Friday, October 31, 2014

ME, POPSICLES, & DRACULA - The Summer of 1958

It seems like I might have done a post of this story at some point in the past, but I'm darned if I can remember where. Maybe it was part of an interview. At any rate, I can't find it in the post history of this blog so, it being Halloween and all, I thought I would go ahead and share it here. If you've read it before and I'm being redundant, my apologies; if it's new to you, I think you might enjoy and maybe get a chuckle from it.  –WD- 

In 1958, when I was ten years old, Hammer Films of England, in the early stages of what would become their signature series of movies re-telling most of the horror lore from the old Universal pictures of the 30s (Frankenstein, The Mummy, Invisible Man, etc.), released their version of Bram Stoker's classic tale, DRACULA. So as not to be confused with Universal's famous earlier version starring Bela Lugosi, in the US Hammer called their version Horror of Dracula. It was a lavish, full-color production starring Christopher Lee as the bloodsucking count and Peter Cushing as his nemesis, Van Helsing. It was quite faithful to Stoker's tale and, to take full advantage of its color feature, it incorporated plenty of bright red blood and dripping fangs to an extent never before seen.
One evening, two of my older cousins invited me along to see Horror of Dracula and The Monolith Monsters at a local drive-in showing. By that point, even at my young age, I had seen dozens of horror movies (although the term "horror" wasn't in vogue yet back then – the TV Guide called them melodramas) on late night presentations shown via the syndicated Shock Theater program, and was never affected by them … But, for whatever reason, I'd never seen Dracula or anything with vampires.
To cut to the chase --- Horror of Dracula, in all its moodiness and gory, bloody color, scared the living crap out of me. The Monolith Monsters (more of a science fiction thing, done in black and white, with a meteorite that crashed to earth and then its shattered remains began rising up into huge columns that eventually toppled and destroyed everything in their path as the rubble crept across the land) didn't bother me one whit.
Then came Dracula … I sat through it without saying anything (although I likely closed my eyes a few times, sitting in the back seat by myself) because there was NO WAY I was going to let my cousins know I was crapping my pants. Nor, after returning home, did I say anything to my parents or anybody else. I was a BIG BOY, see, and couldn't be acting like a sissy.
To make matters worse, where we were living at the time (due to my dad's "hobby" of frequently switching jobs and moving from one rented house to another) was this huge old gray, unpainted monstrosity of a house out in the country that had once been a rural inn. It had no running water or indoor plumbing. The pump was outside and all water for washing, bathing, doing dishes, drinking, etc., had to be pumped and brought inside in buckets. Guess who's job it was to pump a fresh pail of water last thing every night and bring in to be ready for drinking and making coffee in the morning? What was more, the outhouse was across a gravel driveway and then back in some bushes and trees alongside an old shed that we called "the garage".

Up to that point, I'd never been bothered by the dark. Heck, I even enjoyed it. Late in the evening, playing tag or hide-and-go-seek with neighbor kids from down the road, catching lightning bugs, etc. --- I never gave a thought to how late it got.
But after that damn Dracula movie, a trip outside after dark to the pump or – worst of all – to the outhouse, became a dreaded prospect. I just knew that bloodsucking bastard or one of his minions was lurking out there somewhere, waiting for me.
So, because I couldn't let on how much going out after dark suddenly bothered me --- so as not to appear a sissy or fraidy-cat (things that were very serious concerns back in those days) --- I had to figure out some way to overcome my fear. It occurred to me that, in the big climax of the movie, the way Van Helsing had overcome Dracula at the height of their fight was to grab two large candlesticks and hold them up as a sign of the Holy cross. This drove Drac back and forced him into the sunlight, where he ultimately crumbled and died.
So there was my answer. The sign of the cross.
Why it never occurred to me to have my mother buy me a small, simple cross to carry around in my pocket or maybe wear on a chain around my neck, I can't say. Other than to lay it on the impression made by Van Helsing grabbing those candle sticks and holding them up with such a dramatic flourish … My solution, then? My version of that?

Popsicle sticks.
Yeah, you read right --- Popsicle sticks.
Popsicles were a common and popular treat around our house back then. So, once I'd seized on my combat/survival plan, I immediately began gathering up and saving empty Popsicle sticks after the frozen goodness had been eaten off of them.
From then on, I ALWAYS had two or three Popsicle sticks in my pocket. And I had a pile of spares in a drawer in my room. I used to walk around practicing how fast I could whip out a pair and hold them up in the form of a cross. I got so good I could have out-drawn Wild Bill Hickock in his prime. It darn near got to the point where I looked forward to visiting the outhouse after dark, daring that pussy count to make a try for me … darn near, but not quite; not really.
Nevertheless, my Popsicle sticks got me through that summer. I never told anybody my secret. But I was always ready. At some point, I don't recall exactly when, my fears and my habit of carrying the sticks in my pocket ended. A passing phase, like so many we go through when we are young.
Yet today, however, you can still find Popsicles in my freezer. For my grandkids … Or, just maybe, in case that creepy ol' bloodsucker comes lurking around again.

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