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Welcome to This Awful/Awesome Life! My name is Frances Joyce. I am the publisher and editor of this magazine. We'll be exploring different topics each month to inform, entertain and inspire you. Meet new authors, sharpen your brain and pick up a few tips on life, love, entertaining and business. Enjoy and please share!

Sharing Halloween Stories with my Granddaughter Margaret by Jim O'Brien

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I was sharing stories about Halloween parades with my granddaughter Margaret. 

She was three-and-a-half years old and was visiting our home in late October of 2007.  The timing was perfect because our Trotwood Hills Homeowners Association was sponsoring a Halloween Parade on a street in our neighborhood in Upper St. Clair.

A fire truck led the parade down a street to a park.  Margaret described the red fire truck to me in detail, as she does most things she sees.  I encourage storytelling, as I did with her mom and her aunt, our daughters Sarah and Rebecca.

Margaret dressed as a witch, with a pointy black hat, gown and cape.  One of the mothers at the park painted her face as well.  She looked bewitching, indeed.  Margaret told me there was one other witch in the parade.  She brought home a bag full of goodies.

The witch's costume she wore in our parade was one made by her great grandmother, the late Barbara Churchman.  She would have gotten such a kick out of seeing Margaret in our Halloween parade.

Halloween and the accompanying parade were a big deal in my boyhood home in Hazelwood.  We never bought costumes or masks.  We made our own, and did our best to be creative.  There were prizes to be won in the community parade and we always captured some of them with our enterprising costumes.

Except one year, that is…

My sister Carole, ten years older than I am, dressed me up as a circus bear one year.  She cut up an old fur coat that my mother once wore.  I doubt it was real fur.  She made a cage out of a box an appliance had come in, and cut out both sides.  She straightened out coat hangers and used them as bars.  I rode in this box in a little red wagon down Second Avenue, the main street in Hazelwood.  Carole, dressed as an animal trainer and wielding a whip, pulled the wagon.

There were 34 bars in a one-mile stretch of Hazelwood when I was a kid and delivering newspapers along that route.  I counted them all one day.  Most of them were on the main street.  It was a challenging, often hazardous stretch.  Our Halloween parade was held at night, a more bewitching time than the safer Halloween parades now held in the afternoon.

Some of the parade sponsors offered encouraging words to us at the start of the parade.  We were told that we would surely win a prize.

We were about a fourth of the way into the parade, which was just over a mile-long, when disaster struck.  One of the town drunks -- we had more than our share -- stumbled out of Louis Simon's Café and headed our way like a heat-seeking missile.

The drunk was known as "Frenchy," and we'd been told he'd originally come from Canada.  In any case, he kept stumbling our way and he fell and landed right on top of my cage, which promptly crumbled under his weight.  So did our chances of winning any prizes in the Halloween parade.

The fur patches I was wearing came undone.  The bars on my cage were bent beyond repair and I was in despair.  Heck, I was about seven years old and quite upset about this turn of events.  We were a block from our home, and we just walked up the hill to our home, pulling the red wagon behind us.

Margaret liked my story.  She loves good stories.  It was just Margaret and I on a Monday earlier this month.  Her mom, who is a pediatric oncologist/hematologist, was attending a four-day medical conference held here at Station Square, and her grandmother was at work at the Cancer Center at Allegheny General Hospital.

 Margaret asked me to read her some stories from her favorite book, a collection of classic children's stories.  I read her "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Beauty and the Beast."  A beautiful girl falls into a trance-like deep sleep in all of those stories.

 I must have nodded off on the couch while reading one of those stories.  Margaret nudged me.  "Grandpap," she said, "you're supposed to make me sleepy reading these stories.  So I can take a nap."

 Maybe when she gets older, much older, she'll understand what happened. 


 We had lunch at Bob Evans Restaurant with Margaret's great-grandfather, Baldo Iorio of Heidelberg.  He was 91, and a proud veteran of World War II.  He liked to tell stories, too.  I told Margaret how lucky she was to have four grandparents and a great-grandparent as well.  She had pancakes.  "This is what I ordered when I was a little baby," she told us.

On the way to see her "Pappy Baldo" we passed Bedner's Farm.  It was always so beautiful this time of the year.  There is now a new housing plan there.  We stopped at the top of Cook School Road to get a close-up look at three horses that were grazing by the rail fence. 

Margaret told everyone later that two of them were brown and one was white, and what they were doing in the field.  She noted the farm fields were in stripes of green and yellow, with corn and green beans and tomatoes.  I think Margaret may be a writer some day.

 Pittsburgh sports author and Valley Mirror columnist Jim O'Brien has a book, "Looking Up,” about his days of covering pro basketball. Many of Jim O’Brien’s books are available on For a complete listing of his work and to order books, please visit his website,

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