Monday, October 10, 2016

 - An American Halloween Memory -

This was in the neighborhood of Second Avenue and Delaware in Albany NY in the latter 1940s, when as little kids we ventured out into the chill October night to wander through the leafpile smoke that misted the streetlights and the roving hordes of ghosts, skeletons, witches, monsters, cowboys, indians, pirates and all else that new minds could come up with, ourselves also dressed as members of the spirited mob, each carrying a big paper shopping bag that gained heft as we went from door to door ringing the bells for treats or else tricks with our soap and candles, toilet paper and other even worse stuff-- seldom used, but not never.

For the fact was, many houses were dark because the kidophobic, candyless, grumpy or just plain old stingy residents were pretending no one was home. But it's not good to try to fool kids, who have powerful psychic skills when it comes to adult shenanigans; they also have a hive mind and a vast neighborhood database. They know the truth, and can't be easily fooled by cheapskate owners cowering quietly in their house all Halloween night unable to turn on a light and read the newspaper or listen to the radio lest they be detected by the sharp-eared, candy-hungry hordes of sprites and get “tricked” beyond mere soaped windows and toiletpapered front porches.

There were hundreds of ruthless tricksters out there, thousands roaming the dark of the city demanding sweet ransom, their bags filling with candy corn and marshmallow peanuts, licorice and candy bars, sometimes money or unwelcome healthy stuff like apples, tangerines or unshelled nuts, you never knew what you’d get on this most important of Autumn nights, until you got home from the dark and dumped it all out on the floor and what a rush as you rummaged through the swag, calculating, separating: chocolate over here, candy corn over there, wrapped candy and bubblegum here (MaryJanes, BB Bats, DubbleBubble, Bazooka), sampling some of each, all the grownup stuff to the side-- nuts in the shell, fruit in the peel...
Some of the houses were good and ready, when it was usually the lady who would open the door, the men weren't good with kids, be all gruff and half-hearty, wanting to get back to the newspaper or radio show, but the woman would be interested, often enthuse about the costumes and who might we be behind that makeup, do I know you, she was having fun too; then there were the grumpy-looking houses or the skinflint houses remembered from last Halloween-- In the funeral home  they always had apple cider and cinnamon donuts back in the dim distance, you had to enter the shadowy front rooms, where there likely were ghosts, and walk far into the back room to eat and drink right there, looking cautiously around like a pirate at a Frankenstein cocktail party...

And another house over on that short street that diagonaled from Whitehall just above Delaware and Second (we never did anything on that street in the normal rascally way-- no fruit trees there anyhow), the street where big Frank the barber had his shop and the new doctor had his office where I got my head stitched after the “haunted garage” door fiasco - anyway, somebody in that big old house had an authentically terrifying sense of horror and fun. You'd go up on the dark porch and ring the bell and after a pause the door would slowly c-r-e-a-a-k-k-k open into the deep dark of the silent... house... mmmwwahahahaHAHHH! We always saved that for last.

What a different world it was...

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