(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
Hallowe’en is the flagship of the fall season. It means that we have left Daylight Savings Time and the relaxed mood of summer for the hustle and bustle of Standard Time and the working, learning part of the year. It had meant that through most of my life. Recently, Daylight Savings Time has come and gone with a much more elastic whim of Congress.
Before starting school, Hallowe’en meant gingersnap cookies and candy corn. Every once in awhile my father’s mother would stretch a bit and get the harvest mix instead of the plain candy corn. She was also into the little cardboard figures that Elementary school teachers were wont to put around their classrooms. There would have one on the refrigerator door, on the door to the basement, a couple on the mirror in the dinning room. Instead of candy, she gave coins to Trick or Treaters. How much she gave depended on how well she knew you or your parents. If she didn’t know you she dropped a penny or two into your bag. If she knew you lived in the neighborhood, she might pop for a nickel. If you were the child of a close friend or a relative she bestowed a dime. She would stop the Trick or Treater at the door and attempt to guess who it was. She was most generous to those who she knew, but could fool her. The year I was five was one of the best. Our costumes were always home made. We were to choose to be something generic such as a witch, ghost, cowboy or such. One didn’t dress as a named celebrity or movie character. That year Moma and her mother made Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy costumes for themselves. Grandmom, being a couple inches taller, got to be Raggedy Andy. We had an early dinner and Moma and Grandmom dressed themselves and me amid gales of giggles. Then we drove from Sharon Hill, where Grandmom lived and we were staying, to Olney, the neighborhood in Philadelphia where my other grandmother lived. Daddy rolled the car to a stop and parked a block from Grandmom’s corner row house. They were row houses then, not townhouses. Cautioning each other to be silent, Moma and Grandmom walked up the street while Daddy and I waited in the car. We would have been a give-away, and they couldn’t have that!
Grandmom asked, “Do I know you?” They nodded, yes.
“Do I know you well?” Again they nodded.
“Do you live on this street?” They shook their heads, no.
“Do you live between here and 2nd St.?” Another shake.
“Toward 5th St.?” Shake no again.
It seemed forever, but must have been only 10 or 15 minutes before they signaled that we would come up. Not only had my one grandmother been unable to identify her daughter-in-law, but Moma was also her Goddaughter. My other grandmother had been her best friend through school. They had dated together and traded off dates with my two grandfathers after World War I. Everyone laughed until our sides ached.
The first year I went Trick or Treating on my own was with Moma’s grave reservation. We had always gone only to houses where we were known, in familiar neighborhoods. But I was in Fourth Grade now, living in San Diego in a brand new development like so many that were sprouting up in the 1950s, and, most critically, Dad was on a carrier in Asia and my brother, Jim, was a toddler of 2. My best girl friend lived next door. She and I went as a Dutch boy and girl. I was in the pantaloons, full blouse and cap into which I stuffed my braids, and she was in a dirndl skirt, apron, and cap with the side points. After much cautioning about where we could go and that we should stay together and were to be back by our very strict time limit, off we went. We ran from house to house just as fast as we could so as to cover as much ground as possible. VickiJo expected quite a haul as she had taken a pillowcase while I had a simple brown grocery bag. For those of a younger generation, grocery bags were much more generous then, so her pillowcase wasn’t as much an increase in size as in strength.
The fall of my sixth grade found us back in Philadelphia, living with my father’s parents. Daddy had been transferred to Cuba and we were waiting for our name to come to the top of the list for housing on base. In the 1950s one did not attempt to remain a child. The goal was to grow up as soon as the adults would convey to you the various privileges maturation brought. I decided that I was too grown up to grow Trick or Treating. I didn’t want to dress up in a costume. We were too new to the area for me to have “found” a best friend. The kids in school here were very different from what I had left. There were undercurrents I could feel but not identify. Besides this was just a whistle stop until we moved on to Daddy and Cuba, so I wasn’t making a great effort to get to know anyone at school more than casually. However, Jim was now four, and felt it absolutely necessary to go Trick-or-Treating. Being too young to go by himself, I became the designated escort. I adamantly refused a costume and a bag but acquiesced to walking my little brother around. I probably wasn’t very gracious about it because I still feel a degree of resentment that I had to stave off “growing-up” for one more year. My grandparents had lived in this house since before my father went to school, and many of their neighbors were still the same people that had seen my father grow up. I lost track of how many time we heard, “Oh, you’re Louise’s grandchildren. How is Jimmy (our father, not my brother)? Here, both of you need a treat.” I didn’t have enough pockets to put all of the treats into, so as we walked off the front stoop I would slip what I had been given into Jim’s bag. Most likely one of the few times he had received such largesse of gee-dunk from me.
Jim’s first grade Hallowe’en found us living in Naples, Italy. Trick-or-Treating was not part of the Italian culture. The DoD school we attended did the best they could to have a celebration for the elementary students at the end of the school day. This wasn’t really sufficient to satisfy my brother’s desire to go around in costume. As we were scattered around the city, evening Trick-or-Treating didn’t occur in the American Ex-pat community. The apartment building we lived in had one other American family. The apartment building down the hill had a third family, but they had no children. Our balcony was on the same level as theirs, so we would wave across the tiny street between us and conduct small conversations. The gentleman had been the US Consul for Naples and they had decided to spend, at least some part, of their retirement there. He and his wife shared many little tidbits of information that helped us to enjoy our stay in Naples. Moma suggested that I take Jim, in his costume, across the way to Trick-or-Treat. In my usual contrary way, I balked. I didn’t know these people very well. They had no kids. I knew they wouldn’t be expecting a holiday visit. I felt I would be intruding. Jim was very eager to wear his costume somewhere. We went. As we left the building, Milko, the portiere and his wife gave us a strange look and simply wished us a good evening. Jim skipped and I walked to the next building where we were greeted with a similar look: Americani pazzi. Up the stairs we walked and knocked on their door. As the door opened, Jim shouted, “Trick or Treat!” The look on the gentleman’s face was priceless. His wife scurried over and invited us in as I was trying to back away. “I’m not prepared. Just a minute. I’m sure we have something somewhere. Come in. Come in. Come in.” Jim and I entered a very different home. They had traveled all over the world for our State Department and furnished their home with pieces from their many assignments. The hassock was a camel saddle from Arabia. The coffee table was a huge, beaten brass tray from Iran. She told me that she wouldn’t buy glass. Crystal was too easily broken when they would move, so all their cups and goblets were of silver. They might dent, but they wouldn’t break. They had purchased their carpets from different Mediterranean countries. There was a glass-fronted cabinet full of antique weapons which caught Jim’s eye. There was a large curved scimitar with a deep blood groove, and several very evil looking daggers. There were some pistols from very different eras. They insisted we sit and share a snack with them as they delighted us with stories of how they had gotten some of their treasures. We were the first Hallowe’en visitors in years. We had a truly wonderful evening. On the way out Jim was given a small packet of goodies so there would be something in his bag to take home. It was one of the most unique and delightful holiday visits I’ve had the privilege of enjoying.
By High School, there were a couple of costume parties, but sixth grade had been the last real hoorah until I had children of my own.
When our sons were small I would buy blanket fleece and make their costumes such that they could be used as blanket sleepers that winter. When we lived in Troy, MI, Walt and the gentleman across the street from us would take our boys and theirs around. The men would stroll down the center of the street while they boys would run from side to side to knock on every neighbor’s door. Chris, the other mom in this grouping and I would stay home to pass out treats to those coming to our houses as we shouted across the street to each other. Weather permitting. This was Michigan, after all.
By the time our boys reached upper elementary school we had lived in a couple more places and with growing height and age I tried to discourage them from going door to door. I felt then, and now, as I did when I was a youngster: Hallowe’en Trick or Treating is for young children. Somewhere over the recent years the culture around Hallowe’en has changed just as its spelling has. How many remember that that apostrophe used to be required? How many feel that they should be allowed to wear costumes to work? We have many neighbors where we currently live who decorate their houses in a manner similar to what they put out at Christmas. As for me, I most enjoy seeing the little ghosties and goblins coming around. They are a true delight. And, I view Hallowe’en as the herald of rapidly approaching Thanksgiving and then Christmas and New Years.
The last word:
Enjoy the holiday season!
Keep your sense of humor.