The dream house, where I lived as a kid, was located in the foothills of our town and for years, we were the only house in the area. Since one had to hike about a mile uphill to visit, we rarely had trick or treaters on Halloween. My mother, being the social sort, came up with the idea of turning the dream house into a haunted house in order to make the long trip worth the effort for our school mates and church going friends.
The dream house incorporated a lot of Spanish-style architecture and had a massive wooden door that was deeply carved and gothic-looking – it made a wonderfully spooky first impression! When visitors arrived on Halloween, the door opened slowly and one of the first things they would see was a full suite of amour, with a skull grinning at them from inside the helmet. Then our guests would be shown to the basement, where it was pitch black. One by one, they would be guided through each room, shrieking when they brushed against crepe paper streamers that had been hung from the ceiling. Every so often, there would be a stop where each victim would be instructed to place their hand in a bowl of “eyeballs” (peeled grapes) or “innards” (cold spaghetti and pumpkin guts).
As much fun as it was to terrify the locals, there was no free candy payoff for me in the end. So, I usually made the time to head down the hill to make the trick or treating rounds with my friends. Each year, there was always one place we would avoid – a large, ancient Victorian house where a mysterious old woman lived alone. We rarely saw her come out of her house, she didn’t talk to anyone, and rumor was that she was a witch. It was common practice to dare each other to knock on her door – but we would always flee into the night before she got to the door.
This particular year, we met a small group of boys who had mustered up the courage to stand their ground after knocking at the old woman’s door. When they called out, “Trick or treat!” they were stunned to be given…a FULL SIZE candy bar! They were jubilant as they showed off their bounty, slapping each other on the back and congratulating themselves on their bravery and good fortune. After a quick conference, my friends and I decided that a full size chocolate bar was worth the risk of evil enchantment, so we headed back. While that first encounter was terrifying, we were surprised to see that the old woman was actually very nice (if a bit eccentric).
This view was supported when my mother took me along on a visit to the old woman’s house one day. Once inside, I was amazed to see buttons EVERYWHERE! They were framed on the walls, mounted on heavy cardstock, and heaped into jars. These weren’t your ordinary, run of the mill buttons you might buy in the fabric store – they were ornate, antique, and unusual! I found them fascinating and, as my mother and the button lady (as I would call her from that day forward) conversed, I flipped through the many cards, occasionally touching a particularly eye-catching button and wondering who had worn it, when, and on what kind of outfit. When we left that day, the button lady presented me with a gallon sized glass jar, full to the brim with buttons. She gave me some tips on collecting and how to display my finds and invited me to return if I ever wanted to see more of her collection or if I had any questions.
While my interest in buttons waned after a short time, I was glad I met the button lady and I still think of her when I see a particularly unusual button. Our encounter taught me a valuable lesson about perceptions, reality, and how, if you give them a chance, people can surprise you. She also taught me that if I want to be the coolest old woman in the neighborhood on Halloween, I need to stock up on full size candy bars