By Craig Hastings
I’ve certainly become one of Tuscola’s old timers. But how do you know when you’ve crossed this threshold and earned this distinction? Well, first of all I’m not sure this is a merit I wish to have earned but... To get here it probably means a person not only has spent much of their lifetime in the same place but also this person must have some age on their bones. I’ve got both. I’ve told you before in this column that I enjoy the few weeks leading up to Halloween. I always have. When we were kids my brothers, sister, and I all equally looked forward to the make believe, suspense, and everything imaginable surrounding the coming of October 31. For us there was nothing better than sitting around in our dark house with the only illumination coming from mom and dad’s Halloween decorations sorted about the living room and dining room telling stories of “what if this…” Outside lined up in a neat row on the concrete surround of mom’s 36’ tall flower box every year were five carved pumpkins complete with burning wax candles.
Dad would load the five of us kids up in the family station wagon and drive us around town to look at the outside decorations and lighting themes of the rest of Tuscola’s residents. Even if there weren’t additional decorations, most homes had real pumpkins both carved and uncarved on display in front of the houses. About a third of these homes also had a bail of straw or two with maybe a scarecrow, a witch, a monster figure, or corn stalks standing guard over the bails. I remember and maybe even participated in a number of various Halloween pranks that took place every year the two weeks before the big night. Toilet paper, soap, shelled corn, and something I didn’t ever have, dog poop in a bag, were the pranksters ammunition. These were the munitions of the on foot only pranksters. As teens grew older and became more mobile the pranks morphed into some more colorful and thought out.
My dad and a friend of his enlisted some of us younglings to load trucks up with junk washing machines, dryers, mattresses, anything big and heavy the night before Halloween. Off we went under the cover of darkness anywhere between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. in a convoy to predetermined targets. Those targets were always “friends” of dad’s and his friend. Yep, we would unload our collected junk in two or three of their “friends” yards and speed away. It was exciting. It was exciting because we were scared to death we might be caught. But heck, it was Halloween right!? Later on in my own life I continued the tradition. I was just as scared and excited as I was as a teenager. One year a good friend and I made two trips using two pickup trucks to the same yard. We had over the course of a few weeks collected enough junk furniture to set up a complete living room arrangement including a television in the front yard of a “friend” of ours home! It was great! We learned later on the neighbors across the street watched our shenanigans as we were unloading and setting up. We went too early I think. That same house had a mattress or two heaved up on the roof also. Of all the Halloween antics I participated in, that year’s effort was my best.
Now don’t get all huffy and mad at me and think of terrible names to call me! I’ve been on the receiving end of many front yard Halloween gift packages myself! One year some ghouls wrapped my entire police car with Saran Wrap! But first they soaped all of the windows on the car! I’ve had a few recliners delivered in my yard before Halloween and even a blow up character of embarrassing pose tied to the top of my television tower! Remember television towers? They were a real thing! Countless years I had to clean up toilet paper throughout my yard. There were no such things as security cameras ordinary people could afford to install outside their homes. Oh yes; my house seemed to always be advertised for sale the entire month of October as were many others. A simple and more amateur prank of moving realtor signs from one yard to another. Ho hum, boring.
This brings me to the “old timer” bit of this story. I remember all of these pranks happening, some worse, throughout the town and visible to see the next day during the two weeks leading up to the 31st. I’m also talking about the simple decorations of yore. You don’t even see very many simple teepeeing pranks anymore! Not that anyone really likes to be teepee but, nothing. Halloween pranking ending in layers. First the big dumping ended many, many, years ago. The soaping of windows stopped next, and finally teepeeing is coming to an end. These three things though not enjoyed if one was on the receiving end, were easily remedied by simply picking up the yard debris. Now there were some things, crimes I’ll call them, that happened every year that I’m glad stopped along with the more simple pranks of Halloween.
In 1979 when I became a part time police officer here, spray painting, broken windows, burning leaves and smashed pumpkins, were normal Halloween events throughout the town. Chief Harriss would recruit volunteer security patrols to help us cover the town the two weekends before Halloween. Everyone had to have a CB radio in their car or truck to alert us, the patrol officers, of any destruction or lighting of fires they observed. We might have as many as fifteen or so volunteers helping us curtail these property damage events. And this plan worked and worked well every year! The guys and gals helping us found these nights an exciting and fun way to spend their Halloween weekends! They saved us! (The police)
So, in order for me to tell you about all of this I would have had to have spent many years of Halloweens right here in Tuscola. These years would have also had to have been witnessed progressively by me in order for me to tell you how Tuscola Halloweens have changed year to year. I’m telling you tonight what I’ve witnessed over the past fifty years of Tuscola Halloweens. I’m confident this qualifies me as an old timer of Tuscola. But I will still kneel to the ultimate of old timer storytellers of Tuscola’s past and the changes within its boundaries. I will never meet his standard regardless of how long I might live. If you want to know how any of this or that has changed over the past sixty or seventy years in Tuscola the very best old timer storyteller is Boyd Henderson. Bar none.