Memories of Mudville by Sue Bavey
My husband, our two kids and I lived in a small Massachusetts town called Holliston for about a decade, from April 2009 until October 2018, in an area known as Mudville, which consisted of many quaint antique houses built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mudville is possibly named due to its proximity to the muddy area of land around Lake Winthrop, although I have heard other, more unsavoury reasons for its name, linked to the phrase “your name is mud” and the influx of Irish immigrants to that area in the nineteenth century, brought when construction of the railroad reached Holliston at that time.
A town named Mudville is mentioned in the popular baseball-themed poem ‘Casey at the Bat’ by Ernest Thayer and a carved wooden statue commemorating a baseball uniform-wearing Casey can be found outside ‘Mayor’ Bobby Blair’s house (his nickname, he was not an elected official), just around the corner from where we were living. It was carved by a local artist and replaced a much more traditional-looking Casey, which caused some consternation at the time, but I have to admit I rather liked this more modern cartoonish version. The older statue was moved inside the local pub/restaurant, which was fittingly called ‘Casey’s’ and had baseball-themed decor to tie in with the link to the poem. There was even a neighbourhood over-sixties ‘vintage’ baseball team who would march through the streets in their uniforms reciting the poem loudly on the day of their league championship. Our house had a commemorative sign stating the population of Mudville on its front lawn and they often stopped for a photo there.
When my children were very small, this neighbourhood was a wonderful source of homemade scavenger hunts, as I made determined efforts to get us outdoors, and Casey’s statue was often a feature in the clues I wrote. The ‘mayor’, a much-loved local veteran and ex-postman, was so called due to his tireless work reminding residents of all the Holliston-born war casualties from 1914 to the present day, each Memorial Day and Veterans Day. He did this by making handwritten signs for the lamp posts along the main street through town, each with the name, age and date of death of a fallen local veteran written large enough to catch the attention of anyone driving through town on those days.
Every year at Halloween, the owner of Fiske’s General Store offered free photographs for costumed children in the late afternoon at his shop in the centre of town. Since our house was one of the first that you could walk to safely from there, we began getting trick-or-treaters at our door pretty early on in the afternoon; while it was still light. The first visitors were usually parents pushing their toddlers in strollers and we had many baby pumpkins and spiders come a-knocking! It was always so much fun seeing all of the costumes and meeting new people.
The first year as residents we were completely oblivious to what a fun neighbourhood Mudville was at Halloween. With its older houses and rickety pavements, residents really went to town to decorate their properties and front yards as spookily as possible with smoke machines, glowing-eyed zombies, enormous spiders, gravestones and evil-looking pumpkins in pride of place. There were ghosts and ghouls a-plenty roaming the streets as dusk fell and there was a wonderful atmosphere out on the streets with neighbours greeting one another and plenty of people from other neighbourhoods visiting.
Being from England, where trick-or-treating was not really in existence when I was a child, this was all a new and enchanting experience and I loved it. For many years my Mum came over to stay with us in October, just so that she could join in the Halloween fun. She would sit on the front step on a kitchen chair, wearing a witch’s hat and giving out candy while we took our kids around the neighbourhood to see all the decorated houses and go trick-or-treating. The highlight of the stroll was often being jumped out at by a chainsaw-wielding Jimmy Read (the owner of a local landscaping business), from amongst his display of zombies rising from their graves. It never ceased to make us jump and there were plenty of screamers!
My Mum was amazed by how many people came to our door and she would do her best to count how many ‘candy customers’ we received. One year I remember it was in the region of 380. Mudville residents certainly know to buy plenty of candy in October! The first year we were taken by surprise and my husband had to go running off to the nearest shop to see what they had left halfway through the evening. Not much, unfortunately, and we rounded out the evening giving away tangerines and marbles to the latecomer teenagers with their pillowcases full of candy. I was concerned we might get tricks played on our house by these dissatisfied older sugar addicts - but luckily that was not the case!
Kids in Mudville never seemed to grow out of trick-or-treating, and the age range slowly progressed as the hours ticked by. We would often still see teenagers out and about at ten o’clock; their costumes hastily thrown together from household bits and pieces, rather than the carefully planned and most often store-bought firefighters and Disney princesses of the younger age groups. The signal to tell anyone still roaming the streets that your home was no longer fair game was to turn off your porch light, and we usually did so at around 9.30 pm. Bad weather didn’t seem to put off the sugar-obsessed revellers - one year there was a snowstorm right before October 31st and the evening was bitterly cold. Kids arrived wearing snowboots and coats over their flimsy costumes. Some opted for warmer themes, such as Chewbacca or a full-body animal suit made from fleece. Often the parents of the younger set joined in with costumes and one year we saw a 6’4'' version of Buddy the Elf, complete with yellow tights. We would be greeted warmly by monsters with blood dripping from their fangs as we tried to figure out whether or not we knew our visitors or if they were just friendly folk, caught up in the excitement of it all! I had a slow cooker full of chilli on the go for people we knew who wanted to pop in and warm up and we often made pumpkin-shaped cookies and other treats.
Nowadays we, unfortunately, live in a much more staid neighbourhood where we are lucky to receive at most a couple of groups of kids trick-or-treating, and I have to say that despite the many charms and advantages of the larger house we moved to, I miss the magic of this aspect of living in Mudville! We still drive around all of the livelier areas of town and have a walk around looking at the decorations, even though our teenagers have outgrown trick-or-treating now, but it’s not quite the same as being in the thick of things, with the doorbell going every couple of minutes and laughing children shouting “Trick or Treat!”.