The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Halloween Carnival at the Schoolhouse

By Grace Cash © 1987

Issue: October, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Watch for more of her stories in future issues.

In 1926 they had a Halloween Carnival at the Chestnut Mountain Schoolhouse. It was my very first acquaintance with goblins and witches. The whispers and the shadows cast a strange spell over me, although I knew the fortune–teller was the store keeper's daughter. The fortune–teller's booth was darkly curtained and feebly lighted on the outside, all of it matching her own black–robed clothing, and the black shawl tied over her head.

The schoolhouse was a three–storied, white framed building, lifting its shingled roof far above the treetops flanking the slope, running all the way down from the road to the backside, where none of us ever ventured to play at recess. The builders could have looked everywhere – even a half–mile down the highway to the dense, dark old mountain where chestnuts grew and from which the hamlet got its name – and they wouldn't have found a more precarious site for the tall, squarish monstrosity. It seemed that danger lurked up the steep stair steps, leading to the long room that housed the grades from 8–10, and on down to the basement room for the beginners, and in any of the three second–floor rooms.

They had moved the old upright piano from the Baptist church across the road to Miss Ola's third, fourth and fifth grade room. The piano keys, yellowed and cracked, hadn't been tuned since it was purchased – a second–hand instrument replacing the pedal–organ, but now it sat grandly at the foot of the stage, which took up a third of Miss Ola's desk space.

A community woman sat on the round stool and played "Dixieland" and "Little Brown Jug" and "Turkey In The Straw," while the students and the farm people passed up and down the aisles, munching parched peanuts and popcorn and red fall apples, and other goodies purchased at the concession stand set up on the back porch.

The courting couples, talking in low tones, walked hand–in–hand over every foot of the log hall, improvised as such by rolling the petition that divided Miss Ola's room from Miss Essie's sixth and seventh grade room. They strolled on to the porch and bought handfuls of Baby Ruth chocolate bars and Juicy Fruit chewing gum, then they had their fortune told. Even the school children and adults – big farm women in cotton dresses, with their hair combed severely back and wound in a knot at the back of the head, had their fortunes told, as did the men, in blue overalls and stripped hickory shirts. They needed a shave and a haircut, but their mouths were well fortified with Brown's Mule tobacco.

Across from the fortune teller's booth there was a table filled with guessing games. The farmers would turn a glass fruit jar this way and that, even examining the bottom of the jar, trying to guess the number of shelled beans in the jar. The women displayed their needlework: Lace tatting and pillows made of silk scraps from dresses they had made for their daughters, and embroidered dollies. It was as much a harvest celebration as a Halloween Carnival, but for the children, it was a time only for the pranks of goblins and witches.

Later there was a stage program and children, dressed like witches, riding brooms, chanted rhymed poems, such as:

My eye is on you, so I ride and I ride –
what I want – and I'll get – is you at my side.

The farm people laughed and enjoyed the plays and poems the teachers had made up themselves for the occasion. But I was so caught up in it all, I cringed, wondering what it would be like if a witch snatched me up on her broom and rode off up in the air, and settled down in the witches' coven, and had me eat worms and rat tails and tadpoles from her earth–table. When it was over, and we went home, the two–mile walk up the highway to our house on the hill along with loudly chattering community folks soon erased it all from my mind. Except the shadows and the whispers, that somehow from that night on made the tall squarish schoolhouse look like it held secrets untold.