This time of year, with its emphasis on all things spooky, draws me back to my seventh Halloween.
This memory starts with an excited cafeteria conversation that centered on the discovery that the movie “Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula” would be arriving at The Strand Theatre that Saturday. With a stark title like that, you could tell the movie was going to be terrifying.
Here’s the thing — I was a little younger than my buddies and if they were talking about how frightening it was going to be, well, wasn’t it more than a little bit possible that I’d be scared out of my wits?
My friend John Smitherman, whose dad was a cop, said that he had heard that a kid in Fairfax had seen the movie and gone kookoo from the shock — afterwards, he could only talk baby talk and had to eat baby food! (John was always giving us important information — A kid in England doing a reverse skin-the-cat on the monkey bars turned himself inside-out and was confined to a special hospital! Eating the crust of Wonder Bread would make your stomach bulge out — this one was confirmed when our teacher Mrs. Hendricks, who ate a cheese sandwich every day at lunch, got fatter and fatter as the year progressed — it turned out that she was pregnant, which all the girls in class figured out on the first day. Our principal had an electric paddle with nails! )
Compounding the problem — John said that The Strand would station a nurse in the lobby to determine whether the movie might be too scary for individual patrons. I already said I was younger and littler than my friends. I was also, truth be told, more of a scaredy-cat, too. It would be a certainty that a health care professional would instantly spot me. How humiliating to be turned away in front of a lobby full of my acquaintances!
Believe me, that long walk to The Strand on Saturday was as fraught with forboding as anything Billy the Kid was going to face.
I got there, bought my ticket, and slouched my way into the lobby with my friends. I tried to blend into a sea of kids so that the nurse wouldn’t spot me.
The nurse turned out to be Mrs. Goretski, the wife of the theatre manager. A sweet woman who smelled like lillies of the valley and was built along the general contours of the Michelin Man, Mrs. Goretski usually ran the Concession Stand. I had no idea she was also a nurse.
But there she was in a nurse’s starched white dress, an immaculate cap on her meticulously lacquered hair.
Mrs. Goretski was a friend of mine and I worked up the courage to stand in front of her.
“Is it real scary?” I asked in quavering voice.
Mrs. Goretski carefully, oh-so-slowly, surveyed my 68-pound frame, all 38 inches of me.
And just as carefully, just as slowly, she answered my question: “I think you can handle it.”
A choir of angels sang. The Red Sea parted. Lincoln freed the slaves.
I strode into the theatre a much taller little guy.
And Mrs. Gorecki was right — “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” was terrifying (check out this clip —
That little boost of courage carried me through to other things that I had deemed too scary — I learned to watch The Outer Limits and Rod Serling’s marvelously tilted The Twilight Zone. My Mom fretted that all that those spooky shows would warp my imagination, but they probably innoculated me from the real horrors that this world delivers throughout our lives.
You can check out these DVDs through the Fontana Regional Library System. If you’ve ever wondered what it took to make a seven-year-old almost wet his pants, these are a pretty good place to start.
If you’re a kid reading this, please note that things are almost never as bad as your imagination or your friends would have you believe.
If you’re an adult, never hesitate to offer a bit of encouragement to a young person. This is a pretty scary world, and there’s usually never a nurse around to tell you when something’s too scary.