Halloweens In the Hood

When I was a kid I used to love Halloween – I still do. It’s probably my most favorite holiday of all – equaling if not topping Christmas. For Halloween . . . well, there’s something special about that night – and it goes back to my childhood.

We were poor – one of the poorer families around, I reckon, except for the people next to us and the farmer and his wife down the hill and around the bend – though in retrospect I imagine even they had a bit more than we did.  After all: they had a farm and chickens and eggs; they had a huge garden. But they sure looked poor, even to me back then.

The neighbors next door to us were the poorest, even poorer than us – and it showed.  They were so poor I wanted to give them food – and we barely had none.  But we couldn’t afford it, either.  But come Halloween it didn’t matter: all us kids did the best we could.

Store bought costumes were rare. I don’t remember any of mine ever coming from a store. Usually they were made at home – kid’s creations, because our mom wasn’t into helping us with that. “Do without, make do, or do it yourself,” was her homespun philosophy, and as a result one year the best I could do was the classic sheet ‘ghost’ – an old white sheet I had spent days begging out of her, and then at the last minute she came through – finally sacrificing a sheet she had (it was probably ‘good’) for my benefit. I cut holes in it, and still not satisfied (it just looked like a sheet draped over my head), I added some fake ‘blood’ to it by drawing on it with my crayons. That’s a pretty sad excuse for blood, by the way: crayons leave crayon marks, roughened rouge – nothing ‘permanent’ and definitely not very ‘bloody’. So I did my best – drawing claw marks and ‘bites’ – and advertised my presence as a “ghost of a werewolf” – which sounded a lot scarier to me than the stupid sheet I was parading around in the neighborhood looked. I hated that thing; it was an embarrassing ‘disguise’; meanwhile my friends had ‘dressed’ themselves up to look like bums and hobos – a popular costume for the poor kids in the neighborhoods since there were so many. Near-bums and near-hobos, that is. Having their fathers give them the gear, they would blacken their faces with soot, maybe chew on an old cigar stub – and that was it. The entire disguise.

One year we had something special come along. My mom, in her infinite wisdom (and with her husband gone – off fighting a war somewhere – or if the trip to Thailand, whoring around and giving away all our money to Christian charities while his family went hungry and alone) – decided to throw a Halloween party in (and for) the ‘hood – and that I guess is when my love affair with Halloween began.

I well remember that night (as well as a few of them!) – when it all started. The music was playing – Ichabod Crane and his nightly ride from the Headless Horseman playing on the old 45 record player. (I used to listen to that thing often, but we only had a few records to play. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was one of them.) I think we had a small bonfire in the yard, and I can still feel the impending sense of excitement in my mind as night drew down.

My mom had ‘come out’ in all her true colors, dressing up as a witch. I can still see her on the front porch, meeting and greeting the neighbors in. It’s one of the few times that I can remember seeing her truly happy; just beaming with that tall cone hat on her head.

It was a wonderful party, at least to my child’s mind. We had the peeled grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti for brains ‘game’ going on out under the old hall tree which I used to climb – all us kids were thrilled (and grossed out) sitting around ‘blindfolded’ and feeling all these things – while some adult or teenager passed them around with the appropriate story about some dismembered (and apparently some disemboweled, de-headed, and de-brained sort of thing). It was great fun and I had thrilled shivers just having fun while the few old records we owned (at least anything that applied to Halloween) echoed in the ‘hood. The “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was played again and again until I, too, got tired of the thing . . . but (softly smiling) – it’s still a ‘song’ or a record which brings this night back to mind.

Halloweens in the ‘hood were almost always good, despite the poverty and the hassles. The teen from next door – our favorite friend, and friend of my brother’ and brother to my best friend. He was tall and thin with a curly shock of dark hair – and he always treated us good. I think at first – those first few Halloweens – our mother took us around the ‘hood, but on the last one, or the last few, it was the teenager’s (often our babysitter’s) turn. He and I and my older brother; his brother (and my best friend) – and a few other kids from ‘the hood’ would gather around come twilight in his drive – the kids from across the street (also some of my ‘best friends’) – would come, and we would begin – walking up the long hill one way, and back down the other. We were never allowed to leave the hood, nor go past the ‘marker’ – which was the house on top of the hill; nor was there any reason to go below the turn in the ‘hood – past the farmer’s house – because there was not much there. Nor did we go up ‘Cactus Court’ because that’s where the ‘mean kids’ lived (or at least some of them). So our run was rather short – just up a quarter mile hill and back down, hitting a dozen houses – and we were done. I guess that’s why we didn’t have costumes for this thing: there simply was no place to go.

Later on they added on to the ‘hood – bending houses around the corner and back on down towards the road that led to the highway that led towards the nearby town (Augusta, Georgia). And they cut in a new neighborhood – all this was paved – paved roads and everything – but in ‘our’ section of the ‘hood things always remained the same. The pavement ended around the bend at the distant top of the hill, and it was dirt from there on down. Dirty and poor boys, dirty and poor houses, and in some cases, dirty and poor homes. But most of the people in the ‘hood kept things up as best they could – however, it was as if the outside world ignored us – building around the corner, but not down the street. Leaving us all alone.

However . . . that Halloween, the good one I remember with such budding excitement (because I can still feel that anticipation of that good night) – made me a believer in everything . . . and in some ways nothing at all. I discovered the tricks behind Halloween – the ‘eyes’ in a bowl, the boiling up of some ‘brains’ – which was kind of disillusioning, but at the same time gave me some insight into the power we had – the ability to create illusion, pulling the wool and darkness over some eyes – and either terrify or delight them.

I learned a lot about magic at that time. The magic of a moon; my mom’s “witchy” magic, and the magic of Halloween.  How much I loved it; and yet how little I knew . . . for looming on the year’s horizon was another Halloween – one which would destroy everything that I knew.

(Note that I list this story ‘out of season’ and there’s a reason for that: it is time.  We are coming towards the end of the stories of the ‘hood – and our previous life; the one of ‘little Mikie’ and that time.  For what was approaching us was relentless, like a tidal wave – a series of waves then – which would rock my world and turn it inside out – turning ‘him’, our precious little Mikie, into someone else.  Or several someone elses in my case . . . and there would be some strange goings on.  Life has always been interesting . . . )