When I was growing up, I lived in a subdivision of Woodbury called "The Gates." The houses were on single acre plots of land, but many were still surrounded by deep woods. Long Island was booming with subdivisions in the 1960's, many of which had formerly been farms or orchards.
Our development had been part of a large hilly estate with an apple orchard and the main house was still standing in those days. It looked like something from an old horror movie, with its once stately brick exterior now overgrown with persistent ivy and weeds. There was a huge algae covered cement swimming pool straight out of an old Hollywood movie, that was filled with frogs and toads with dandelions bursting through the cracks. The old mansion was referred to as "The Manor House."
One Halloween when I was 8 years old, my mother dressed me up as a Flamenco dancer in a blue and white polka-dot ruffled dress that my grandfather had brought me from Spain. I remember vividly, scarfing down her delicious stuffed peppers so that I could meet my friends to go trick or treating. In those days it was safe for young kids to do this, and we wandered freely throughout the sprawling moonlit neighborhood. It was our oyster, filled with Turkish Taffy, Butterfingers, and Babe Ruth candy bars.
That night, somehow, I became the recipient of a dare and the dare was to make the trip down the long dark wooded driveway of The Manor House and knock on the door. I remember walking in utter darkness, heart in mouth, tears streaming down my cheeks until I at last reached the massive wooden door. There was a large brass knocker which hung high over my head, so I chose instead to tap lightly on the door with my trembling hand. I was ready to turn and run when I heard it unlatch from the other side.
A child of 60's television I half expected to see Lurch from The Adams Family, so I don't really remember looking up at the man's face as the door creaked open. He surely must have noticed how scared I was. He gestured for me to come inside, so I stepped into the cavernous foyer where I was led to a large mahogany desk that stood against the wall. He daintily pulled open the drawer on the lower left hand side. I was tall enough to view its contents, and in it were several candies, perhaps made from marzipan, all in the shape of little heads. This man knew exactly what he was doing!
I quickly whisked up his gruesome offerings, sputtering an inaudible "Thank you," as I dashed back out into the darkness, racing to meet my friends to tell them about my adventure, racing away from the big scary house with the tall, strange man.
Oddly enough, this is one of the sweetest memories of Halloween that I have, although it certainly did not seem like it would ever be anything close to that at the time. There are so many other memories, too. It was a time for fantastical adventures and we lived in the kind of a world where we could explore without the doting supervision of our parents; nobody worried at all. Mothers made our costumes and sent us deep into the night, with paper bags, plastic pumpkins and orange UNICEF containers, never once thinking that we wouldn't return to be safely tucked into our beds later that very same night.
I wish I could give this world to my son each Halloween, but I can't. Even living in the rural abyss of Pearce, AZ, I still feel compelled to accompany him through the neighborhood streets. He will never get to feel that crazy scary fun of Halloween that we did, running from the bad boys at school who had shaving cream or eggs...laughing. This was the world before apples had razor blades. It was a world I can barely remember as having been real sometimes.
For those of you who are my age, I want you to remember that world tonight as you sit inside your homes, far from the beckoning shouts of your best friends on the doorstep of your parent's house. I want you to reach with the fingers of your mind into the deep gorge of time, and grasp that feeling if only for a moment, and appreciate just how lucky you were to grow up in that world. Maybe in some way we can all pass some of that magic on to the ones we love. This is the only way we can keep it alive....somewhere...if only in our hearts.