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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chased by a Dead Rustler or Memories of an Old Fogey

I’ve been lucky over the last almost four score years for not only do I have a wonder family, but I’ve also had some of the most frightening and exciting Halloweens ever.
Our little town in the Texas Panhandle was so small we were assigned only half a zip code, but that did not make Halloween any less frightening or exciting.
The night of All Hallows saw all the dusty streets filled with little ghosts and goblins. Not many of us back then could afford costumes. The lucky guys usually had a black mask like the Lone Ranger. Some of girls even had masks of pink or red. Sometimes an old sheet or Grandpa’s cowboy hat and a handkerchief were utilized.
Soaping windows was a big trick for us. We’d grab one of our mother’s bars of lye soap and set out. It was amazing how much writing you could get from a bar of that soap. Some of the older and more daring boys toppled outhouses, what few there were. The next morning’s sun always came up on cows on the second floor of school houses or old-timey wooden wagons on the porch roof of downtown buildings.
But it just wasn’t kids who were out. Oh, no, there were always a few adults who planned on putting extra fright in some of the trick or treaters—all in fun.
I had a couple of those experiences I’ll never forget.
I never tire of telling my favorite, the night we were chased by the dead rustler, Burl Taggart.
One year, I had to spend Halloween on my grandmother’s farm with my cousin, Ed. With only one neighbor a mile away, I figured Halloween was shot. Who could we treat or treat, the chickens? Certainly not the hogs.
Then one of my uncles told Ed and me that if we really wanted to see a scary ghost that night, all we had to do was put our clothes on backwards and then walk backwards three times around the old hanging tree by the cow tank. According to our uncle, if we did that, old Burl Taggart, a rustler who had been hanged on that very tree, would reappear that night.
Well, we didn’t really believe him, but that afternoon, bored with riding calves and shooting snakes in the creek, we put our clothes on backward and walked backward around the hanging tree three times.
That night, Ed and I trudged down the lane with handkerchiefs over our faces like bank robbers in the Saturday picture shows, and trick or treated the neighbors. Of course, they let on like they didn’t know who we were and pretended they were frightened.
Then their two boys accompanied us back to my grandparents so we could trick or treat them. Before we left, we told our friends about conjuring up the ghost of Burl Taggart. They snickered at us.
Now, you’ve got to get the picture here. The full moon was straight overhead. On either side of the lane were pastures dotted with mesquite, and I promise you, in the dark, the twisted mesquite limbs took on mighty scary shapes, at least in the eyes of spooky ten and eleven year old boys.
And the fact we were talking about ghosts and werewolves and such didn’t help. Our frightened eyes made every shadow into Dracula or the Frankenstein monster.
And then we saw it. Far to the north in the pasture, a floating white object. The wind seemed to be carrying it toward us, and then a mournful, whining moan came through the mesquite.
I remember leaning forward and squinting at the apparition. When I looked around, I saw to my horror I was all alone. My cousin and his pals were a hundred yards down the lane. Well, you can believe me when I can tell you, I did my best to catch up with them.
The apparition grew closer, and I ran harder. I caught them as they reached the house, and we burst inside, four breathless, frightened boys.
It must have taken us ten minutes to stammer out what happened. The grownups shook their head, and one uncle growled at us. “Did you boys put your clothes on backward?”
Reluctantly, we nodded.
He groaned. “That did it. That brought back old Burl.”
Another one nodded. “How long’s it been now, fifty-sixty years since he got cut all to pieces after the hanging? I reckon he’s still looking for his missing hand.”
“Story is, they never did find who cut him down and chopped him up.”
Well, you can imagine when we heard that, our eyes bugged out like a stepped-on toad frogs.
And I don’t have to tell you how big they got when my grandfather said, “Well, Kent, it’s getting late. You and Ed walk your young friends back home, and then hurry back.”
Wild horses couldn’t have pulled us from that house.
One of my uncles had to take our friends back home.
And they couldn’t get us outside the next day. 
Years later, we learned the whole family had played a big joke on Ed and me. It was my Uncle Bud, Ed’s daddy, who played Burl in a sheet.
As I stare into the flames in our fireplace now, I tell you this, folks, those are memories I’ll never forget.

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