BECAUSE we were so poor, it simply never occurred to any one of us to even think about a store-bought Halloween costume. So with all the excitement of that spooky night pending, we rummaged through the attic and closets and came up with a unique mishmash of disguises.
My twin sister was to be a sailor, with Uncle Paulie's pea jacket hanging down to her shoelaces. And my other sister was a ghost, flitting about in a carefully trimmed threadbare sheet with black shoe polish circling two large cutout holes through which she could peer up the dark streets.
I tied a black scarf around my head and, after diluting some
brown shoe polish, I lathered it on my face and hands. I used one of my dad's old plaid shirts as a jacket, tied my trick-or-treat bag on the end of a stick, propped it over my shoulder and strutted up toward Pimlico with visions of filling that sack with goodies we rarely got to enjoy at home.
Up one flight of steps after another, across the streetcar tracks on Belvedere Avenue, past the racetrack and back we skipped our way past other bunches of witches, goblins and ghouls. There was no worry about safety. In fact, the only restriction on this night was our curfew, rapidly approaching.
It was more years past than I care to admit, but I still remember the details so well: There was one special house that we decided to save for the last . . . and assuredly, the best. It had a big picture of a witch in the panel of the front door, a real shock of cornstalks, and pumpkins with candles in them glowed in the yard. Dried leaves rustled as we edged our way down the long pathway to the porch. We nearly shook to pieces with anticipation as we rang the doorbell.
We sang out, "Trick or Treat!" and held our sacks up to the tall woman now standing in the doorway. She hesitated, frowned, then gave an apple to Mary and one to Pat. She looked down on me and said, "I don't give nothin' to niggers!" With that, she stepped back into the foyer and slammed the door.
I started to cry, and despite all the loving that I received from my family, the hurt persisted for days . . . long after I had washed away the brown shoe polish.
Years passed, and my son, who was 6, was preparing for a Halloween party at school. He was going to be a little teddy bear. When he came home, I asked how the party went. "Not bad," he replied casually. "But," and his eyes got bigger and his voice a little more excited, "guess what I did today."
"What?" I asked while preparing supper.
"I squeezed Darryl's hair!"
"You what!" I asked. Darryl was the first black child with whom my son went to school. Without warning, my mind raced back to that other Halloween years ago. Haunting feelings of hurt and cruel remarks suddenly simmered in the caldron of my overactive imagination.
"So," I continued, trying to sound nonchalant, "how did you get to do that?"
"Well," Dave explained, "we were sitting outside on the steps talking about stuff, and I just asked him what his hair felt like. And he said to me he always wondered what yellow hair felt like. So, we just felt each other's hair."
"And . . .?"
"Well, I told him his hair felt fuzzy, and he said mine felt silky, and he said he should have been the bear. That's all except . . . can I have a cookie?" While he munched on a graham cracker, Dave proceeded to tell me that Darryl's dad was a musician at Fort Meade and perhaps we could see him sometime in a parade.
And so another Halloween passed, this one with just a smidgen more of understanding on the part of two schoolmates, but oh, I would love to have watched those curious little boys patting each other's heads that October afternoon!
Polly Thornton writes from Elkridge.