Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween At The Homestead, 1987

Halloween, 1987 fell on a Saturday, and that's why it was doubly disappointing to us that no trick-or-treaters knocked on our door. My wife, Janet, and I, along with our brand new beagle puppy Jake, had moved into the farmhouse along a rural stretch of US Highway 25 midway between Bowling Green and Perrysburg, Ohio two weeks earlier and were excited to spend the first "holiday" in our new home. We didn't expect a large turnout, of course, but there were a dozen or so houses within a mile or two of ours and we assumed at least a few of them must have children. Sure, we were new to the area and had not yet had the opportunity to meet anyone except the "older" (they were mid-50's, about the same age I am now) couple next door, but we assumed that people would [super] naturally gravitate to a house with a carved pumpkin and illuminated porch lights on Halloween. Wanting to make a good impression, we had stocked up on a selection of full-size candy bars, and had a gallon of apple cider at the ready should any of the adults want to stop and chat for a minute.

At the first sign of dusk, about 6:30, we lit the candle in our carefully carved jack o'lantern and turned on the porch lights. Jake barked expectantly as we positioned ourselves on the sofa near the door and waited... and waited. Around 7:30 it was full dark and I walked the 30 yards out to the highway and wondered if maybe we should have put some sort of sign out by the mailbox. The neighbor's house was completely dark. They were either out for the evening or had turned in VERY early. There were no cars filled with little ghosts, ghouls or witches stopped anywhere along the road, so far as I could see.

Well, it was still early.

I returned to the house, poured myself a glass of cider and unwrapped a Clark bar. Jake had curled up on the sofa next to Janet, who was paging through an accounting journal.

"Let's see if there are any Halloween shows on TV."

By the mid-80's, more than 70% of the households in the U.S. had access to cable, but our house was not one of them. Consequently, we had access to four channels, not counting PBS... because, seriously, who counts PBS. Two of the channels were broadcasting the tail-ends of uninteresting college football games, the third was running some sort of Lawrence Welk-esque variety show and the fourth some syndicated game show. Nothing very Halloween-ish. Where was the holiday spirit? The Sunday before, NBC had broadcast a cheesy made-for-TV horror movie called Bay Coven which we had watched with the intent and undivided attention of a rural couple with no cable. Pamela Sue Martin and Tim Matheson played yuppies who moved from their Manhattan apartment to an isolated community off the coast of Massachusetts (I could relate!) which was secretly inhabited by a coven of witches (Not so much!). 

Around 8:30 we finally gave up, turned off the porch light, blew out the candle and resigned ourselves to the fact that folks in that part of the county must not do Halloween. Of course, we woke up Sunday morning to find that wasn't exactly true, since someone had toilet-papered our apple tree and put Vaseline on the door handles of our cars.

The trick-or-treater no-show was merely the first in a series of misfires, disappointments, and outright failures that would come to characterize the four years we spent in what we would derisively come to call "The Little House on the Highway." Looking back, it's easy to see how hopelessly naive we were about our first homesteading experience. From the worm-ridden apple orchard to the sulfur-infused groundwater to the oddly infertile soil, the problems built up one on top of the other until they crushed our ambitions for a "simple life" under their considerable weight. Maybe if we had some of the resources available today; the Internet, excellent homesteading books and magazines, and access to a knowledgeable support network, things would have been different, but somehow I doubt it. I have come to understand that when it came to homesteading 1987 wasn't my time and Wood County wasn't my place. There were things I needed to do, needed to see, had to experience before settling down to that simple life. If the trick-or-treaters had shown up that Halloween thirty years ago, or my apple orchard prospered I might never have had the chance to spend St. Patrick's Day in Boston or the 4th of July in Alaska or the blustery Halloween nearly a decade later in Charlotte that convinced me that this is where I wanted to live and build my first successful homestead.     

This is the first of three holiday-themed articles I will be publishing between now and the end of the year in recognition of the 30th anniversary of The Little House on the Highway.

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