Monday, October 31, 2011

Hallowed Hauntings

When I was in middle school my brother and his friend, Tommy, had this idea to build themselves a haunted yard for Halloween.  They collected and dried oodles of bamboo to construct a formidable wall to cover a wimpy chain link fence and used strategic landscaping and a white Christmas light lined plywood tunnel to funnel their victims, I mean, trick or treaters, along the side of the house.  At the end of the narrow side yard was a detached garage, in front of which was a hefty tree stump that held a cauldron of candy.  Tommy stood in a floor length cloak and creepy old man mask with a walking staff perfectly still right behind the cauldron.  You were too worried about him to pay attention to the stuffed body they had rigged to fall from the tree as you got close to the candy.  One year they simply let a noose hang empty over the bowl, swaying ominously in the breeze and let your imagination fill in the rest.

The front yard was riddled with white crosses made of scrap wood and quickly nailed together.  Donald drove his car up into the ditch in the yard and left the car doors open, hazards flashing.  Also flashing were enough strobe lights to stock a Disco and somewhere I believe I recall a fog machine.  Creepy music played and one year there was the not-so-smart idea of making a white body outline in the street with something more permanent than chalk.  If memory serves it looked like a crime scene on the driveway weeks into November.

When I was old enough to handle the creep factor (debatable, I still can't handle creep factor) my parents would drive me to trick or treat after I'd made my usual rounds in our neighborhood.  Donald and Tommy I think delighted in my arrival.  I squealed spectacularly and the fact that I was blood related meant all bets were off when it came to going for the Big Scream.  One year we packed my youth group up in the church van to visit the house and Tommy ended up chasing me squealing in panic down the entire street, into and through the van.

Around high school I was too old to go door to door, or more interested in playing with the big boys.  I got the invitation to join Donald and Tommy in their yard slinking and couldn't have been more excited.  I dressed in head-to-toe black,d borrowed a great skull mask and slinked my heart out.  My memories of being chased through this very yard by my ghoulish sibling came flooding back to me at the sight of a 4-year-old Superman peeking hesitantly through the tunnel I sat on the other side of like a spider waiting for prey.  He was too young for our antics, though and so I turned my glowing skull face and held my breath, hoping desperately to blend enough with the shadows that he wouldn't notice me.  Blending failed!  After seeing me sitting there in arms reach he decided the candy was SO not worth the trip through the tunnel.  I ended up taking my mask off and reaching out a hand to guide him the rest of the way down the lane to get his treat.  Tommy seemed to understand the unbridled fear in this poor super hero and maintained his statue-stance instead of going for the scream factor.

Years later I own a house and am determined to build the best haunted yard in the neighborhood.  It has been slow going, this year marks our fourth Halloween and our second without bells and whistles.  Two years ago we didn't even hand out candy, Clif instead having the unpleasant task of tending to me and my horrific bout of swine flu.  Last year we were on, though, and in the great tradition of yard slinking I donned all black and a spectacularly creepy skeletal mask and sat amongst our tombstones in a smothering fog from our smoke machine.  I would turn my head ever so slowly to watch the kids come up our driveway, only half of which even noticed my existence, much less that they were being watched.  They would greet Clif sitting on a cooler by the front door in my full-hooded Half Moon cloak with black mask and red glowing eyes warning the kiddies of dangers around the corner.  By the time they came off the porch I'd be crouching around our hedge bush, forcing them to walk right past me, allowing me to give chase.

One little observant girl spotted me half way up our drive and dug her heels into the black top.  Even her fathers encouraging nudges couldn't move Snow White and she backpedaled herself right back to the street, foregoing candy at our house.  The boys she was with were oblivious to our encounter and moved on to the next house without a second thought.  I felt bad for Snow White, she reminded me of Superman from years ago.  I got a good handful of candy out of our bowl and walked across the street to stand next to Snow White's mother while she waited for the kids to finish at the door.  I asked if I could give Snow her candy since she was obviously not up for working through her fear (a feeling I know oh so well) and mom obliged.  When Snow turned around and saw me standing there her dad REALLY had to give her a hand or she would not have budged from where she froze half way across the yard.  Still in my mask I made a show of covering my skeletal face and turning away, stretching my candy-filled hand out to her.  I wasn't looking so I'm not sure if she took the offering or her father took it on her behalf but as I strolled silently back to our house I couldn't stop grinning ear to ear at what I hoped would become as great of a story for her as it would be for me.

My philosophy is if you build it they will come.  Much like in my youth I am convinced that if we build our yard a little every year eventually the kids will start talking and we'll be the coolest house around at Halloween.  Sadly this year our decorations have been buried in the farthest corner of our storage room behind the meat of our bathroom renovation project.  On top of that Clif is taking classes on Mondays, including tonight, so he won't even be home to enjoy tormenting the neighborhood kids.  I'll spend my evening with Rocky Horror and The Great Pumpkin, day dreaming of ways to make up lost ground next year.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Family Ties

I remember a road trip when I was younger that I spent in the backseat of my brother's green Saturn.  I think we were going skiing (the ski trip I managed my most epic wipeouts ever, stories later) and my sister was riding shotgun.  I have a vivid image of sitting in the seat behind her, staring at the cd cover of DMB's Under the Table and Dreaming.  Satellite came on and I started singing along as quietly as I could.  The High Note (you know the one) came and Donald turned to look over his shoulder, "Was that you?  Did you just hit that note?"  I smiled back in confirmation and felt this swell of pride that my older brother, whom I'd spent my life looking up to and admiring, thought something I'd done as simple as singing in a range fitting for a pre-adolescent girl (no offense, Dave) was mildly impressive.

Before I loved DMB for their own merit I loved them because my siblings did.  As was the case with the vast majority of the things I loved.  My brother and sister are 10 and 7 years older than I am, respectively, and I spent my childhood looking up to them so hard my neck is still sore decades later.  If they loved Metallica, so help me I would ROCK that Master of Puppets tour shirt once it reached hand-me-down status, even though I was too young to appreciate the music the way they did.  Mario and Zelda drown me with waves of nostalgia, not because I dedicated my hours to playing them but because I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do than watch my siblings play.  Graphic novels line my bookshelves that I hold as dear as treasures because they were important to my brother first.  JMU will always be special to me because it's where my sister went to school and therefore the college I dreamed of attending.

Unfortunately my age made it difficult to keep up with them.  In my infancy to toddler years we were all of an age where I made a great dress up doll and photography test subject and they were happy to take advantage when it suited.  By the time I was old enough to want more than anything to go out with them and their friends to do-whatever-the-big-kids-do I was too young to participate and they were too old to want me along.  There was one Friday night in particular I closed myself in my bedroom, peeking through the blinds as they both got in the car, heading on some great  Cool Kid adventure, while I stayed home to watch TGIF through tear-filled eyes.  I don't remember any other time that stands out so vividly as that one where I was so upset I cried until I couldn't anymore.

Last night Laura called and asked if I'd go with her to a show at a live music coffee shop in Vienna.  Vienna is close enough to Sterling that you can make that kind of last minute trip without a lot of preparation but far enough to make it An Effort to go when it's pouring and past 7:30 pm on a work night.  A friend of hers and my brother's (Todd) who had been in a band called the Excentrics that they followed dutifully in high school and college was playing and she wanted to see it, but not if it meant flying solo.  I couldn't blame her, some activities just aren't worth it if you don't have company. 

Initially I resisted, hoping that someone else out of their group of friends would be in attendance.  When I got the call around 8:00 that no one else was up for the task I admit I had to willfully drag myself out of the house to go.  The weather made a long-ish but simple enough drive turn into one filled with u-turns when each of my subsequent route options turned up flooded.  Try number three was the one and I made it to Laura's house 45 minutes after we thought the show had started.  Luckily it was only 2 miles down the road and we were not so easily deterred. 

The show was great for so many reasons.  Laura got to have a change of scenery and be overwhelmed with teenage flashbacks.  The strange thing is, so did I.

I recognized the music because it had been a presence during my most impressionable years.  My brother, the amazing artistic talent that he is, designed the album art for 2 Excentrics cds, which to me made my brother akin to celebrity.  Not only was he friends with the band members but his work would live forever in a piece of their history.  Maybe not such a big deal when you reach a certain age but I hadn't reached that age yet, wouldn't for years and was easily impressed.  I'm still easily impressed.

During the show I had flashes of memories of Donald working hard on delivering great art, Laura going out with friends to local hang outs to catch their shows, years later playing the albums for the first time for myself and falling in love with the music the way both of them had years before.  It didn't hurt that Todd looked so much like Donald it felt like he was well represented even though he wasn't there with us.

Laura mentioned something on our way out that I had already thought about inside about half way through the show.  We ended up leaving before we got a chance to say hi to Todd, something I'd been hoping to do.  I wanted to smile at and shake the hand of someone who resides in little bitesbof my memory because of his relationship with two of my most favorite people in the world.  I jokingly thought and Laura jokingly said out loud that he would probably just be confused having never before heard or known that a third sibling even existed in the Bullach family.  Over the years I talked about my siblings to my friends all the time because they were SO COOL!  Their stories were my stories and I'd get high just from telling them.  I wouldn't blame Donald or Laura for never thinking to mention me much in their conversations with their friends, we were far enough apart in age and worlds that the two just wouldn't have naturally passed, but there's a part of me that will always hope in some tiny way I was as much a rock star to them as they always will be to me.