Verdie Talley loves to decorate, and every Halloween she tries to outdo herself. She starts fixing up the yard October fifteenth, adding a little bit more almost every day. She drapes the porch roof with orange and black streamers and hangs soft spiders from the crepe myrtle tree out by the front drive so they dangle over the walkway up to the front door. Little spooky ghosts used to rise from her front lawn, but ever since her grandson Everett introduced her to “The Walking Dead”, zombies have crowded them out. That’s Verdie for you; at eighty-five years of age, she’s always up for the next thing.
Verdie has always had a flair for production: she used to work as a window dresser down on the square when Mavis Butterswing, sister-in-law of Titus Butterswing (of THE Butterswings of Wett Lake Drive) ran a fashion store called the Peach Blossom Boutique. Verdie’s clever window treatments drew people to the store and Mavis, knowing a golden goose when she saw one, let Verdie dress the windows however she pleased. Christmas at the Peach Blossom Boutique was the next best thing to Macy’s in Atlanta as far as the Greater Metropolitan Roopville square was concerned. When Mavis grew bored with running the boutique after a dozen or so years, she turned it over to Verdie who ran it until she retired. It was then that Verdie Talley really went into overdrive with her “spooky house” decorations.
Verdie likes to dig up the flower beds on either side of the walkway to the house in the fall in order to fertilize the soil and let it rest over the winter. Every spring she plants phlox and celosia and impatiens because she enjoys keeping busy, and every fall she uses the empty beds as fake “graves” for her spooky extravaganza. Her late husband Dunagan Talley carved some tombstones out of thick pine boards and painted them to look like weathered marble. Dunagan’s hobby had been woodworking and he indulged Verdie’s imagination with a keen eye for detail.
It was Dunagan who chose the names for the grave stones – Zippy D. Dewdaw (“A man who always had a catchy tune”) and Germaine Topic (“died of boredom at the GMR Toastmaster’s Club.”) When he was told he had an inoperable cancer, Dunagan carved his own fake tombstone for Verdie to use, but the family refused to let her put it up when he died. It was too morbid, they said, to which Verdie allegedly cracked, “Yes, as if a yardfull of ghouls and skeletons isn’t already. Grandpa just wanted to join in on the fun.” They stood their ground and Verdie agreed. That was the only acquiescence she made.
One of her favorite tricks is to put several life-sized mannequins on the porch and in the yard, dressed in appropriate outfits – vampires, mummies, zombies, witches – until by Halloween night people are used to seeing them. Then Verdie herself switched places with one of the figures on Halloween evening and patiently waited until a trick-or-treater walked by. She never tired of giving them a quick scare, and of course gave out a generous amount of candy for their pains.
She broke her leg the summer she turned seventy-nine, and she hasn’t been able to stand still in the yard ever since. Everett Talley and a couple of his friends started helping her set everything up back when he was still a young scamp in middle school. Now he is a family man in his thirties, hopelessly and willingly caught up in Grandma Verdie’s spooky house. He took up the mantle of secret zombie out in the front yard. His friends clear out two feet by six feet shallow places in the flower beds lining the walkway and let Verdie cover them with fallen leaves so they can rise from their ‘graves’. Everett’s daughter Jessica is too young to take part in the spooky house hijinks yet, but her mother always brings her by Grammie’s place. Jessica is the only kid in Greater Metropolitan Roopville whose grandmother’s house is THE destination of the whole town one day a year.
Once you make it past the hanging spiders and hidden Everett and his friends the ghouls rising up from their graves, you come to the porch steps. Every step has a pressure plate rigged to set off recorded screams of blood-curdling proportions. On the porch, Verdie usually takes over one of the seated mannequin spots to give the trick or treaters one more scare before giving out a big handful of candy. You never know what character Verdie will be; maybe the witch, maybe the vampire. I overheard her and Everett in Fable Feed and Seed discussing whether he should dress up as the sheriff from the Walking Dead, so he and his friends could put on little vignettes every now and then for visitors. Knowing the Talleys, it is bound to be quite a show. She also wanted him to build a ‘boom stick’ out of large dowels to serve as shotgun barrels. When he said “Granny, that’s Army of Darkness” she cheerfully replied, “I know, but there’s nothing that says I can’t have an Army of Walking Darkness on my lawn. That Bruce Campbell is such a handsome man.” That non-sequitur left him with an open-mouthed grin and shaking his head.
Oh Verdie; you may be eighty-five but in your heart you are nineteen and full of mischief and fun. Save a handful of Peppermint Patties for me.