“It was sad but it was also kind of funny. She was just so confused.” My mom was re-telling a story I only kind of remembered, of a very old lady who had lived on my cousin’s street.
“She would get all dressed up and would have her hair fixed just so and she’d put popcorn balls…why don’t people make popcorn balls anymore?...I love popcorn balls. She’d put popcorn balls on a silver tray and she’d walk up and down the street knocking on people’s doors. She’d say ‘Trick or treat!’ when you answered the door and make you take a popcorn ball. She’d go up and down the block until she was out of popcorn balls, knocking on the same doors over and over. She just got it backwards. She was so old she was reverse trick or treating.”
She looked into the distance trying to remember it all. “That was the last year she lived there, I think. They took her somewhere after that.”
My kids had been listening and made a face at the words “took her somewhere.” Where did they take her? “Oh someplace better, I’m sure.” I said and changed the subject.
In my life of Halloweens I remember the old people most. Individually wrapped Little Debbie cakes proudly presented on a shining tray ten long minutes after the bell was rung, the light was on so you’d stopped. You could see movement behind the curtains so you stayed and waited Is there anybody actually in there? Is somebody coming? Then the door would creak open. You’d yell “Trick or Treat!” and a “Thank you!” and grab your cookie and run. All speed and movement and yells to contrast with the brown shag carpet slowness on the other side of the door.
The woman next door had been spectacularly old, well into her 90’s when she died. Her last couple of years her nurse’s aid would answer the door. She would usher the children into the house in groups so her lady could see the costumes. After their audience they would be rewarded with a single tootsie roll presented on a platter even older than the small and shrunken woman who sat in the wing back chair smiling. The whole of it was both lovely and terrifying.
At the end of the night, our costumes in tatters, me and my cousins would pile into a minivan for the ride to our grandpa’s house. They’d leave the light on late for us. Hyped up on sugar and the night we’d crowd into the tiny brown living room which smelled of cigarettes and beans and explain our costumes. We’d scoop candy from the tray in handfuls until it was gone knowing it was there just for us. Bags full we’d tumble back out into the dark and into the car, the porch light turning off as we drove away.
I live on the street I grew up on and all our old people are gone. My grandpa and his wife are gone too, we’d driven out there for the last candy stop even when I was in college. When I walk the streets with my children I walk the streets of my memory. The lunch lady’s house and Mrs. Harris. Mrs. Tiller and the man whose name I can never remember who gave singing lessons. It always seemed to mean so much to them, seeing the children in costume; as a child I never got it but now I think I do. I’ve never made popcorn balls before but I think I’ve decided to start.