Mama finally agreed – after much begging, pleading, and probably a temper tantrum or two on my part – that I was BIG enough to go Trick or Treating alone. I was nine, after all! Well.. actually I could go with my cousins and the next door neighbor boy, but since they were all years younger than I was they didn’t count. Not really!
The year was 1953 and things were oh, so very different way back then. Parents in our small town need only concern themselves with whether we were grown up enough to be responsible about crossing the street at each end of our block and not leaving the baby behind when we ran from the cackling witch in Mr. Westinberger’s spooky front porch display. Every neighbor on both sides of our street knew me by sight and most, if not all, of them were either personal friends or customers in my parent’s cafe downtown.
Halloween was a very different affair in 1953 in other ways, too. It was a “dress-up” day at school, and at dusk a time for the neighborhood children to walk right up and ASK mean old Mr. Westinberger for a treat, rather than waiting politely to be invited in for cookies or candy. We felt so superior in our costumes.. so certain our identities were safely concealed behind our dime store masks, that we might even dare to play a few very timid tricks on him or one of our other unsuspecting neighbors.
I wonder now if the reason Halloween of my ninth year stands out so vividly in my memory isn’t my oh, so superior costume. Looking back with adult understanding probably makes it all the more precious. I understand now that part of mama’s reluctance to allow me to Trick or Treat with Bobbie Jo, her older brother and their neighbor had to do with costumes. You see, I was with Bobbie and Alfred when Aunt Hester bought their costumes at the Five and Dime.
Bobbie was going to be a Black Cat! Alfred was a Green Monster.. a somewhat obscure monster, it’s true, but a monster, never the less. The little Hamner boy, who was Bobbie’s constant shadow, was going to be a Lady! I knew because Aunt Hester bought his costume that same day. A huge pair of red wax lips. “They’re just splendid,” I told mama. “Well, punkin… we’ll have to see what we can come up with, won’t we.” Those words settled my heart on the subject. Mama would buy me a splendid costume and all I needed to worry about was which house to go to first and how to make certain my bag was the first one in the group to be filled with treats.
The days until Halloween ticked slowly by and each night when mama and daddy came home from the cafe I asked if they had bought my costume yet. Every day the answer was the same. “Don’t worry, baby. You’ll have a fine costume for Trick or Treating. On the evening before the party at school, I asked again! Their answer was the same. “I’m not a BABY! And, I AM worried!” I stormed.
When Halloween morning dawned, crisp and cold, I woke far earlier than usual, and crept into the kitchen where mama was making breakfast. “My costume? Where is it?” I demanded. “Go wash your face and hands, put on your pink long sleeved T shirt, your jeans and your boots.” Mama instructed. I just lost it! I remember pitching a three ringed fit, as only a spoiled nine year old can do. I said all of the horrible things I’d been thinking for days, including how Bobbie Jo’s mama loved her enough to buy her costume weeks ahead of the day and my mama hadn’t even been to the Five and Dime once this month, and how I’d overheard her tell daddy we couldn’t afford to spend money on such nonsense right now. I slammed into my room, threw myself across the bed and wailed. I was NOT going to school today and be the only kid without a costume and I was NOT going to go Trick or Treating with Bobbie, the Black Cat, in my old pink shirt and jeans, So there!
I suppose I carried on like that for ten minutes or so before daddy opened the door, peeled me up off the bed and carried me, still snuffling, into the dining room where mama’s sewing machine sat open. Laid out across the open arm of the machine was a delightfully fluffy pink dress with bright orange buttons and a rushing of orange net at the neck and cuffs; a warm blue cape, lined in something slick and shiny; a fine straw hat with an orange ribbon band which said Happy Halloween all the way around the brim; and on top of the stack a REAL plastic pumpkin to carry home my treats in. A real plastic pumpkin exactly like the one I’d seen Bobbie Jo pitch her own three ringed fit over weeks before in the Five and Dime after Aunt Hester told her NO she would have to bring her candy home in a paper bag, just like all the other kids.
I went to school that Halloween dressed in a WHOLE costume, with REAL lipstick on my mouth — not just kitty ears and a wire tail hooked into the loop of my pants. All the kids thought my costume was the VERY best one they’d ever seen. Most of them only had a silk mask or wax lips. A few had furry ears like Bobbie’s but not one other had such a costume as the splendid one I wore!
October days grow shorter and autumn steals softly toward winter. In the silent hour before daylight I accompany Li Ping on her walk along the creek bank. A shoulder deep mist swirls through the meadow, the sky is brilliant with a million stars and the harvest moon wanes away, taking my favorite season with it. As the sun slowly pushes a peach and lavender sky above the rim of the hills, I am reminded how fleeting such beauty can be.
I am reminded of the splendid Halloween in my ninth year when an old pink flannel dressing gown, a bit of netting, some ribbon, some buttons, an old jacket and a discarded straw hat made a poor little child rich for one day. Later I understood that the garments came from a friend of my mama’s, the netting and ribbon were purchased out of her tips from work, and daddy picked up the REAL plastic pumpkin on his way home from a buying trip to the city. Today I understand that she probably came home from work at nine or ten and sewed until midnight on more than one occasion, just because she loved me. And I understand that nothing on earth can ever be purchased that compares with LOVE.
The tragedy of taking life’s treasures for granted is reinforced in my spirit by the sight of petals from yesterday’s roses scattered among the fallen leaves along our path. I stop to gather a few, thinking each should be pressed in my journal pages as a reminder:
Time flies – treat each day as a gift, wrapping it in laughter and joy. Treasure the people who mean the most to you, relationships can evaporate as swiftly as the mist. Capture your imagination and send it down the sunshine path; do not follow it into the dark woods. Promise yourself more time to see the world around you through the eyes of a child. And remember to HUG your Teddy Bear. I seem to remember that mama suggested I carry mine along for protection while Trick or Treating on Halloween 1953!
Follower of Christ, writer & artist.