Friday, July 25, 2008

Bronxville Days, Part 4

My mother held a match to the wine cork, which blackened and released a thin stream of dark, aromatic smoke. She held the cork until the black area cooled, then gripped my chin firmly, drew a mustache across my lip, darkened my eyebrows and added long sideburns.
"There you go, my little Mexican man," she said.

Fixing a sombrero on my head and draping a serape around my shoulders, she said, "You keep bundled up tonight, it's cold out there."
She put her hands on my shoulders and held me still for a moment, contemplating her creation.
"You're getting to be such a big boy. This stuff wouldn't even fit you last year. And I guess this will be your last trick-or-treat. You'll be too old for this next year."

The doorbell rang and I bounded downstairs. "You wait for your sister!" she yelled after me. "Aw, Ma, she's 8 years old, she can go herself," I said, but I knew it was of no use.
Jimmy was at the door, dressed as a Texas Ranger. Behind him stood two smaller children, one in a white sheet with holes cut for eyes, the other in a box with a cardboard disk for a hat – Speedy Alka Seltzer. "Sorry," Jimmy said. "My mom made me take them along.
My mother handed us brown paper grocery bags, and, kissing my sister on the forehead said, "Don't take this scarf off and stick close to your brother, and don't eat all the candy before you get home."

It was just after 6 o'clock, Monday, Oct. 31, 1960. A sliver of golden moon hung in the black sky. We shuffled down the walk, marched under the streetlight at the corner of Millard and Ellison and passed into the darkness, stumbling on the sidewalk, the cracks and buckled concrete reaching up to catch the toes of our shoes. We bounced like moths from lighted porch to lighted porch, shivering in the consuming black of night between them. Gusts of wind sent dry maple leaves skittering across the street like frightened animals and fanned an eerie red glow in piles of leaf ash at the curb. The obscure shapes of other children, their voices wafting on the breeze, passed us on the opposite side of the street.

We clambered up steps and rang bells and waited in the flickering orange light of jack-o-lanterns. Muffled noises, homey sounds of television, creaking floors and barking dogs came through the doors, which swung open, emitting the different smells of people's suppers. A woman held a bowl of Baby Ruths before us. Wait, she said. Let me guess who you are. She knew us all except Tommy Gagan, who had caught up with us along the avenue, wrapped from head to toe in strips of sheets like a mummy.

At another house, on a lonely stretch of Birchbrook Road, an old man extended a basket of apples in one hand and a bowl of pennies in the other. "Take a big handful," he urged. "Go on, dig in." Copper rained in our paper bags. We sauntered down the middle of the road, munching the apples and tossing the cores into the woods.

Halloween would never be the same after that night. For me, the spooky magic would be gone, replaced by mischief and hoarding from the candy mine of the Hotel Gramatan. And it wasn't too many years later that Halloween was ruined, buy sick people putting needles in candy bars and razor blades in apples, and by municipalities that replaced trick-or-treat with parties held not on Oct. 31 but on whatever day seemed convenient to adults, and by the adults who hijacked the simple observance and made it an opportunity to party.


Brant said...

I always hated it that a small group of nut jobs ruined Halloween for kids. Parents and local officials overreacted to a few incidents of candy tampering and the specter of kid-snatching, and they started scheduling trick-or-treat in broad daylight. It's kind of like when our country overreacted to the actions of a small group of nut jobs and allowed the Constitution and the core values of America to be trampled on. Overkill.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a stretch...

No wonder it is called the observer-distorter

Ellipses said...

I wonder how successful your Trick or Treating would be if you dressed up like a Mexican today and asked for candy :-)

Well... considering "today" is July 28... I suppose it would be as successful as if you dressed up like a pirate... but you know what I mean.


Anonymous said...

Due to the previous post--I will respond.

Last Halloween, in California, I DID notice that a few of the hispanic children were asking for treats without a costume!

True story-

Brant said...

Somebody should report that to Lou Dobbs, defender of our borders.

Ellipses said...

Este tiempo en campamento de banda...

Sincerely, your amigo,

El Lipses