I teach GED in a correctional facility, but it’s a wonder I was not a student in some kind of prison. This is my story to verify that statement, and I am to this day, still sticking to it.
In 1968, in my last year of high school, I probably enjoyed Halloween a bit too much.
My friends and I had planned to turn Halloween into an extended weekend. The end of October in Southern Illinois can be cold. Sometimes extremely cold. But, the weather that year was pretty pleasant. Most of my friends and I were not the type to get into trouble. We generally worked hard to stay out of it. But sometimes things just happen beyond one’s control.
My friends, Bill, Jackson, and Ed decided the best way to stay out of trouble on a Halloween weekend was to spend the weekend on Ed’s farm. He had horses and lots of land to ride them on. We decided to pack some camping gear with us just in case it got late. This was going to be a terrific weekend. We were all excited.
Thursday before our weekend was to begin Ed and I were going to do some last minute preparations for the next day’s ride. We met at my house and by 9:30 p.m. all was planned.
Mr. Tony’s malt shop was next door. He made the best milk shakes in town. Getting a shake would be a great way to end the evening. But we never made it to Tony’s.
Ed just couldn’t help it. Unbeknownst to me, he came prepared for a little Halloween fun.
Ed produced a bar of paraffin (wax to you youngsters). That’s when he told me what he really planned to do. He wanted to wax some windows and he intended me to help.
I’m not one who looks for trouble. You see, I was born with a giant X plastered on my back. It might as well be a target. If you and I were to do something wrong, I would be the one to get caught, while you go free, unobserved. With this caper and my luck, I would get caught with wax in hand and Ed would never be observed doing the dirty deed.
Ed Said, ”We aren’t going to wax house windows. It’s too easy to get caught. We’re going to wax the window’s of the cars at the Ford Dealer. No one is ever there at night. The chances of getting caught are a lot less.”
Ed was always a persuasive guy. I conceded. By the time we were done, every single window on every single car was defaced with our mighty bars of paraffin. Now, we had a story that we could possibly share with our buddies. You know, stories are important to young men. At that age these kinds of stories are like rights of passage. We believed that we probably even outdid them. And no property was damaged in the process.
We both knew waxing car windows was nothing compared to what others would claim and perhaps do. Ed and I listened to many stories the next day. We decided to stay silent. Each of us for a different reason.
While listening to our buddies tell their adventures, I suddenly remembered something. The car dealership we visited the night before was owned by the father of someone Ed disliked, Jason Parker.
Guess who met us in the parking lot after school. You guessed it. Jason Parker. He was the school’s number one bully. And he was standing by Ed’s car.
“My pop said he saw you waxing car windows at his lot last night.” (He was looking only at Ed.) I was thankful just then that Jason didn’t seem to be acknowledging me. “He said if he ever sees you again near his cars he and his shotgun will be waiting.”
Ed made some pretty feeble excuse. I, on the other hand, was hoping that Jason couldn’t see my knees trembling.
I never bought a car from Parker Ford as long as Mr. Parker owned the dealership. All I could see, whenever I passed it, was Mr. Parker and his shotgun. In reality, I bet he probably never even owned one.
Mr. Parker was always cordial. Jason, on the other hand, earned a bad boy rep with his special nack for oratory and his big bulky physic.
The Halloween weekend was just getting started.
I got in Ed’s car after Jason finally allowed us in it. Inside the safe confines of the car we both exhaled, and without saying a word, we left the parking lot, and headed for our destination. Ed and I were going to meet up with Bill and Jackson at my house that day after school. My house always seemed to be the meeting place. I guess it had something to do with a well stocked refrigerator.
Bill had the biggest car. So the plan was for all of us to pile into his big 1966 four door green Plymouth Fury III. It wasn’t the super stocked car most of the hot shot guys were driving. But hey!, it more than met our needs.
When everyone arrived and had their fill of Mom‘s refrigerator, we loaded up Bill’s car and headed for Ed’s farm.
Ed lived way out in the country. The farm boarded a state park.
We would have to drive down the county blacktop a few miles before
reaching his lane. It would take us about ten minutes to get there.
We were almost at Ed’s lane when we saw a car parked on the side of the road and some guy walking toward us. He was carrying what looked to be a briefcase in his hand and wearing a nice business suit.
I’m sure he had some kind of mechanical problem, but we were in a hurry to start the weekend. Ed’s lane was just in sight. So we decided to drive on by.
Bill slowed down to make the turn.
I do not know where it came from. But Ed produced a pumpkin. It was Halloween, after all. Perhaps he intended to give it to his parents. His mother made awesome pumpkin pie.
Anyway, he rolled the window down. The next thing I saw was the pumpkin flying out of the window. I’m sure Ed didn’t think about the consequences as he chucked it out just as we were passing that fellow. The pumpkin hit that poor guy square in the chest. His arms went skyward, as did his briefcase. The briefcase opened and papers flew out. The guy tumbled backwards flipping him head over heels.
Ed’s eyes got as big as silver dollars. Obviously, there was no intent to hit the man. We all made Bill stop the car to see if we could help the guy.
Bill stopped and backed up. You will not believe what happened next. The young man picked himself up and ran as fast as he could into the nearby woods.
Jackson picked up the papers and stuffed them into the briefcase. Bill, Ed, and I went after the man. We wanted to make sure he was OK. We looked for him for the next couple of hours, to no avail.
The weekend activity would have to wait a little while longer. After Jackson said a short prayer for the stranger, we loaded up Bill’s car again, turned it around, and headed back to town to report what just happened.
This incident turned out to be a fortunate thing……for the town.
You see, a local bank clerk had stolen some valuable papers from the town’s only bank. He was on his way to palm them off when he ran across these four teenagers.
Teenagers are not in the habit of reading the back section of newspapers, but we all looked in the next week’s Obituaries to see if a man was “killed by a flying pumpkin”. You can imagine how relieved we were when the sheriff told us we were not true criminals.
Although we had a part in the apprehension of the real criminal, the Police Chief was not recognizing us as town heroes. After all, that pumpkin did fly out of a moving vehicle in the direction of a pedestrian. It could have been really bad for us, so we were thankful for just getting off with a warning.
We left the police station with a heavy heart and headed for Ed’s farm. By the time we got there, it was very late. We just went to bed. But it was a restless night for all of us.
On that Halloween night in 1968, our testosterone was running rampid. As a result of all that happened because of the pumpkin incident, we had convinced ourselves that the criminal knew where we were that night and he was coming after us. We survived the night, though, to live another adventure.
By the way, the criminal was apprehended a month later by local law enforcement.
The next morning, Ed’s mom fixed us a hearty breakfast, listened to our story about the previous day’s adventure, and then sent us off to saddle up.
Ed led the way to his barn. We saddled the horses and off we went.
Riding horses in the fall is probably the time to do it, at least for me. The cool air. The heat from the horse. It’s enough to warm the body but not enough to encourage sweating. I’m sure as a teenager, I did not care much about the beauty of nature surrounding me. But, I remember I just felt different (more at ease) on horseback that time of year.
We rode all day. Even tried to do a little bull roping. Those poor cows didn’t have a chance. (Yes they were cows, not bulls) I felt as close to being a authentic cowboy as I was ever going to feel. The brand new boots and cowboy hat, I’m sure, did their part in enhancing my western frame of mind.
Around 5:00 p.m. it was getting dark and it was time to find our place to camp for the night. Ed already knew where it would be.
Remember, I said Ed’s farm bordered on a state park. Ed decided we would camp on a cliff overlooking that park. The local Boy Scout troop would be camping in that park below us next to the lake the Government built there.
Ed knew about the scout’s campout. He didn’t bother to volunteer that information until we set up our own camp. That was OK, though. We knew some of the boys and thought that later we might try to visit with them.
I think we felt like real cowboys up there on that ridge sitting around the campfire, eating the meal we just prepared. I guess we were expecting Clint Eastwood, as Rowdy, to come moseying in from his watch over the herd. “Head ‘em up, move ‘em out, Rawhide!” It was really peaceful and we needed some peace and quiet after what we had been through the last couple of days.
But, of course, Ed had other ideas. This setting was perfect for him.
Unbeknownst to us, Ed had preplanned this Halloween adventure. He was the practical joker. We knew this and were always in a constant state of vigilance around him. If he was going to pull one off, there was absolutely no way to prepare. The good thing, though, was his practical jokes were always harmless. No one ever got hurt.
Ed built the fire pit about fifty feet from the edge of the cliff and behind a couple of big boulders. He told us the boulders would do a great job of reflecting the heat from the fire back to us while we slept. Sure sounded logical to me.
I knew the Scouts below us could see the shadows of our campfire reflecting off those big boulders. I’m also sure they could hear us as well. It was the perfect Halloween night movie setting.
The night air was chilly and the sky was very dark. But some how, we could still see the outline of a few clouds lighted by a sliver sized moon. The wind had picked up slightly and we could hear it rustle through the trees. The light from our fire was flickering. We could hear the muffled voices of the Scouts below us, echoing up the cliff.
If you think something dramatic is about to happen, you are correct. But it is not what you think.
The stress of the previous two days was all but a memory when Ed let us in on his little secret. We were going to give the Scouts a night they were going to remember for ever. His plan seemed harmless enough. So we went along.
Ed and his father would frequently hunt together and would spend a great deal of their time where we were camping. Ed’s dad had even built a small cabin there. His dad would often leave his hunting arsenal in the cabin. This is 1968, remember, so leaving things like that around was not a big deal. Ed went into the cabin and came out a couple of minutes later with his dad’s 12 guage shotgun and a shell, which he promptly loaded in the shotgun.
Ed started complaining about the food. “Bill, can’t you do anything right?” , he yelled.
Bill yelled back, “You’re an idiot! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
The Scouts below had to hear this.
“Why don’t you get on your horse and get out of here?”, Ed yelled even louder. For emphasis, he threw his arm up and pointed toward the horses.
Ed was rather animated. I doubt if the Scouts down below could see this. I guess it helped him get in character. He was a good actor. Even I thought he was serious.
Bill shouted right back. “I’m not leaving! You make me!”
The two of them were very close to the edge of the cliff. They wanted to make sure they were seen.
Ed fired the shotgun and they both fell away from the edge of the cliff and toward us. The shell exploding out of the barrel of that big shotgun lit up the night sky. The boom, I’m sure could be heard for miles.
The four of us all got behind those big boulders and rolled them off the edge of the cliff. We could hear the occasional thud as they hit the side of the cliff on their way down. A few seconds later we heard them splash into the lake below.
As expected the entire troop gathered up their lanterns and headed for where they heard the splash. I think they stayed up all night looking for bodies.
When we awoke the next morning, we discovered our practical joke didn’t go exactly as planned.
There were all kinds of people dragging the lake for bodies. They even had the county’s volunteer scuba diving team searching.
After the incident with the bank robber, we were not about to let them in on our secret. I don’t think Ed, Bill, or Jackson ever told anyone of the rolling stones. But now you know.
People talked about that bank robber and the lake dragging for a long time. I just smile.