Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi loved Halloween night almost as much as she loved Christmas morning. Little Suzi and her invisible friend Albert every year started thinking about their Halloween costumes long before the leaves on the oak and maple trees turned bright red and orange in the fall, long before farmers brought their yellow pumpkins in from the fields, and long before her granny would ask “What do you want to be this year?”
Every Halloween since she had been old enough to go trick-or-treating on her own, Suzi’s grandmother, whom she called ‘Granny Dear’, made her a new hand-measured, hand-sewn Halloween costume. But to Suzi’s dismay, Granny Dear didn’t believe in scary costumes.
“It’s not polite to scare folks,” she said every year. So until now, Suzi had to dress up in only cute, sweet costumes: a Dalmatian puppy one year, a floppy-eared rabbit the next, a Raggedy Ann doll after that, then a Cherokee Indian princess, and, last year, an angel with a halo and wings made of wire coat hangers and wrapping paper.
And, of course, Albert teased her every year by saying, When are you going to stop wearing those ‘baby’ Halloween costumes and dress up like a real ghost or goblin so we can scare somebody for once?
Albert was lucky. He could dress up in any scary costume he wanted. All he and Suzi had to do was imagine his outfit and, poof, there it was! And Granny Dear didn’t complain about how scary Albert’s costume might be, because only he and Suzi could see it.
I think I’ll be a pirate with an eye patch and black beard this year! Albert excitedly told his friend one Friday in September right after school. The teacher had shown the class a picture of a harvest moon, and it reminded Albert of Halloween right away—he was smart like that.
After school, as they walked home from the red and white brick schoolhouse on Laurel Street to Suzi’s small white frame house on Magnolia Avenue, Suzi and Albert imagined scary Halloween costumes: ghouls, goblins, werewolves, vampires, devils and witches!
“But Granny Dear won’t sew me one of those costumes,” Little Suzi told her friend disappointedly. “She says it’s not ‘propriate for little girls to try to scare the neighbors and their little children. She says it might give them nightmares.”
I wanna have a nightmare! Albert offered enthusiastically. Can we have one for Halloween night? You could get a scary book from the library. Maybe the one we read last year about Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman?! We had some really good nightmares after that one!
It’s not that Little Suzi didn’t appreciate her Halloween outfits. After all, Granny Dear put a lot of effort into making them each year. First, she had to get Granddaddy Manly to drive her all the way downtown to buy the linen and silk material and a pattern book at the Woolworth’s store. Then, she spent one whole Saturday afternoon cutting out the patterns for a dress or skirt or pants and shirt, depending on the costume. And last, she had to make special parts like ears for a puppy or rabbit, yarn hair for a doll or princess, and, of course, a halo and wings suitable for an angel.
“Thank you, Granny Dear,” Suzi told her granny every Halloween. And she meant it.
“You are very welcome, dear,” Granny said back every year as she squeezed Little Suzi in a granny hug. Then she would stand back to admire her handiwork, holding the girl by both arms and looking from side to side to check all the seams and hems.
But this year, Suzi’s granny surprised her (and Albert) on the first Saturday of October when she asked her granddaughter if she might like to be a wicked witch this Halloween!
This is it, Albert whispered in Little Suzi’s ear. You’re gonna be scary this Halloween just like me! Look out neighbors; here we come for your candy:
‘Trick or treat,
Smell my feet.
Give me something
Good to eat!’
“Albert!”Suzi protested. “How rude!”
And then, Granny Dear surprised Little Suzi even more when she asked, “Have I ever told you the story of ‘The Witch, the Miser, and the Candy Bones’?”
Without waiting for a reply, Granny told a Halloween tale from when she herself was a mere child:
- Once upon a time, in the deep and dark hills of the Smoky Mountains, an old witch lived alone at the edge of a mountain town in a shabby log cabin surrounded by a swamp of cattails and ferns. People in the town below told stories about the witch, saying she used black magic to turn careless wanderers into toads, tree frogs, mudpuppies and salamanders. And all these poor, pitiful creatures were now living among the weeds of her swamp.
- Even though no one in the village had actually seen the witch turn anyone into a croaking toad or a barking mudpuppy, they pointed toward the swamp in the early evenings as proof: “Listen to all those lost souls calling out from the swamp! How awful for them.”
- They all feared the witch and warned their children to stay away, especially on Halloween night when evil spirits were said to be about.
- But old Tom, the town miser, had convinced himself that the witch let people believe those stories just to keep them away from her house. You see, the miser Tom figured she must have a box full of silver and gold coins hidden away inside.
- “I’m certain that old crone has a treasure,” Tom told himself. “Why else would she hide away in that rotten swamp?”
- It never occurred to old Tom that not everyone in this world thinks about money every waking minute of every waking day. And that’s when Ol’ Scratch started to whisper in Tom’s ear and tempt him to make a plan to get at that witch’s treasure on Halloween.
Who’s Ol’ Scratch? Albert whispered in Little Suzi’s ear.And what makes him so itchy?/em>
“Who’s Ol’ Scratch, Granny Dear?” Suzi asked for both of them.
“Ol’ Scratch is a mighty foe,” Suzi’s granny explained. “Some folks call him Lucifer or Satan, but most just call him the devil. He tricks you into doing bad things that you know you shouldn’t do.”
Hey, I’ll be a devil this Halloween! Albert exclaimed happily while Granny continued her story.
- Ol’ Scratch tempted Tom the miser day and night about the witch’s treasure, even though that old devil didn’t care nothin’ for the money himself, since he had nothing to spend it on. He just wanted to torture old Tom and work him into a raw state of mind. And it worked, for Tom could think of nothing else the whole month of days leading up to Halloween.
- The devil and Tom hatched a plan to get at the treasure. They’d smoke it out! Build a fire around the swamp, and the witch would be forced to fly out of those woods, leaving the money behind for Tom to find—with the devil’s help, of course.
- Tom, being a coward and too afraid to face the witch—who would surely turn him into a toad if he did—set the swamp on fire. After the fire swept through the swamp, chasing all the creatures out, Tom finally worked up the courage to enter the cabin and search for the witch’s treasure among the smoke and ashes.
- Sure enough, when old Tom entered the house, he found it empty. The witch had flown to escape the fire.
- “Our plan is working, Ol’ Scratch!” Tom bragged. “Now where’s the treasure?”
- But Ol’ Scratch, that devil, did not answer and was nowhere to be found around the smoke-filled cabin.
- The only thing old Tom did find in that cabin, on an oak table in the middle of the room, was a bowl of white taffy candy—each piece shaped like the bones of some small creature, mostly fingers and toes—and a note held down by the bowl that read:
- “Help yourself to my Halloween candy bones, you old miser! It’s all the treasure you’ll find in this house tonight!”
- For here’s what Tom didn’t know. All the time he had been working to smoke the witch out of her house and search for treasure, the old crone had been at Tom’s own house in town, where she easily found the miser’s chest of silver and gold coins hidden behind a loose stone in his chimney—exactly where Ol’ Scratch had told her it would be!
- “Why, yes, the witch cackled to herself, just where Ol’ Scratch said to look for it. Did that old fool miser really think the devil was his friend?”
- So, while Tom the miser brooded at the witch’s house and cursed the devil who had betrayed him, the old woman gave out his silver and gold coins to all the children who knocked on his door as they went house to house on Halloween. And not one of the children was afraid that night of the kindly old lady who was dressed as a witch for Halloween!
“So the witch wasn’t really evil, and the devil tricked old Tom the miser?” Suzi asked Granny Dear at the end of the story—just to make sure she understood it.
“That’s right, sweetheart. You just can’t trust Ol’ Scratch, especially on Halloween,” her granny answered. “Now you and your friend go put on your costumes to get ready for ‘trick-or-treat’.”
And when Little Suzi and Albert came back to the front room, Granny Dear had one more surprise for her granddaughter.
“Granny!” Suzi exclaimed. “You’re…you’re a witch!”
Suzi! Albert protested. Don’t be rude!
But the little girl wasn’t being rude, because her granny really and truly was dressed as a witch for Halloween in a costume exactly like Little Suzi’s, right down to the striped stockings and pointy boots!
“So, how would you—and Albert—like to help me give out ‘candy bones’ to the children who knock on our door tonight?”
And that is exactly what they did on the best Halloween that Little Suzi could remember.
One old and one small,
May greet you with a bowl
Of fingers and toes!
But don’t be frightened,
‘Cause now you know,
It’s only taffy candy bones!