Our minds and our memories — two of life’s mysteries. The memory of last month can get lost in a fog, yet thirty, forty or even fifty years ago can remain with us with so much clarity. Marcel Proust (“Remembrance of Things Past,” is also known in English and in French as “In Search of Lost Time“) had his cookie, and with that petite madeleine, Proust illustrates how pieces of our past can emerge before us and give birth to a string of memories. In Proust’s case, the prompt is a taste. In my case it’s an internal clock with a double alarm setting, one for the beginning of school of the school year (which I’ll save for another post) and Halloween.
As a young comic book collector, I remember my anticipation of the special issues of Halloween comics that I loved. Little Lulu, with her goofy bangs and coal nugget eyes, was my all-time favorite:
Then there was
Oh, that date was magic to me. I loved it the way some kids loved December 25. The first Halloween remember was when I was in kindergarten. I was a nurse. I remember the blue and white vinyl and cotton costume. After school, it was trick-or-treat up and down the streets of my neighborhood. The Halloweens I remember were often cool, if not downright cold, and when we stepped on the crisp leaves they made the sound of crunching brown paper bags. And we struggled with our mothers because we wanted to discard the coats and show off our wonderful costumes. We were pirates and gypsies, doctors and ghouls, skeletons and vampires.
One year my mother made me up as a gypsy fortune-teller, complete with head scarf, pop-bead earrings hanging from my small gold hoops, red lipstick and rouge, and darkened eyebrows. When she was done, I stood in the middle of our living room and swirled until I was dizzy, my green and purple skirt rising with each rotation. In my mind, at age nine or ten, this is how I looked, beautiful and exotic:
We’d go from house to house carrying our shopping bags from well-known Pittsburgh stores such as Giant Eagle, Kroger, Kaufman’s or Joseph Horne’s, barely containing our impulse to shout “Trick or Treat!” The adults (some of whom often wore the smelly rubber masks of witches with warts) would open their doors and pretend to be frightened or surprised. Sometimes they offered a little tremble, and then pretended that they didn’t recognize us, though surely they recognized our uncostumed parents! Oh, the edibles we collected, including FRESH fruit. Do you recognize any of them?
Along the way we’d pass houses that had been splattered with raw eggs, or windows that had been graffitied with bars of soaps. These were the homes of people who hadn’t opened their doors for us trick-or-treaters or who had run out of goodies too early. Finally we would make it to our grandmother’s house for cider and Halloween cookies baked from scratch. Then we’d sit around in her living room while the candlelight cast tall kinetic shadows against the walls and listen as she and her husband told ghost stories — with a little help from my mother, usually in the form of sound effects. Some we’d heard before:
or they’d retell The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, grandma-style; and some she seemed to make up on the spot, like the friend of hers who had died and at the service the body started to sit up and everyone closed their eyes and screamed and when they opened their eyes it was not their friend who sat upright in the coffin, but . Honest. I kid you not.
And did you ever see this?
And here’s to dancing to “Monster Mash”!
Some Suggested Halloween Reading:
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
The Best of Poe: Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, The Cask of Amontillado and 30 Others by Edgar Allan Poe
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Shining by Stephen King
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Ghost Story by Peter Straub
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Anything by H.P. Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce and Algernon Blackwood