With All Hallows’ Eve upon us, I think back to the occasion when I was growing up in Selma. It was a time long before anyone dreamed of it being an offensive holiday. We never had “Autumn Carnival” of “Fall Fiesta.” It was just Halloween, for Lord’s sake.
Halloween meant the appearance of candy corn and chewable wax lips and wax harmonicas. Bought costumes were rare then. We usually went to our brothers’ closets for old torn jeans and baggy shirts, and, with some brown eye pencil stolen from our sisters, we transformed ourselves into dirty hobos.
Every neighborhood welcomed trick or treaters, and we spent hours going door to door to gather every morsel of candy we possibly could. Our house, of course, grew to be an especially popular stop after the advent of Jeffrey, our family ghost, and the series of Jeffrey books written by my late mother.
Mother loved Halloween too. It was always a simple occasion at our house. Parties and expensive treats weren’t in the family budget. We never ever even thought of making caramel apples. As I recall, Mother generally bought a couple of bags of butterscotch and peppermint discs to give out, and she was not especially generous with those! A firm rule she abided by also saved on the outgoing candy. She wouldn’t give a treat to anyone who was taller than she was. Many a teenage boy was turned away because, in her mind, he was just too big to be trick or treating.
In those early days of that middle class, carefree neighborhood, Mother also liked to dress in a long velvet black cape to answer the door on Halloween. She also had a magnificently hideous rubber hand with long black fingernails and warts all over it. When a knock came, she liked to ease that rubber hand around the front door to the horror and delight of young visitors. We still have the velvet cape, but the hand, I suppose, has long since turned to dust.
One Halloween, long after Mother discarded the cape and hand, a friend called to see if she could bring her granddaughter by for an afternoon visit. When her guests arrived, Mother was at the front door to greet them. From the end of the sidewalk, the little girl stood and shrieked, screaming at the top of her lungs, “I WON’T GO IN THERE UNTIL THAT LADY TAKES THAT MASK OFF!”
The fact of the matter was that Mother was not wearing a mask. Mother told that story and laughed about it for years. It was just the sort of thing that tickled her most. She always ended that story by saying, “I hope that poor child has recovered….”
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Dilcy Windham Hilley
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