Coal Camp Living
Like children in most communities across our land, we dressed up for Halloween. In the early fifties, if store-bought costumes existed we weren’t aware of them. We scrounged around for old, usually over-sized clothes of our parents and outfitted ourselves as hobos, pirates, or my favorite—a gypsy lady with a long, full skirt and lots of jewelry. We set out with pillow cases in hand and a piece of soap in a pocket just in case someone didn’t have treats we would be prepared to mark on any window we could reach. We didn’t usually have to do any tricks because we knew all of our neighbors and they knew us, even though they pretended not to when they opened their doors.
Sounds like a calm, idyllic Halloween.
Yet there was bone-chilling fear about one place in our coal mining camp and we especially avoided walking anywhere near it on any day or night of the year: the miners’ bathhouse. It was as big as a barn and a scary place—I had peeked inside one time—with rows of miners’ clothes hanging on hooks pulled high up to the tall ceiling. In the early morning the men could leave their regular clothes here, put their work clothes on and then at the end of the day shower and make the switch again. So there were always clothes hanging there and to me they looked like men who had been hung in the dark shadows, minus their heads and feet.
If that place were not scary enough all by itself, an old man showed up one day and began living inside. He was homeless, and I’m sure harmless, but the camp children whispered horrible tales about him grabbing anyone who strayed too close. And if he caught you, you would disappear—forever.
Even so the camp’s mothers took up the task of feeding this man his supper every evening. When my mother’s turn came around, my sister and I had to carry his plate down our hillside, across a small bridge, across railroads tracks, and finally up to the bathhouse. Once there, we sat his plate down, banged on the door, and ran all the way back home. That was heart-thumping fear.
Did you celebrate Halloween as a child?
What were some of your childhood fears?
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