I am seven years old in the Bronx. I love Halloween because in my friend Joanie’s apartment building we can get on the elevator, ring a bunch of doorbells all at once on each floor and clean up in no time flat: twelve floors, with eight apartments on each floor. We never have to go out in the rain. Doesn’t it always rain on Halloween? Afterward, we go back to Joanie’s apartment, 3B, and spread the loot on her living room rug: Chocolate kisses and candy corn; pennies and pencils; pez candy, sour balls, gum drops, jelly beans. Loose, not pre-packaged in mini-sizes.
It was a time of innocence – there were homemade treats as well: cookies and popcorn balls and fudge. It was a time of innocence so – could you believe it? – a parent never accompanied us.
I am eight years old in the Bronx and I go to P.S. 95. We are having a Halloween party in the third grade and after lunch today, all the children will march around the lunchroom in their costumes. My mother, who is casual about holidays does not make me a costume like some of the other mothers. She doesn’t sew. Nor does she buy me a Cinderella costume because she thinks store-bought costumes are a waste of money. She rummages through her drawers, coming up with a black, lace full slip whose straps she pins across my shoulders. We add a colorful scarf, some hoop earrings, red lipstick. My mother says I am an exotic and beautiful gypsy dancer. I am hesitant about going to school in what is essentially my mother’s undergarment. But she convinces me I look exotic and beautiful.
After lunch, I circle the room with the clowns, the ghosts, the bums. I feel exotic and beautiful. Walking back to the classroom, I hear two teachers talking as I sally by: “Isn’t she adorable. She’s in her mother’s slip!” I slink away humiliated. I am at school in my mother’s underwear!
My daughter is eight years old and will be trick or treating on our street in Ames, Iowa. We know everyone one the block. There are young families, a few college students and one special lady, Mrs. Trueblood, a widow in her eighties, who sometimes invites Gabi in to make chocolate chip cookies with her.
Gabi and I talk about a costume. Like my mother, I do not sew and think store-bought costumes are a waste of money. I convince Gabi to wear an old dress of mine; we add beads, earrings, a hat I picked up at the Salvation Army. I add lines on Gabi’s face, old glasses without lenses; I fashion a cane from a tree branch. I tell Gabi what an adorable little old lady she has become.
But when we go down the block, Gabi suddenly turns to me. “I can’t go into Mrs. Trueblood’s house,” she says. “What if she thinks I am making fun of her?”
It is Halloween and my daughter is eight years old and I see a glimpse of the kind-hearted and empathetic woman she will become.