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Fright Night

How Bigfoot, gospel music and pancakes fueled one Richmond Halloween.



When I was 11, I had a secret. I knew the whereabouts of Bigfoot. He lurked in the woods by my house, I was sure. I didn't think about this on my way to a Halloween slumber party. Costumes and candy were calling.

My friend Ann Washington had invited a handful of girls over to go trick-or-treating and then hang out in her basement. The space had amenities: dress-up clothes, a color TV, even a refrigerator stocked with soda. Here, we'd spread out sleeping bags, whisper ghost stories and gab all night. So I thought.

The Washington family's brick and slate-roofed house in Westover Hills was large and lovely. Inside, it smelled of crisp linen. I often wished it were mine. I'd spent dozens of nights there. Ann and I were blood sisters. Her parents were kind and her mom made petite pancakes for breakfast with warm maple syrup and orange juice that tasted fresh-squeezed. Unlike me, Ann didn't have to fight with two younger brothers over Froot Loops.

I made a convincing gypsy, my grandmother said. She let me borrow her clip-on, hoop earrings and dabbed my cheeks with rouge. By dusk, the girls had arrived. Giggling, we traipsed down New Kent Avenue like little defectors from a masquerade. We got lots of loot. We ate some, saved some. One neighbor tossed dimes in our bags; we were too cool for plastic pumpkins.

Back at Ann's, while other kids nestled into bed, we poised for the wee hours, donning PJs and huddling before the TV to watch "Halloween," the movie. It was my first horror flick. My parents didn't allow them. Turns out, Michael Myers was no big deal. We scoffed at the gore and special effects. Our screams were for fun! But despite our attempt to greet it, dawn came long after everyone had crashed. Except me.

I yearned to fall asleep, though my secret consumed me. My mind raced at Ann's. Surely Bigfoot sought basements. He had followed me, stealthily.

At home, gospel music was the antidote for Bigfoot. We had a three-album set I listened to at bedtime, sometimes more than once. I knew the order of the songs and the words to them all. Gospel music did the trick. It made me sleep.

What got me that night wasn't the beast. An earworm put me to sleep, a hymn that popped in my head and persisted. Some glad morning when this life is o'er, I'll fly away. ... When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I'll fly away. ...

And just like that, it seemed, I awoke to the smell of pancakes.

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