Editor’s note: Sharon Randall is on vacation this week. Here is a column that first ran in 2000.

The most terrifying Halloween story of my life had nothing to do with ghosts or monsters or severed heads or slimy eyeballs. Or even the monkey or the moonshine.

Those things were all part of it, but they weren’t scary. It’s hard to fear anything that makes you laugh.

The ghosts, for instance, were just little kids tripping around in their mamas’ bed sheets trying to act big and spooky. Except my brother, who was blind, and didn’t know a ghost from a fence post. He’d dress up in a sheet and when people said, “You’re just the cutest little ghost!” he’d get mad and say, “I ain’t a ghost, I’m a mattress!”

Bed-sheet ghosts and mattresses never did scare me. Neither did the monsters, which were just big kids rolled in bandages, dripping with catsup and smelling like hot dogs.

The “eyeballs” in the Haunted House were just big peeled grapes. Anybody could see that, even my blind brother. And that disgusting “severed head” – the one that made my friend so sick she threw up on her Annie Oakley costume and had to be taken home – was just somebody’s daddy looking bored and glum with his bald head poking through a hole in the table.

To me, those things weren’t scary; they were hilarious. Scary was having to walk across a stage grinning like a jack o’ lantern.

I was 6 years old and had no front teeth. I did not want to be Queen of the Halloween Carnival. I agreed to run for three reasons: (a) My classmates nominated me and I considered it an honor, even if nobody else wanted it; (b) my mother made me do it; and (c) the boy I loved was running for king.

His name was John, but I called him Johnny. He didn’t call me anything. Ever. At all. I thought the Halloween Carnival just might do the trick. Little did I know.

Halloween night, I gazed into the mirror at the dress my mother’s friend (a seamstress better known for her drinking than her sewing) had gone on the wagon to sew just for me. Dang. I looked good. Until I smiled. Then I wanted to go hide up under the porch with the dogs.

My granddaddy could always take the fear out of anything by making me laugh at it. “If you want teeth,” he said, popping out his dentures, “here, take mine.”

I didn’t even smirk. I just hoisted up my crinoline slips and headed out the door, a condemned woman going to the gallows in style.

OK, about the monkey and the moonshine: I didn’t see Johnny until the contest began. By then, it was too late to hide.

There he was, the boy I loved. Wearing a monkey suit. Grunting like an ape. Twirling his long tail. And scratching his crotch with a banana. The crowd adored him. I did not. Nor would I ever again.

But then, guess what? We won. Where I come from, people are fools for novelty. And as my brother pointed out, what could be more novel than a monkey king and a toothless queen?

I should also mention that as folks were voting by dropping coins in the candidates’ jars, my Uncle Harry, God bless him, distracted the front-runner’s daddy (who was busy stuffing bills in his daughter’s gallon jug) by saying he had moonshine out in the car. Which, of course, was no lie.

Even better than winning was the sudden realization that I wasn’t scared any more. I could stand on that stage and face all those people and not be afraid to show them who I was: A girl with no teeth, who could laugh and feel lucky, because her granddad was at the foot stage holding up his dentures.

I think of that every Halloween. And every time I have to step out on life’s scary stage. Or any time I have to smile when I’d rather hide under the porch with the dogs.

It helps me to remember who I am, and to laugh at all sorts of scary things. It also helps, of course, that I now have teeth.

– Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.