The worst Halloween ever (or, the night a girl and her mom stole my candy)

When I was 5, my parents took me trick-or-treating. It was drizzling, and I had a nasty cold, but I didn’t want to miss Halloween.

I don’t remember my costume, but I remember my bag. It was a paper, with paper-cord handles. This is important. It was a paper bag.

Trick or Treat?
This is not how I remember trick-or-treat. (Wikipedia)

I got a lot of candy, but there were a few duds. One woman was giving out pieces of popcorn — loose, not bagged, just reaching in a bowl and dropping a few into the paper bag — and there was a doctor up the street who gave out pennies.

So, there I am, sick, sniffling, coughing, with a slight fever, walking down the street in a drizzling rain, and I say, “Mom, my bag feels lighter.”

She says, “Oh, you’re just getting used to the weight.”

I stop and look at my bag and say, “No, it broke!”

The bottom had dropped out of my damp paper sack, and all my candy had fallen out.

We looked up the sidewalk and there, maybe 20 feet behind us, a girl and her mother were scooping up my candy and putting it in the girl’s bag.

I looked at Mom. She looked at the girl and mother stealing my candy and sighed. “OK,” she said. “Let’s go to a few more houses, then.”

We did, but we’d already hit most of the houses on the street, and I didn’t get enough candy to make up for the candy the girl and her mother stole.

A few years ago, my parents and I were talking about the kids’ costumes and about Halloween when I was a kid — like the time our neighbor’s big black dog chased me down the street, or the many times teenagers blew up our pumpkins with M-80s — and I asked Mom why she hadn’t tried to stop the woman from taking the candy.

Mom said she knew the woman, or knew of her. I’m from a really small town in eastern Kentucky where everybody knows everybody else, including their family histories and their family’s criminal history. “That woman was mean,” my mom said.

I understood. It would be a waste of time to get into an argument with an idiot over a couple bucks worth of chocolate. I imagine she would have claimed it was hers under the widely held legal principle of “finders keepers.”

So, this Halloween I’ll carve a pumpkin (yuck) and take the kids out trick-or-treating and, because they asked, I’ll wear a costume — Indiana Jones, because I have a jacket and a hat that would work — and if I see a kid spill some candy on the sidewalk, you can bet Things 1 and 2 and I will help him pick it up.

Uncle Cecil, the Apple King

This weekend is Apple Day in Paintsville, Kentucky. Officially, it’s the Kentucky Apple Festival, but everyone calls it Apple Day.
It’s basically a county fair. There’s a carnival and a parade and a lot of food, like apple pie, caramel apples and apple butter. There aren’t really a lot of orchards in Johnson County, but there are a few, and every year, the farmer with the best apples is proclaimed the Apple King.
When I was 8 years old, my Great Uncle Cecil was Apple King because of his Minerva apples.
Cecil was Granny’s brother. He and Aunt Minerva never had kids, but people adopted them as surrogate grandparents. They lived in a log house they built themselves on a small farm up a hollow near a place called Meally.
They bickered a lot. Minerva was a little hard of hearing, and Cecil sort of mumbled. He’d say something, she wouldn’t understand him, so he’d say it louder and louder until she understood or accused him of yelling at her, but they loved each other deeply.
Cecil was kind of a hacker in the DIY-sense of the word. He loved taking things apart and seeing how they worked and trying to make them do things they weren’t meant to do. He tinkered with old radios and model trains, and he tinkered with his apple trees.
I don’t know a lot about horticulture, but he would take stems from one kind of apple tree and graft them onto another one, and after many years, he came up with a hybrid he called the Minerva apple.

Minerva apples were yellow and big and perfect — crisp, not mushy, and a little more sweet than tart. When he finally entered the Minerva apple in the Apple Day contest, the other farmers didn’t have a chance.

I don’t remember the last time I had a Minerva apple. As he and Minerva got older, Cecil let his orchard go, and, one year, there simply weren’t any more.
Minerva passed away in 1995, and Cecil died in 1999. I went to see him a few months before he died. He was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and watching CNN on the little TV in the corner. We were making small talk, and I asked how he came up with the Minerva apple. 

He grinned but wouldn’t tell me, because, really, those apples were always just Minerva’s apples.

You can’t judge a bookstore by its sign

Words n’ Stuff is a great little bookstore.

It’s in a place called Van Lear, in the hills of eastern Kentucky, near where I grew up.

Words n’ Stuff isn’t big, and it isn’t fancy. It doesn’t have a Starbucks, but if you’d ask, I’ll bet they’d give you a cup of coffee.

Words n’ Stuff is for people who love books. It has everything from local history to world religions, literary fiction to romance novels, new hard covers to used paperbacks.

If you go there, you’ll buy something. You can’t help it. You will.

We went there when we were visiting my folks last weekend, and we left with a memoir of Amelia Earhart’s first solo flight across the Atlantic, an Edmund Morris biography of Theodore Roosevelt, a book of essays by Jonathan Franzen and some children’s books.

We might have bought more, but Thing 2 got restless. There’s a good children’s section at Words n’ Stuff, but no train tables.

What impresses me most about Words n’ Stuff, though, is that it’s in Van Lear. Van Lear isn’t the place where you’d expect to find a great little bookstore.

Van Lear was built by the Consolidation Coal Co. in 1909 and named for a company director, Van Lear Black.

(If the name of the place sounds familar, it’s probably because Loretta Lynn mentions the Van Lear mines in her song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and in the title song of her album, Van Lear Rose, which won a Grammy in a few years ago. Dwight Yoakum mentions the mines in the song, “Miner’s Prayer,” which was on Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.)

Van Lear is unincorporated. There isn’t a downtown. Words n’ Stuff is one of Van Lear’s only retail businesses. People who live in Van Lear tend to shop and work someplace else.

I can’t find 2010 Census data for Van Lear, but in 2000, about 2,100 people lived in the bookstore’s ZIP code. Only 10% of them had bachelor’s degrees (the national average was 24%), while the median household income was $26,600 (compared with the national average of $42,000).

If you were Barnes & Noble’s or Borders, who wouldn’t give Van Lear a second look.

I think that’s worked to Van Lear’s advantage.