As children, we were given a small allowance, in exchange for doing a pre-set list of chores. No chores, no allowance, the whole "something for nothing" unheard of in our household. We were allowed to spend it as we wished. Mom and Dad did help us set up a little savings account at the Credit Union where we were encouraged to save what we earned from strawberry picking, babysitting, and paper routes. The allowance though, that had one purpose and one purpose alone.
I keep a glass jar on my desk full of Tootsie Pops. I hunt around to find some unusual flavors to add to the standards, and currently have lemon-lime, raspberry, blue raspberry and watermelon in there with the regular flavors. I was surprised as to who would stop by my office, usually in the form of a large wall of muscle, asking me a question that didn't need to be asked, while eyes darted to the dish. Finally I said "would you like a Tootsie Pop" and I'd see a Marine's eyes light up like a six year old.
Around certain memories of childhood a lot of us never truly grew up.
I guess I got to thinking about it today, as I saw a neighbor putting up some fall decorations and realized that Halloween was days away, the old bachelor Ikea couch where Barkley used to sit and wait for the trick or treaters long gone and replaced by a couch my husband restored.
Halloween in the late sixties was sugar fueled invitation. I remember my big brother and I suiting up as quickly as firemen after hot dogs and orange jello, eager to be out the door, out into the night where the cool Fall breeze shivered and stirred the grass where the leaves had long since fallen.
But the trick or treating wasn't just about the candy. It was being out, after dark, by ourselves, just kids, with scores of other kids, flashlights in hand. Out in front of us, two whole blocks, dozens of houses, the darkness slung low with lights, the night blowing cool and full of promise.
In our garb, we hovered over places of play, breathing sugar fueled dreams like air, ashen figures gliding through the night on silent feet. To each porch that had a light on we'd go, candy bag in hand. The houses weren't decorated up the way they are now, but on the porch would often be a lone jack o lantern, eyes shining from a candle or some fake cobwebs along the porch (those aren't fake! ack ack ack, get it out of my hair!) We'd pass each other wondering just who was that superhero, who was that under the Casper mask? We scurried along, hands waving, quick steps in time to the chatter of chilled breath, the blocks of a post war suburb stretching out, the dim lights of small town America.
As ghosts, cowboys, baseball players and Superman, we covered ground, drawing in deep breaths of it all, unutterably aware of how brief this night would be. I think even as kids we know that too soon we'd have to put this other life, this other identify away, as we melted anonymously back into our regular life, with wistful longing and the taste of sweetness on our lips.
Even though we were told to just do two blocks, we always went ahead and did that third one, or as much of it as we could fit in before our little watches told us it was time to back. We advanced, trudging up the steps to that first house, looking over our shoulders as if we could already see our Mom scolding us. We hit about six more houses, with other kids from our street, before as a group we agreed to go back. We swear each other to secret, the words not spoken but carved into stone upon which lies a nameless and forgotten effigy, those secrets of childhood we bear with us always.
There up ahead, the lights of our house. Home! We cross the empty lot where a new house was going in, following a faint path were dozens of small feet had worn the rotting leaves down to the soil. We clicked off the flashlight, whispering there in the dark about Great Pumpkins and Ghosts, where overhead, Chestnut trees thinned against the skies.
Too soon it would be time to go in, the night rushing past all too quickly, stolen moments of sweetness there in the dark. As children we live in the moment, we live in a sugary world where not all is warning, where people are inherently good, and the goblins and witches and demons take off their costume and reveal a harmless smile. We know that in recollection, we see how quickly it all went past, and holding a sweet piece of time with blurred eyes, I realize we all have lost part of that, the innocence and the wonder, forever, even if memory remains.
We probably didn't even look back as we ran out. But if we had, we would have seen her standing there, evanescent and forlorn, even as she put a smile on her face and waved, so we'd venture forth with hope, not fear.
For myself, I'll keep my little stash of candy; I'll retain the child within, these nights of exploration and magic, where my super hero costume is untarnished by time, where there is only laughter and sweetness here in a house that's become a home. As I lay back in the chair, sweetness on my tongue, I can almost hear the sound of children's feet, rushing up towards the next house, not an actual sound mind you, but something in the air which the sound of the running feet faded into. The sound of innocence, so easily lost, yet remembered there in the shadow of a chestnut tree that stands its watch in silence, gallant and forlorn.
- LB Johnson