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The Halloween tale of ‘Little Orphant Annie

Halloween.

A sinister holiday?

Not in my memory.

Halloween meant crisp fall mornings and cloud-shrouded moons at night.

It was orange, brown and black color crayon time.

It was pumpkins, haystacks and witch’s cats drawn on tea-colored paper.

Halloween was school carnivals with hayrides, fortunetellers and bobbing for apples.

It was a sheet thrown over your head or a little bitty pillow to make you fat.

Halloween was trick-or-treating from house to house.

It was hotdogs cooked over an open fire and stories of ghosts and goblins.

And, on Halloween night Eunice would look off into the darkness the sun had left behind and say in her slow, low voice, “When I was a little girl no bigger than you … “Little Orphant Annie would come to our house to stay …” and I would slide my bag of bones across the porch floor and get right up next to where Eunice was sitting in an old cane bottom chair.

I don’t know how many Halloween nights I spent listening to the witch tales that Eunice told about but I do know that those nights were magical.  When the limbs of the big oak tree would scratch the tin roof on Eunice’s old weathered house and an owl would hoot in the distance, I would crawl up on Eunice’s lap and she would hold me close as she told the story of Little Orphant Annie once again.

“Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,

To wash the cups and saucers and brush the crumbs away.

To shoo the chickens off the porch and dust the hearth and sweep.

To make the fire and bake the bread and earn her board and keep.

And all us other children, when the supper things are done,

We’d sit around the kitchen fire and have the mostest fun

Listening to the witch tales that Annie tells about

Cause the goblins’ll git you if you don’t watch out.

Once there was a little boy who wouldn’t say his prayers

And, when he went to bed that night a-way up the stairs,

His mama heard him holler and his daddy heard him bawl

But, when they turned the kivvers back, he was nowhere at all.

They looked for him in the attic and on the roof no less

And up the chimney flue and everywhere I guess,

But all they ever found was his pants round about

Cause the goblins’ll git you if you don’t watch out.

One time there was a little girl who’d always laugh and grin

And make fun of everyone and all her blood and kin.

Once, when there was company and old folks was there,

She mocked them and shocked them and said she didn’t care.

But just as she kicked up her heels to turn and run and hide,

There was two great big spooky things a-standing by her side.

And, they snatched her through the ceiling

Fore she knew what she was about,

Cause the goblins’ll git you if you don’t watch out.

Little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue

And the lamp-wick sputters and the wind goes woo-oo

And you hear the crickets quit and the moon is gray

And the lightning bugs and dew is all squenched away,

You’d better mind your parents and your teachers fond and dear,

Cherish them that loves you and dry the orphant’s tear.

Look after the poor and needy ones that clusters all about

Cause the goblins’ll git you if you don’t watch out.”

For all my childhood days, I thought Eunice made up that story about Little Orphant Annie all by herself. But, when I learned that “Little Orphant Annie” was written by a famous poet, James Whitcomb Riley, it really didn’t matter because it was Eunice’s house where Little Orphant Annie came to stay. And, it was Eunice who held me close and turned moonless Halloween nights into magic with soft-spoken words.

Happy Halloween!