Happy Halloween! I felt compelled to write something about the holiday because, as many of you know, it’s also my birthday. This will be my 44th birthday, and I guess my 45th Halloween. Yikes! Anyhow, as I started to compose words in my head, I started to think back to Halloweens (and birthdays) passed. There were plenty of good ones…I actually recall my 5th birthday fairly vividly; my memories of my 11th are pretty fond; some celebrations during my young adulthood were pretty wild; and watching my own kids discover the holiday continues to be more special each year. However, there was one birthday and Halloween (I like to call the combination, Alloween), that stands above the rest, and I’m sure those involved never even realized it.
In 1977, I was turning 15 years old. It was an exciting year ahead for me in that this was the year that I was entering high school. I’d be tackling all the wonders and confusion associated with this time of my life and perhaps earning my learner’s permit to drive a car. Yes indeed, life was exciting. And I’m pretty sure my folks knew it was a time of transition and discovery, because for my 15th birthday, they let me spend the weekend with my brother at West Virginia University, most likely so I could get a taste of college life.
I recall traveling to Morgantown with my brother’s future brother-in-law Bobby. He was a couple years younger than me (I think) but was a pretty unruly character. I really can’t recall with whom I traveled. I’d like to think it was my brother, but I really can’t remember. I seem to recall being driven by someone else and dropped off. All I remember is that I wasn’t real impressed with Bobby, but I was able to get along well enough for the trip. I also remember that he had a really neat handheld electronic football game that I thought was the neatest thing ever. I eventually got one for Christmas that year, and I think I might still have it around somewhere. I know that I saw one at Toys R Us last Christmas, and it was labeled as a "Classic Toy". Hmph. But I digress.
My brother’s apartment was in the heart of an area called Sunnyside. Nowadays, this area is fixed up pretty nicely with only a few run-down old houses serving as apartments for the college upperclassmen. However, back in the 70’s, the entire area was a dump. In years prior, Jeff lived in an apartment on the lower level of a house…meaning one had to enter from the back yard, duck under a hole in the foundation, and enter through a door into a 6 ½ foot tall series of pieced together rooms. If rats didn’t live there, it was because they probably feared the cockroaches. A sign outside the foundation entrance deemed it "The Cave." Luckily, in 1977, my brother had moved to the first floor of the same house, meaning he was able to enter through a traditional front door and not be too concerned with other creatures living beneath (probably sophomores). Being a 15 year-old kid, I would probably have found the Cave to be an adventure, but looking back, I’m glad I spent the nights on the first floor.
This was the trip which I first met my future sister-in-law Debbie. My first impression was one of cautiousness because she was someone new in my brother’s life. But eventually, her personality and demeanor won me over. Debbie continues to be a great gal today. It was hard to believe at the time that Bobby was her brother. Jeff and I spent some time up at her dorm room on that Friday, although I’m not really sure what all was going on that day. I was just in awe of being in Morgantown by myself…well, at least without parental supervision. There are two things I recall about spending time in Debbie’s dorm room. First, I was also in awe of one of Debbie’s friends named Sonya…a gal that I eventually escorted down the aisle during Jeff and Debbie’s wedding. I think my fascination had to do with her being about the same height as me, as well as being dressed in a rather provocative cat costume for the holiday. Secondly, I remember Debbie mentioning that a couple of girls living down the hall were lesbians. Such things were never discussed in our house. My brother and I were the only kids with no sister…so we learned most things from friends or literature. Although I had read about lesbians in my dad’s Playboy magazines, I still wasn’t sure what it was all about. I just remember thinking, "Cool…there’s lesbians down the hall" without really knowing what I was thinking. Of course, I’d probably say the same thing today.
I don’t remember much about that Friday evening except maybe eating out at one of the local sub shops and such. I slept in my brother’s tiny bedroom. In fact, I believe it was a converted walk-in closet of sorts, because it was really, really small. What I do remember was a stack of Playboys under the bed, so I was pretty much in heaven for a 15 year-old kid. But, despite the thrill of arousing literature, it was the next day and evening that I remember most.
My brother was a manager, a.k.a., go-fer, for the WVU football team. On that Saturday, West Virginia had a home game against Villanova that I believe WVU lost. What I remember most about that game is that I sat on the field. It was so exciting to be sitting there so close to the players and band. I’d seen many WVU football games from the stands before, but this was by far the closest I’d ever been to the action. I couldn’t see what my brother was doing, but I knew he was among the football team and doing a job that was pretty important. That was probably the first time I remember being proud of Jeff. Not that I didn’t admire him earlier in life, but this time, he was doing something really cool.
That evening, Jeff and Debbie decided to whisk us away from the Halloween shenanigans of Sunnyside’s row of bars and drunks and we headed to the movies. The movie we saw was "Carrie", which at the time was a new release. It’s now considered a horror classic. Hmph…I’m starting to see a trend and indication of my advancing age here. Anyhow, I’m sure "Carrie" was not a movie my folks would have wanted me to see. If you recall, the opening scene shows a girl’s locker room…lot’s of naked high school girls. As Carrie is showering, she starts her first period, which I guess was a lot later in age than most of her classmates had started. She was terrified and of course met the wrath and teasing of her friends and teachers. As for me, I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. Again, no sisters and no information from the folks…and frankly, my friends just didn’t talk about girls’ periods. I finally figured it out and Debbie actually explained it a little to me. I was embarrassed, yet somewhat glad that Debbie said something and didn’t tease me. I think this was the moment when she won me over. On the other hand, the movie scared the crap out of all of us, including Debbie. I was thinking she had to be pretty wimpy to be so scared…but when I saw Jeff offer his protective arm and calm her down, I knew the two would be married down the road. This made me happy as well.
We returned to the apartment among the sounds of loud music and howling college students. I believe Bobby disappeared somewhere into the crowd and Jeff or Debbie had to search for him. Other than that, I don’t remember much else about the evening. The next morning, however, Jeff and I awoke fairly early so that we could head back home. Mid-way through the morning, we both realized we could have slept another hour in that the clocks were moved back to convert from daylight savings back to standard time. Prior to then, I never really knew when the clocks changed or which way they change. But since that day, I always think of my trip to Morgantown when I change the clocks.
One additional comment. I have been blessed with a pretty good childhood and, thus far, a pretty good adulthood. I always got some pretty decent presents for my birthday…and usually got extra candy from neighbors for Trick or Treat because it was my birthday. But I’m not sure I can recall any birthday present I received beyond a year ago. Well, all except one. Jeff gave me an autographed football for my 15th birthday. It contained the autograph of every member of the 1977 WVU Football team. That team finished 5-6 and didn’t have any accolades as a team, although there were a few individual names that stood out. And perhaps, at the moment I received the gift, I treasured a name or two written on the ball. But now, I can honestly say the most precious on there is my brother’s. Thanks Jeff…for the only birthday present I’ve ever kept for nearly 30 years now. And thanks for a great weekend!
Happy Alloween every body!