Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween 2

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
an' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Goblins will get you
If you don't

from "The Little Orphan Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley

I'm not even sure if anyone today knows what goblins are, and I am not sure if I ever really knew myself. But I can tell you one thing for sure... goblins used to scare the daylights out of me.

With the annual Halloween orgy of horror movies on most every channel on the cable, it has reminded me of one of the earliest times in my life when I couldn't wait to be scared out of my wits.

Given the swiss cheese nature of my memory, I am surprised how vivid the recollection is, but I can still picture the littlest details as my Dad would sit me on one knee and Brenda or Peggy or whoever else was around on his other knee. Then he would start to recite James Whitcomb Riley's masterpiece about Little Orphan Annie.

That's the fist stanza up above and you can - and should - read the whole poem here. But to properly appreciate it you have to get past the words and into the theatricality of the poem. Dad would start slowly, just more or less telling us that Little Orphan Annie has come to their house to stay and you'd listen to the rhythm of the poem and the soft tones as he told you about her chores.

And then - because we had done this dozens of times and knew exactly what was coming - we'd start to squirm a little, feel the tension rise as we anticipated what was coming even though his voice hadn't changed a bit. We were usually squealing by the time he tightened his grip on our arms and loudly barked out "Or the goblins will get you if you don't watch out". I swear, I am getting tense just thinking about it almost 60 years later.

Of course it was us kids who kept begging him to recite the poem to us. It was delicious to be scared and yet know that we were completely safe at the same time. I think the folks making scary movies today could learn a lot by figuring out why this was such a thrill to us kids and made such a deep and lasting impression on me as one of the wonderful moments of my childhood.

In hindsight, I think it's remarkable that a poem written in 1885 could still be scaring kids in the 1950's. And even more remarkable that my father knew the whole poem and seemed to like nothing more than get us on his knees and warn us that the goblins would get us if we didn't watch out.

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