Before Starbucks: Halloween

My memories of ‘Halloween Past’ are not numerous, but they are happy. I grew up  in a part of Seattle known as Ballard, and  our house was the biggest house on the block – it was also the most decrepit. It had the largest front yard in the area, too, as the house itself was set at the very back of the lot. The rear of our house, which included a porch,   pushed into the alley behind our house, and caused a treacherous curve that the garbage truck had to skillfully maneuver around each week.

There were two long hedges of laurel bushes at the front of our large yard. Often these bushes were allowed to grow to very great heights, 12-15 feet, which made our yard look secluded in a scary way. The cement walkway from the front steps of our house divided the yard into two equal halves, and led to the city sidewalk . The walk was long, and passed through an opening between the great stands of laurel. A huge, looming old pine tree stood sentry at the opening, too. So, yes, you are right: this large, old, partially hidden and poorly lit house fit the bill as the neighborhood’s  ‘haunted house’. It was a dubious distinction. We as kids relished the haunted house idea on some days, but on other days we were just embarrassed that our old house was run down, that our  grass was long and the yard unkept. Even we who lived there were scared of our house at times, for lots of different reasons. But at Halloween, it was great place to live!

As far as Halloween costumes from my childhood, I remember one year my sister, Margie and I tried to make  costumes representative of a “One-Eyed, One-Horned,Flying Purple People Eater”, that song being extremely popular at the time. Can’t imagine that they turned out very well – we were 6 and 8 yrs old – but we were pretty happy with them : )

I also remember another Halloween, not because we had made exceptional costumes, but because we knocked on the door of a new neighbor’s home. It was a trim, clean-looking white house with an entryway roof line that swept down at an angle, looking like a ski jump. The yard was small and well cared for.

This house and yard were the virtual  opposite of ours, and I was enchanted by the difference.  It stood on the opposite side of our block,  so we didn’t consider it a part of our regular neighborhood, but we would walk by it at times when we took an alternate route to the grocery store, for instance. We had noticed the moving van parked in front of it a few weeks earlier and were curious if  kids had moved in. So even though this house wouldn’t have been on our normal trick-or-treat route, we went there out of curiosity. We were in luck! The front light was on – the universal signal in our neighborhood that it was okay to make a Halloween stop. The three of us trooped up the front steps to the house. I was with my older sister, Margie, and younger brother, Fred.  I recall the feeling of being draped in long clothing, and  having something on my head and face, but what my costume actually was I couldn’t say. My hands were occupied with the task of  keeping the Halloween candy bag (a brown paper bag from the grocery store, soggy from the drizzling rain) front and center. I also was pulling up  the front of my costume so I wouldn’t fall flat on my face  at the top of the steps. My brother and sister crowded in beside me on the front step of the house, our costumes rustling. We rang the doorbell. (A door bell! Luxury!)

A handsome dark-haired man answered the door. We yelled “Trick-or-Treat!”  I glanced at the inside of the home, which looked bright and warm. There was a woman in the living room – his wife?- and two kids in the house! The children looked a little young, but still, the family had kids – good news! Suddenly the man started talking to us. He had an accent, and we really couldn’t make out what he was saying . We were startled by his words,and looked at each other. Then the man stared at us inquiringly, and we returned his questioning  gaze with our own. He spoke again and gestured and we suddenly understood – we were to perform for our treats! Oh oh! We stared at each other murmuring “cartwheel?” “Sing a song?” “Do a dance?” Nope – nobody was prepared to do anything; our costumes did not lend themselves to any real activity other than walking, and even that could be perilous with soggy, sweeping fabric around us and masks on our faces. We shrugged. The man shrugged. We turned to go, but he stopped us and spoke again in a language we couldn’t understand. He took a lovely glass candy dish from the mantle on the fireplace, and motioned for us to open our bags, which we did. He poured the contents from the candy dish into our bags, dividing it three ways. We thanked him, I took another quick  look at his  kids who were agog at our costumes, and then we turned away from the door and walked down the steps into the night. We recovered from our surprise, and talked about when we would go back to ask the kids to play.  But although I went to their side of the block to look for them for them from time to time, none of us ever saw the family again; it was as if they had vanished.

Even after all these years, it seems spooky to me that a sweet little family,  from a  warm and welcoming, neatly kept house would disappear like that, while we – the big scraggly family who lived in the old, scary looking ‘haunted house’, stayed in the same neighborhood for over forty years.  How mysterious and unpredictable life can be! I still wonder what happened to that family, and probably always will.

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