing man ever to come down the pike. Every direction I walked, this hideous ruffle throated man with plumed hat watched me like a hawk. My sister and I hated the picture and felt our napes bristle with the hot penetrable eyes of this strange man. Daddy took delight in knowing this picture scared the beejeebers out of us deliberately creating heart palpitating moments. Mother wanted to kill him.
On this bizarre Halloween night, nothing could get worse, could it? Daddy should have been home an hour earlier but wasn’t. Hazel and I dozed off and Mother sat impatiently for Daddy. Without warning, Mother let out an ear piercing Indian war hoop that would wake the dead. Hazel and I woke up and watched Mother as she ran around in circles. Back and forth to the window she ran, yelling there was a headless horseman on a white horse clopping down the street. We didn’t believe her but she forced us to look out the window. So help me Hanna, as I live and breathe and may God strike me dead for lying, a white horse carrying a cloaked man without a head, stopped in front of our house. Mother was screaming bloody murder and it set off a chain reaction with Hazel and me in tune.
We watched in trepidation as the headless horseman raised his hand and flung a damned old pumpkin toward the house. Splat and double splat as another pumpkin pelted the house. Mother did a double run when the pumpkin jolt made the nefarious sword fall to the floor. I never heard so many blue words coming out of my mother’s mouth and didn’t understand one word of them.
The horseman blared, “Bawahahaha.” As fast as the horse appeared, it disappeared and so did the horseman. Then, outside the window we heard these words. “Did’ja hear thet, Ma?” Mother turned a ghastly shade of blue and almost took a tumble to the floor. We were scared speechless and I never wanted to look out the window again or hear about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Right then and there, there was enough legend on Henry Street.
About twenty minutes after the hoopla, Daddy sauntered through the front door. A huge grin plastered Daddy’s face like the wide mouthed Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. Mother began telling him about the headless horseman and he let off a belly laugh to rattle the rafters. Mother was livid because he continued laughing. We kept telling him it was the truth, there was a headless horseman and someone was outside our window. To appease us, he walked around the house, came back and said it was a bunch of nonsense. Hazel and I blurted. “What about the pumpkins?” Without blinking an eye, Daddy reached inside his jacket, pulled out a small pumpkin, flung his jacket above his head and yelled like a banshee. “Bawahahaha.”
By then, it was too late. We knew it was him and his secret unraveled. We listened as he told us he knew Mother would read us the story. Borrowing a horse, he said he went up and down the street twenty times before Mother had the courage to peer out the window. My daddy, the proverbial prankster, pulled off one of the most insidious tricks of Halloween. He watched, in the shadows of darkness, as we, his prey, lived the horrors of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.