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.

When the N.Y. Yankees came to Appalachia

Today is Opening Day, the first day of baseball season. Opening Day means spring — real spring, not this chilly aboration we’re experiencing, but real spring — is finally here.

Opening Day is also as good excuse as any to talk about what is surely one of the niftiest — and most ill-conceived — promotions in minor-league baseball history, and it happened in the town where I grew up.

I’m from a place called Paintsville, Kentucky, population 3,800 in 1980. Paintsville is about 2 hours east of Lexington and about an hour south of the nearest interstate highway. Paintsville isn’t on anyone’s way anywhere, but, in 1978, thanks to the efforts of Paul Fyffe, who owned the town’s only radio station, it landed a minor-league baseball team.

Originally called the Hilanders, it soon became the Appalachian League’s Yankees’ affiliate.

(I posted a version of this story in July when the New York Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, passed away, so, if you happened to read it then, I’ll understand if you click away now.)

In the summer of 1980, Darryl Strawberry signed with the Yankees arch rivals, the New York Mets, and he began his career down in Kingsport, Tennessee. Darryl Strawberry was already a star, a kid everyone knew would make the Hall of Fame someday, and, as luck would have it, he would play his first professional baseball game in Paintsville.

Paul Fyffe was a good businessman, and he saw this is a great way to get folks out to the ballpark. You could get in free if you brought a strawberry to the game, the concession stand sold nothing but strawberry pop, and Paul hired a helicopter to drop strawberries onto the field.

The game was a sellout, but, remember, we were the Yankees, and Darryl Strawberry was signed with the New York Mets, so when George Steinbrenner read in The Sporting News about his Rookie League team in eastern Kentucky throwing a big party for a kid who’d signed with the Mets, he had a conniption, and word was that he threatened to pull the team out of Paintsville on the spot.

I don’t know whether the talk was exaggerated or whether the league wouldn’t let the Yankees move, but the Yankees stayed in Paintsville through the ’82 season. (The Paintsville Tri-County Yankees won the league champion in ’79, ’80 and ’81 and finished second in ’82.)

When the Yankees finally left, Paul brought in the Brewers, but they lasted only a couple seasons, and no one came to replace them.

Strawberry, of course, wound up working for Steinbrenner and retired from the Yankees in ’99.

The high school ballpark where the Yankees played was torn down a few years ago and replaced with a nicer one. We visited my folks last weekend, and when I drove by the school, I missed seeing it.