Thursday, October 31, 2019

Halloween Memories

Trick or Treating was big in my house, even as it came with its own set of rules. It was on Halloween, not a Friday or Saturday or what was convenient or politically correct. School night or not, we were out and we were going to get our loot.

My earliest memory of it was early grade school and that Cat outfit mom bought.  She was recently out of the hospital following cancer surgery and didn't have a lot of energy to sew one (she made most of my clothes with her little Singer machine), so she splurged on a store-bought costume.  I still have a photo of me in it, the black pants and top with a big glittery cat on the front, my cheeks flushed with the cold, one front tooth missing and a smile that said: "Look at all the candy Mom!"  As we got older, she encouraged us to make our own costumes, to spark our creativity (note to self - wearing Superman Cape does not enable the user to fly).

As an adult, I do the same, though it's a rare party I'll go to, preferring a home-cooked meal with the company of just one or two people, or even myself, to a crowd.  But sometimes I will venture out if the people are those I really enjoy spending time with, showing up with a smile and something hot from the oven to add to the table.

One party at a doctor's house, I wasn't sure I'd be off duty so didn't get a costume. A friend from work, (not boyfriend) also invited, was going and he was in the same predicament.  He was a pretty tall guy and ex-military, so I had an idea. I had him bring over a pair of fatigues. I wore the top half, which fit just down to mid-thigh, with flesh-colored tights beneath. He wore the bottom half with combat boots and a flesh-colored T-shirt that I'd picked up with the tights at Wal-Mart.

We showed up and the guests, most of them as well, in the medical field said - "What ARE you two?"

Upper and Lower GI !

As adults, we can still laugh, even if it's sometimes just at ourselves.

Childhood Halloween traditions never varied. There was always Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin to watch.  For dinner, we'd have hot dogs with sides of orange jello and some carrot sticks and a glass of milk.  Then we'd suit up as quickly as firemen, 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.

I paired off with a brother who was older. We were limited to where we could go but we had pillowcases that would hold a LOT of goodies.

There would be an occasional homemade caramel apple, popcorn ball or another such treat from a couple of older ladies up the street, but they put little commercial address labels on the wrapped treat with a note so our moms knew immediately who sent it and that it would be good to eat.  But the occasional popcorn ball aside, what we were after was the commercial loot. Hershey's and Tootsie Rolls, Fruit Stripe gum, Sugar Daddies, Smartees, Milk Duds (still a favorite), Crows, Skybar, Nestle Crunch, Dots, Pixy Sticks, Big Hunk, Boston Baked Beans (those were given away, I still don't like them), Gobstoppers, SweetTarts (more, please), Charms, those little candy necklaces, Necco Wafers, Slo Pokes, Jolly Ranchers, Chic-o-Sticks, Bazooka gum.

The only thing Mom wouldn't let us keep was the Sugar Daddies. For some reason, she thought those would just ruin our teeth and would hide them away with a plan for them to be rationed out one by one over time. Usually, however, after a month, she'd forget about them. We'd run stealthy espionage missions into the kitchen until we found her hiding spot and would capture them and hide them in our secret fort to ruin our teeth at our own darn pace.

But the trick or treating wasn't just about the candy. It was being out, imaginations running free, flashlights shining into a future as exciting as we could imagine.

To each porch that had a light on we'd go, candy bag in hand. Trick or Treat, though with my front tooth missing, more like Twik or Tweat. Still that missing tooth got me extra candy (oh aren't you cute).

One house, always anticipated, had its owner dress like a witch, press on warts and all, and she'd have a steaming cauldron of dry ice and spooky music playing. That was the best part of that whole street. We'd approach the door, it would open with a haunting creak, the interior of the room blooming with light, a flutter of slender muscles in our arms as we held out our bags, trying to show we weren't really scared. That's just some kids Mom... right? She really doesn't turn into a witch every Halloween? Then she would laugh, more of a honeyed laugh than a cackle, blue eyes, sparkling, holding us silent with her lifted hand from which would pour down sweet goodness, not toads or bats or other scary things.

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.
One year I was a ghost. That year a lot of kids were ghosts, the lumber mill had laid off a bunch of men, and money for costumes was sorely lacking. An old sheet, a couple of holes cut for eyes and you were a ghost. Pity the poor kid who was the pink ghost, he was going to get flattened like a pancake next time the boys played dodgeball. Other years, the costumes were as wide as our imagination and bigger than all our fears.

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 a 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.
The wind had blown the clouds away, leaving a bright starry night, imaginary bat wings beating in the trees, a black cat crossing the road under the silver echo of the stars. Smoke hangs on the air suspended, the ash of burnt leaves that once rattled on the ground like tin.  I stretch out my hand into the vast expanse of darkness as if to clutch a star, to save a sweet fragment of the night to tuck into the book of that day.

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 a 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.
When we got back to the house, Mom sorted through our candy, tossing anything not completely wrapped, being careful. But we appreciated that she let the two of us go without parental oversight those last few years; Big Bro being big enough to keep me safe in the street. There were so many other kids out, the streets full, an adult not in sight but for the ones with little tiny kids. She had to worry, it was dark after all, we were hardly isolated, but we were alone.

We probably didn't even look back as we ran out to start our night of fun. 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.
There weren't many more Halloweens with her there. Too soon we lost her. Too soon we were adults living on our own and learning that too much sugar can make you fat and that roses often draw blood. Too soon we'd understand the night's promise of unease, the dangers that lurk in the shadows, finalities that go beyond a grave. But she let us live with our innocence as long as she could, while preparing us to be fighters and risk-takers, teaching us to be not fixed, but flexible in the light, no darkness to flee through and knowing nothing we could not handle armed with faith and occasionally a firearm.
Tonight, the wind is silent and the house stirs, shadows gathering in the basement, a dark pine forever trying an ancient latch on the window of the room in which I sleep. I smile at a taste of sweetness on my lips, a stolen moment of childhood nibbled before bed. Around me are homes, some dark and cold, no pumpkins yet in the yard, the doors shuttered against laughter. There are always those that look at childhood dreams like viewing something through the glass, behind which is only vacuum, from which no sound emits and which, too soon, fades to where they simply live anchored, until they simply cease to exist.

7 comments:

  1. Momma says she trick or treated as long as she could, even when all the other kids her age had stopped. We only had a couple kids last year, though. I was sad -- she'd told me about ALL the kids who came when she and Angel Casey used to sit out on the porch in matching costumes.

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  2. We're still giggling about Upper and Lower GI!!! Happy Halloween!

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  3. You have wonderful Halloween memories. I lived on a busy street with very few houses and my mom was not interested in taking us somewhere to trick or treat. I don't I went trick or treating after third grade.

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  4. love your memories... I waked the inner child in me with eating the half of the whole treats LOL ...and today I will travel back to the good old time with eating the leftovers LOL Happy Halloween

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  5. Upper and lower GI...LOVE it! So clever.

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