What you see before you, gentle reader, is an instrument of torture, a 33 1/2 RPM record euphemistically titled “The language and music of the Wolves – narrated by Robert Redford”, circa 1971. Ostensibly a product of environmental awareness and respect for Nature, it was an excellent tool for acquainting modern America with wolves, which had been nearly hunted to extinction in the lower 48 states. Robert Redford explains and enlightens listeners about the wolf and its habits, raising awareness of the plight of these magnificent creatures. This is all well and good, except for one problem: there is a Side B on this record.
Side B? What’s so bad about Side B, you ask? First, it has no narration, only the eerie sounds of wolves howling alone and singly. The second, well, as a young grade school kid my father would often play this Side B on Halloween night, and often put his stereo speakers near the open windows to add a little ambiance to the season. The result? To this day old friends of mine still remember being truly scared by those howling wolves, and we even observed some kids telling other kids in the street not to come to our “scary” house. To this day hearing that recording sends a chill down my spine.
Another spooky “tradition” was the reading of select poems at night by the fireplace from Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep by Jack Prelutsky, vividly illustrated in black and white by Arnold Lobel.
My father might read to us one or two poems from this book, usually the “less scary” ones lest he really lose some sleep with a couple of bawling children in the night (Bill Cosby’s “The Chicken Heart” story comes immediately to mind…where’s that Jell-O?). I remember one that stuck, which we weren’t read until we were a bit older, titled “The Ghoul”:
The gruesome ghoul, the grisly ghoul,
Without the slightest noise,
Waits patiently beside the school
To feast on girls and boys.
He lunges fiercely through the air
As they come out to play,
Then grabs a couple by the hair
And drags them far away.
I won’t list the rest…it gets a wee bit graphic, yet oddly whimsical. Suffice it to say that even safe schools could be the haunting grounds of terrifying spectres, because the last stanza reads:
And when the gruesome grisly ghoul
has nothing left to chew,
he hurries to another school
and waits. . . perhaps for you.
The other poems could set young kids hair on end pretty easily too, as I recall. Visual gore wasn’t needed…Prelutsky’s verse fueled our imaginations such that we could manufacture the implications in our little heads!
We didn’t live in the city, but near a small rural town in northern Illinois. Our subdivision at the time was bordered by a large woods on the west and north sides of the street and cornfields behind us. There were no street lamps. When the sun went down in October, it got dark pretty quickly. By night our small street was in many places the divisor between the safe, familiar homes and the dark, forbidding forest where the unknown lurked. When Side B played from the “Wolf record”, the fearful howling seemed less to emanated from our front porch as much as echo in the dark woods less than 50′ away. That could be truly unsettling, for to get to our home, set back among tall red oaks, your back would inevitably face the woods, and for a child’s fertile imagination, something out there in the dark trees behind you might grab you…
So, imagine yourself as a child of perhaps 9 or 10 walking up a dark street on Halloween night, your head filled with scary poems about witches, ghouls, trolls and the bogeyman with a deep, dark woods one on side, winds whistling and rustling the few remaining leaves on them in an unsettling way, and tall black trees framing a darkened house with flickering jack o’ lanterns on the other…and the sound of this (below) echoing all around you.