Post #182 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett
Honorable Mention for Halloween from a Child’s Perspective — Memoir Contest
The fear of Halloween for Sherrey Meyers isn’t the cute fear of a ghost or a goblin. It is a fear instilled by her mother that threatens to haunt her even now. Sherrey, thank you to letting us see just one of the many ways that parents pass on their fears — a legacy none of us wants. Sherrey’s story won Honorable Mention in our October 2011 Memoir Writing Contest.
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HALLOWEEN MEMOIR VIGNETTE: A TRICK OR TREAT BAG OF FEAR
by Sherrey Meyers
October 31, 1951. Halloween. Dark, warm and humid. The South never provided cool, crisp, fall-like days for Halloween. But that didn’t matter to the five-year-old girl shrinking back into the corners and staying as far from the front door as possible. Strange behavior for a young girl on a day that most children love.
Halloween is a day for dressing up and wearing masks, for saying trick or treat and receiving candy in return, and for parents tiring of answering the door. It seems logical that kids would love it, and parents would hate it. Not so in the life of one little girl living in Nashville, Tennessee in 1951. How could that be?
Mama had a knack for ruining anything considered fun. Birthday parties, family gatherings, holidays and anything bordering on a celebration all fell victim at one time or another to Mama’s twin gifts of search and destroy. It isn’t that Mama didn’t like to have fun – it just had to be on her terms. If anything ran afoul of what she thought to be the “right way” to do something during the party or holiday, Mama made sure that she made a big enough scene that no one had a good time.
Another special talent of Mama’s was her ability to bathe certain things in a layer of fear that was impenetrable. Included in her collection of things to fear were dogs, cats, clowns, spiders and bugs, snakes, water other than the drinking variety, masks, and days that were cloaked in mystery and darkness. Enter Halloween. It had all the prerequisites to be dreaded and avoided – witches, spiders, masks, costumes and the dark of night. She made sure to talk with me about her fears and helped make them mine too. And it worked – I was as afraid as she was, if not more so.
One particular Halloween stands out in my mind so clearly it could have been yesterday. The weather was wet and humid following the rains of recent days, and the smell of wet leaves was prevalent in our neighborhood. That night Mama had made pumpkin muffins and the aromatic spices floated through the house. Our jack-o-lantern had been carved and a candle placed inside it before we put it in the front window. Through his smile, the candlelight could be seen flickering. I’d go over and touch the pumpkin to see just how warm the candle was getting. And, I confess, to get a sniff of the candle burning.
The moment the late afternoon light began to take on the duskiness of evening, I began to look for places to hide when the doorbell rang. I wanted nothing to do with costumes or masks. And I definitely had no desire to be on the street doing what all the other children were doing – trick or treating. Halloween candy certainly isn’t the cause of my extreme sweet tooth. I can’t recall a single time I was taken out to trick or treat on Halloween because of my fears.
At this stage of my life, I was madly in love with my older brother, Gene, and his best friend, C.W. They were seniors in high school and spent a great deal of time together. I looked up to both of them. There wasn’t anything they could do wrong, or so I thought. On this Halloween, Gene had gone to C.W.’s home after school and their plan was to drive by our house for Gene to change clothes before they went to pick up their girlfriends for a Halloween party. I wanted to watch for them through the window but I was too afraid to get that close to the outdoors. Impatiently, I searched for a way to know when they came into our drive. Our dining room had glass bricks on one wall and I realized I could see light through them, but no one would be able to see me. Making sure I left myself plenty of time for going into hiding when the doorbell rang, I took up my post at the glass bricks.
Finally, car lights headed into our driveway, and I could hardly wait until Gene and C.W. came through the door. But, to my surprise, Gene came in alone.
Gene grinned. “He’s sitting on the porch waiting for me,” he said. “Why don’t you go out and wait with him?”
Nothing could have pleased me more! But go outside? I decided to shore up all the bravery my five-year-old body held. I could hardly wait long enough to get permission from Mama and Dad. And, of course, they said it was okay with them.
I ran to the front door, screwed up my courage, yanked the door open and rushed outside. I plopped down on the step and turned to look C.W. full in the face. I SCREAMED! It wasn’t C.W. It was a total stranger, or so I thought. A man sitting there on my steps wasn’t who I expected. He was wearing a hat; C.W. never wore a hat. And he was wearing these funky black-rimmed glasses; C.W. didn’t wear glasses. And this man had a huge nose and a moustache; not my C.W. Who could this be? I ran back inside as fast as I ran out the door just a minute ago, tears streaming down my face.
My daddy opened his arms, and I gladly ran into them sobbing hysterically. Daddy called to Gene and asked who the stranger on the steps was. Gene replied it wasn’t a stranger — it was C.W. Daddy then questioned what C.W. had done that upset me so. Gene said he didn’t know. So Daddy set me down and went outside to investigate. In a few minutes, he came in laughing harder than I’d ever seen him laugh.
It seems my innocence at five years of age and my built-in fears, thanks to Mama, had set me up as the perfect foil for C.W.’s Halloween disguise.
Several weeks went by before I could be near C.W. Too bad Mama had built in many anxieties and fears about this special day. Even after having children of my own and knowing the truth of my fears, I was still uncomfortable with Halloween. Yet, I knew I wanted my offspring to enjoy the special days of childhood, including Halloween, so I kept my fears to myself.
The irony lies in the fact that after we all left home and Daddy had died, Mama became a real fan of answering the door on Halloween. I questioned why the big turnaround.
“Living alone wasn’t much fun. Even answering the door to young spooks is better than having no one around.”
Guess your approach to special occasions is all in your perspective.