One woman recounts her favourite time of the year.
|Trick Or Treat
By Stephen A Abell
Number of Words: 1992
I really used to love Halloween. With the trees changing from their summer green gowns into their russet dresses of autumn; before the final fall of winter left them naked for all eyes to see and all hearts to feel slightly saddened. Living in a small New England town I had the pleasure of seasons; the divisions of weather. In winter you were cold, snow piled outside your door as you sat before the fireplace, cosy and warm. Spring brought out the buds on the leaves as the temperature climbed towards its summer highs, blossoms fragranced the air bringing a new lust for living into our lives. Summer sun baked and burned, though no one seemed to be troubled on their picnics in the park, for you could always hide under the cooling branches of the trees, resplendent in their vibrant green leaves. Though no other season was as beautiful and alluring as autumn.
As a girl, I spent most of my school holiday time with my grandparents. Since both mom and dad worked long hours I only saw them in the evenings, even during the holidays. My mother was heading towards forty by the time I kicked and screamed into the world. Which fortunately meant grandpa and grandma were retired when mom chose to resume her career. I always consider myself one of the lucky ones. Though I didn’t see either mom or dad during school breaks, in the daytime, they were always there for me with loving arms, kind words, and wet kisses when they came home. Both of them came from equally loving families. When we got over to California to visit Dad’s mom and pop it was like being enshrouded in love and happiness. Though mom’s parents lived five blocks from us, at weekends we took turns in hosting the Sunday dinners.
I had a great life and nothing really bad happened. There were all the minor hiccups of everyday life, for sure… which, at the time, appeared to be more important than they actually were. I still give thanks today for my family and life, especially when I see my friends going through their tough trials and tribulations of life.
So when I’m asked if there’s one special moment in my childhood which I remember fondly I truthfully answer, “All of them”. Though when pressed that one must stand out greater than the others, I always offer, “I really used to love Halloween.”
I remember the chilly evenings. As soon as I arrived back from school; I’d be pestering my mom to let me get changed into my costume ready for trick or treating with grandpa. Since she would’ve only gotten in from work herself, it was easier and less stressful to say okay than not. What did it matter if your six-year-old daughter runs about the house dressed in an old sheet, with two eye-holes cut out, shouting “WHOOOOO!!!”; I mean, at least she’s having fun, right! Mom would sip at her coffee and watch me play ghost for half an hour, then sit me down to my homework while she prepared dinner. It’s tricky to write in a ghost outfit, not impossible, just tricky. By the time I’d finished, dad would be home, having kissed my ghostly forehead, and be seated at the dinner table, where I did my work, while mom pottered around in the kitchen dishing up the delicious goodies. No sooner than dinner was devoured and the pots stacked in the sink ready for dad to wash, then grandma and grandpa would be walking in the front door.
With a quick kiss to my parents and grandma I’d grab my goody sack, which mom always had ready and waiting by the door, and scoot out with grandpa to make the rounds.
The small township was beautifully laid out and constructed. Wide roads gave onto grassed verges; the grass verges ran to tarmaced sidewalks and then onto the open gardens of the neighbourhoods. I would stand for a minute outside our white clapboard house, with navy trim, and watch the other groups of children and adults walking, talking, laughing, and having fun, before skipping down our path and joining the monstrous multitudes. Though most of your neighbours gave candy and treats freely, there were one or two grumpy ones who refused to give treats. These usually stayed safely behind closed doors. Now, I understand some of their reasons why, but as a kid they were the Grinch who stole Christmas, and begged for a trick.
Most of the groups would just move past these houses and onto the next. It was mainly the older kids out by themselves who would throw eggs at the doors and windows, or throw toilet paper up on the roofs and into their trees. Though grandpa had a different trick he loved to play on these people.
Let me state we didn’t play the trick on all the Grinches; grandpa would pick which ones to trick and which to leave alone. I remember passing one house where others had unsuccessfully tried and asked, “Gramps why aren’t we…”
He looked down at me and said, “Mrs Mahoney lost her little boy awhile back. I don’t think she’ll be in the mood for treatin’, and she’s too nice to trick.”
I remember looking in through the big bay window to spy Mrs Mahoney sitting by a fire, glass in one hand and what looked to be a picture frame in another. Inside I felt suddenly sad and wanted nothing more but to run up to the door and knock on it until she opened it, and then I wanted to throw my arms around her and give her a big loving hug.
“Come on slowpoke,” gramps said pulling the sadness right out of me. I took one look back and before I blinked I thought I saw a boy of about ten standing by her side… then, in a blink, he was gone.
A few doors down we came to grumpy mean old Mr Taylor and his barking dog. Whisky, his terrier, would start yapping away as soon as any unknown footstep fell on its owner’s path. Alerted by the noise Mr Taylor would snap his door open and yell, “You can all go away, I have nothing for you. And stay off MY grass.” Before slamming the door shut just as forcefully. He only stood around five-five though his speed and brusqueness gave him an air of a more powerful man. Someone not to mess around with. Someone who may need to be feared.
But this was the type of person grandpa loved to trick the most. As he said, some people need to be brought down to size before their heads became so big they couldn’t get through their own front doors. Mr Taylor was a prime candidate.
Gramps and I skipped up the path towards the door, which had slammed shut seconds earlier. From inside the house the terrier’s barking started to soften, then cease, then became whimpering as we drew closer. It was amazing: Though I now recall, most animals sensed when gramps was in the mood to do some trickin’ and they quickly decided being far away from us was better. So when Mr Taylor opened up his door to gramps’ insistent knocking, we weren’t surprised to see the dog bolt from between his legs and scurry into the night with its tail between its legs.
“What do you want?” Mr Taylor growled and scowled at us.
“Trick or treat!” We both sang out in the happy sing song way we always greeted people with.
“Get lost.” Came our reply, followed by the door slamming shut.
Gramps beat a tattoo on the wooden door once more.
“Go away and leave me alone,” grumbled the angry voice from within.
Gramps smiled at me and we both sang out one more time, “trick or treat!”
“Oh for heaven’s sake…” The door sprang open to reveal Mr Taylor holding a pail of water. As he quickly made to soak us through, gramps raised his hands to the sides of his head and lifted.
The look of shock on Mr Taylor’s face was priceless, though a photo is better, and I quickly snapped one off from the small automatic I’d hidden under my ghost disguise. As he stumbled backwards in shock I snapped another. The best photo of the bunch turned out to be Mr Taylor landing hard on his ass, the pail of water high in the air with the water free falling onto his astounded face. I still have this one as my desktop wallpaper – it never ceases to bring a smile or a chortle – it was a real Kodak moment.
As grandpa replaced his head on his shoulders, we both laughed. Gramps closed the nasty man’s door and we headed skipped away to the next house.
My favourite trick of grandpa’s was his ventriloquist act. Here we would hide his head in a clean and discreet hiding place. Then I’d go to the grinches door and cry that my grandpa had succumbed to an accident and needed instant help. I was such a diva, for a six-year-old, a real ham of an actress… the crocodile tears would flow, the screams and pleas were loud and insistent – how I cringe now just thinking about it… Once coaxed out of their home, I would take them to where gramps’ accident had occurred, except he wasn’t there. At this point he would cry out for help, and we’d search for him. Eventually we’d find his head, in the shrubbery, or in the mail box, and once we found it in a bin. I would be taking the photos while the reluctant Samaritan shrieked and wailed in fear and shock. Best part of this jest though was when the hand landed on their shoulder… their screams were unstoppable. Once, one lady screamed so high and loud that her voice cracked and even though her mouth still made the actions only silence poured out. As gramps thanked them for finding his head, he would place it back on his shoulders while watching the fleeing grinch retreat hastily to the safety of their home. Oh, how the two of us would laugh.
It was a great time… the best time.
Me and gramps stopped the Halloween rounds around the time I found out Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and all the other guys weren’t real. With my innocence gone so was gramps, leaving only a slight sadness behind for things that once were. I was around ten or eleven at the time.
Grandpa died in a car accident when I was six. I didn’t know at the time – and who in their right minds would tell a child – but he had been decapitated. He was at some lights when a drunk driver slammed into the rear of the old Chevy he drove, sending it into the truck in front. The Ford flatbed belonged to a construction worker who had just fetched some sheet steel for the project he was working on. The steel hadn’t been fastened safely and slid free of the truck bed and through the windshield of gramps car.
Being only six I was told only what a six-year-old should know. Grandpa is in heaven and he’s looking down on you… he will always be with you… in your heart and in your memories…
I consider myself to be very lucky to have had that extra four evenings of love and fun with him. As I said before we’re a very loving and caring family.
Now I have to go and get the pirate’s costume ready for my son, so if you’ll please excuse me… it is Halloween after all, and yesterday he asked me if his new imaginary friend can come trick or treating with us tonight.
I have my digital camera ready…
Oh, how I still love Halloween.