Autumn 1985: My Nanny (Mary Naomi Alexander Caylor) had been dead for a few months. I worked at Wilson’s Superette in Varnell, Georgia. The community still had dozens of people who were teenagers or youngsters with my Nanny and Nanny’s sisters, Madeline and Florence. As I have explained before, Nanny had been my friend and confidante even before my father’s untimely death in 1982. Three years later Nanny was gone as well. Work, church, and Dalton Junior College kept me busy, but every person over the age of 60 in Varnell reminded me of the family friend I was missing so terribly.
The late summer of 1985 into the autumn found me asking the Varnell “old-timers” if they could share anything about my Nanny, Madeline, Florence, or my Nanny Alexander. I did every job (bag groceries, carry groceries to vehicles, stock shelves, slice SOME meats, sweep, mop, pump gas, run the cash registers plus more) in the store except balance the money till and the books. From the time I had started working there in the summer of 1983, I had thoroughly enjoyed carrying groceries out to people’s cars especially the cars of my fellow Varnellians. There was an awesome lady named Annie Clayton Dyer. I knew she was from Varnell, but I wasn’t too sure if she had been a contemporary or shared a history with my family. She was such a kind and giving soul, and I always enjoyed chatting with her while helping her with her groceries. One day in the autumn of 1985 as I carried Annie’s groceries to her car we began a conversation.
Haven: Mrs. Dyer, did you spend any time with the Alexander sisters when you were growing up? You know my grandmother, Naomi died recently.
Annie: I sure am sorry about that. I was closest to Florence’s age, but Lord yes! ( I had known Annie for over 2 years, and she wasn’t a somber person, but her face absolutely LIT UP, and a huge grin went across her face. It was the happiest, most child-like smile I had seen on a 60 year-old in ages! Alexander Sisters’ memories were making Annie glow)
Annie, continues: Florence and Madeline had a Halloween Party one year.
Haven: Oh, my word! I’ve never heard of such. I didn’t think my Nanny Alexander would approve of such a thing.
I had to remind myself that by the time of this party Nanny was almost 20 years old and that especially Florence received a totally different childhood rearing than Nanny. I recalled how Nanny Alexander bent to the whims of her youngest daughter.
Annie: Oh, yeah, and let me tell you this real quick… The first time I saw Florence, she came into our classroom with those,.. how do I explain it? It was an aviator’s cap. Those with the goggles.
I stood dumbfounded. Nanny Alexander allowed Florence to go to school dressed like that? Oh, me!
Continuing with the Halloween story.
Annie: Oh, yeah, the Halloween party! (We both chuckle!) . The girls had punch, cookies, and candy, and I think they had some candied apples.
Haven: How fun!
Annie: The best part was how they had a created a dead corpse.
Haven: Do what?
Annie: Oh, yeah. It was like lying on a day bed. It was kind of like dressed scare-crow style, but lying down. They kept the room dark, and part of the spookiness, the whole effect was to not look at the body, but feel it. The face was the creepiest (Annie was still smiling with wide eyes).. they had like some wrinkled mask, and the eyes were grapes! – Annie laughed, I laughed- Oh, me , that was fun. Yeah, we had fun with the Alexander girls.
Haven: -tears welling up in my eyes- Mrs. Dyer, thank you for sharing. That is great! My Nanny had never shared such.
I am imagining that this Halloween party could have been 1936, 1937, or 1938. Nanny Alexander had added my granddaddy and my daddy to the household by Halloween of 1939, and I know how much time Nanny Alexander devoted to my father who had become her world. I doubt she hosted a Halloween party with a newborn in the house.
Why is it we think the here and now is the best of a holiday? Right down the road we have the elaborate “Haunted Barn” for Halloween with it’s 21st Century light shows, pop/ rock music blaring, people paying like $20/head to see and have the poo scared out of them, but…. In the late 1930s (over 80 years ago), two young sisters from Atlanta, Georgia who had settled in the little town of Varnell, Georgia rocked Varnell with an innovative and spooky Halloween party!
I thought I would share this family tale here in this topsy-turvy 2020 Halloween season. Thank you, Randa Murray, a childhood friend since 1972, from Varnell, GA who asked her sweet mama Annie’s maiden name.