Different times…different places…different memories…
[Photo source: Google search.]
I should mention that, as a child, one of my favorite things to do this time of year was to kick a pile of leaves along a stone sidewalk.
It’s gloomy, rainy and windy here in the North Country. It rained hard before dawn this morning so nearly all the foliage is now on the ground. If the wind continues, the little color that is left will leave the deciduous trees naked in a few days. But, surprisingly, the outside temperature is in the mid-sixties, so it’s hard to think of this being October 8, only a few weeks before my favorite time of year, Halloween! But, we live in a rather isolated location, so there will be no trick-or-treat for us. There never has been any since we moved here in 2011.
This is not like the place where I grew up, Owego, NY. It’s about six hours downstate and it probably rained there as well last night. But, in the vast store of my childhood memories, I’m sure there were wet and dark days in my home town when I was young. However, once the weather front went through, the air would turn crisp and sometimes there would be frost on grassy lawns, and on the pumpkins, carved and candle-lit, that sat on the porches and front steps like sentinels…or warnings. The strange truck with the giant vacuum hose had already made its slow way along the curbside to suck up the leaves that were raked in piles. We were still allowed to burn leaves in those days so the air was rich with the scent of smoldering oak and maple and elm leaves from someones back yard fire pile. Trick-or-treating down Front and Main Streets, as well as John, Ross and Paige Streets was a joyful time of year for me.
My happiest Halloween’s were when I would take my daughter, Erin (in the mid to late 1970’s) and later, my son, Brian (in the early 1990’s) down those fearful streets. Those were when the sidewalks would be crowded with families and the houses would be lit up with orange light and strange candles and we could see our breath in the chilly air.
[My daughter, Erin. Getting ready for a trip to Owego.]
[My son, Brian…as Fu Manchu.]
After a lifetime of growing up on Front Street, this was my chance to peek inside the older and larger houses…all the way to the business district.
Our first stop was the Sparks’ house next to ours. Then it was across the street to the old Loring house and then back across the street to walk past the only ‘haunted’ house in my neighborhood, the very old Taylor mansion with the floor to ceiling windows and mansard roof. We’d be sure to stop at Dr. Amouk’s house (pardon the spelling). He usually had the best candy which was ironic because he was a dentist.
My children usually made a ‘pretty good haul’ on those nights. And, it was a joy to view their excitement from an adults perspective.
I remember one Halloween in particular. My wife and I were taking my son Brian on the rounds. We got to a house that was almost directly across the street from my old elementary school, St. Patrick’s. There were corn shocks and fake cobwebs all over the large porch. Then my son spotted a pair of feet sticking out of a box next to the front door. He hesitated. We pushed the door bell. A woman dressed like a vampire came to answer. She was holding a box of candy. But Brian had already made a retreat to the sidewalk. He was having no part of this woman’s fun that night.
Remembering how my kids enjoyed those walks forces me to remember the times when my friends and I owned those after dark hours while we hid behind the Frankenstein masks or space-suits; the hours when you never knew who would open a door or what monster might cross you path. So many leaves were scattered on the slate sidewalks that one simply had to kick at them. As children, we knew the magic of that season would last only a few days.
Now, we can still kick leaves along our road…but it’s not the same as it was. Nothing will ever be the same as those charmed nights of a spooky holiday when you’re seven or eight…or even fifteen, when your goal is not an apple or twenty M & M’s, but to steal a kiss behind the large elms that once lined Front Street.
To steal that kiss was a treat that couldn’t be bought in any candy store.