— Andre Paul Gide
In spite of its growing popularity among Halloween enthusiasts and Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region loyalists, I have never attended the Monster Ball.
No particular reason.
While zombies, Frankensteins, vampires, werewolves, witches, ghouls and anything with long teeth and disproportionate coverage of hair probably get a bad wrap, I prefer the tamer lot; you know, pirates, mad scientists, superheroes (including a personal weakness for Wonder Woman) and maybe the occasional ghost so long as his antics lean more along the likes of Casper.
In my Halloween days — probably still in the cute-as-a-button stage — I was one mean cowboy. We’re talking bad hombre. With hat, holster and six-shooter, I was a neighborhood terror ... as I am told. No fanged, humpbacked varmints hung around this Cisco Kid, I can tell you that.
This little darling of the Wild West brought home more sweet loot than Blackbeard racketeered in gold doubloons.
But that’s the past.
As mentioned, I have never attended the Monster Ball. My closest experience with such came about 38 years ago when my last college girlfriend — who later became my fiancee and then my wife — told me it was time to meet the family.
Such disclosure strikes fear into the heart of any young American male who understands that if he is to take a pretty lass’s hand — maybe even both — in marriage, he must first run the gauntlet of terror: meeting the father and all who dwell within his haunted castle. That includes mother, siblings, grandparents, cousins, innocent bystanders, cats and dogs.
These were the mid-’70s so the odds were stacked against me from day one. My gal’s dad and I were polar opposites, somewhere along the extreme of Archie Bunker and Michael “Meathead” Stivic but without all the yelling.
We were civil folks. We were just ... different.
In monster terms, if her father was ... say, Frankenstein ... then I was more of a Sherlock Holmes. If I had to stick with the Halloween format, then her mom might have been Morticia Adams with shorter hair — pale but calm, and always bearing a mysterious smile. Of her younger sisters, Sandra was more along the lines of Marilyn Munster — probably normal but you weren’t quite sure — while Suzann might have been Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Little brother Keith was either Eddie Munster or Igor of “Young Frankenstein” fame.
My first prearranged meeting with her family included just the two of us and ... them: Herman Munster, Morticia, Marilyn, Elvira and Eddie/Igor. We met one Saturday night for supper at a country restaurant on the outskirts of Greenfield, a tiny West Tennessee hamlet that gave new meaning to the term “sleepy little town.”
We drove over from campus; that is, the University of Tennessee at Martin which was just a 10-mile float from Spook City.
I don’t remember who arrived first. I’m sure someone did.
But I recall seeing her dad ... Mr. Munster ... for the first time. And I pondered ... flee now or see out this night of the macabre? Neither was good, but both meant accounting for my actions later with my beloved, Little Morticia, whose dark hair and pale skin served as birthright from her mom.
So I stayed.
Herman ... er, Mr. Munster ... was wearing a green leisure suit. Younger generations needing wardrobe clarification should Google. He wore close-cropped hair; in fact, he had no hair in the middle. His scalp was like a river of shine flanked by short follicles on either side that I considered the grassy banks.
He was a big guy with husky voice. At first glance, one understood him to be the alpha male ... especially when looking at Eddie/Igor, his scrawny son who trailed from behind.
I was Herman’s alter ego.
With shoulder-length hair that covered both ears and collar, I could easily have been mistaken for a draft-dodging passivist who avoided Vietnam. I wore no beads but the bell bottoms looked like upside-down umbrellas. The shirt was flower-patterned in slick polyester and as a college junior I probably thought I knew far more than I really did.
Intellectual by nature, I probably came across as a know-it-all when seated at the table in the company of ... them, and him.
I can’t remember our topics of conversation, but I do recall the volume. These monsters were loud. They roared like a freight train on steroids and each spoke right on top of the other. If the person seated next to you was talking, he’d better hurry because you had something to say and it wasn’t going to wait.
Morticia, the mom, tried to referee as best she could. And, she made time for my words by occasionally “shhhhhing” her little crazies. But all the while, she was sizing up my character, likely trying to surmise “... was this really the one” for her eldest daughter.
Herman once asked Morticia if she wanted to dance when somebody dropped a quarter in the juke box. I don’t recall the song ... probably Willie Nelson or Boxcar Willie. Either way, it gave me the willies.
Everybody ate, but none in silence. It was one rowdy night. Herman paid for my meal, but probably at Morticia’s demand. By night’s end, I really liked this lady. She was the total package — polite, elegant, pretty as a pickle, motherly in her ways and kind to frightened young men who had too much hair and too little common sense to recognize the good in life even when it sat right there at the same table.
Little Morticia and I married in June ’77 and are still together 36 years later. Her sister Elvira grew up, mothered a son and remains in Greenfield. Eddie/Igor rules the roost in his own family and today lives in southern Illinois. We lost Marilyn years ago to complications from multiple sclerosis, but in life she gave our family a daughter and plenty of grandkids. Her memory lives with us today as if she still sits in our midst in that crowded booth of the little country restaurant.
Morticia remains the family jewel and has never lost that spark of life that I admired on the evening of our first meal. Herman and I are now best friends ... have been for years. He’s a funny old codger, but he’s a class act whose heart is made of pure gold.
Age slowly takes its toll on our little chamber of horrors. But monsters or not, these folks have been a blessing — one whose loving memories I’ll take to my grave.
It’s sometimes been a spooky ride, but one I wouldn’t trade for a Transylvanian cruise.