A long, long time ago, in a Malvern that seems far away, the scariest thing in Malvern was the Malvern Inn. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Because the parental eyes and ears of Malvern were perpetually watching, it was difficult to be mischievous during this time of year. Shopkeepers allowed local children the opportunity to paint their storefront windows to match the season and, about the 'scariest' thing any of us attempted to do was meet up at the 'pampas.
'The 'pampas' was the stretch of wilderness located behind First Avenue baseball field and extended all the way up to the Monument Grounds. Currently, this area has walking trails, historical plaques and doggie clean up bags.
Back in the day, before the basketball courts existed, the pampas was an expanse of land that had pussy willows, dune grass, moss and, what we referred to as 'quicksand.' Although we all gathered immediately after school and wouldn't return until the final speck of light was gone, meeting at the pampas was always fraught with a bit of nervous energy. We whispered on the way home from school, "meetyouatthepampas," as if our parents could hear us. We were ambiguous to a fault about where we were headed that afternoon and hoped the grownups weren't mind readers.
Arriving at the designated meeting spot, the area right across the street from Gable's Florist, was in and of itself, the beginnings of our heart palpitations. We'd circle up and then the dares would begin. We'd work ourselves into a frenzy by recalling 'stories' we had heard of the Lenni Lenape Indians being buried on the site. Awaiting us at the other end of the journey were the ghosts of the Paoli Massacre. Then the competition was on: who could outsmart, outrun, and out-frighten everyone else and make it atop one of the cannons at the Monument Grounds.
Strategies involved everything from subterfuge hide and seek to 'pretend' to be sinking in the quicksand and needing help to the use of sheer hyperbole, ("so and so said she/he was going to trap you at...").
At the end of it all, we'd be sweaty, covered in burrs, at the haunting grounds of the Paoli Massacre where our hearts would, once again, begin pounding as we thought of the bayonets and cannon fire of the past. Furtive glances would be cast toward the setting sun and inevitably someone would say, "I can hear my mom calling," (really--from the other side of town?), and we'd all scramble to be home before we were grounded. Of course, we'd be sure to remove the burrs, extra mud or any other tell-tale signs of our rebellious retreat.
We would do this night after night, usually at this time of year when the pampas seemed in full bloom of its autumnal awesomeness; still, homework would get done, we'd be tucked safely in bed, and dream of the revolutionary soldiers and Lenapi Indians who once walked this land. The next day on the bus we'd claim we heard muskets and drums coming from First Ave. and headed into town.
This was our Twilight, our Hunger Games and it was all so real. And, in Malvern past, kids got to be kids a little longer and parents usually knew where we were. Apparently, they were mind readers after all.