Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Friendly Ghost Grows Up

very much not Moratinos

Back at home in the United States, this is the day after Halloween. Kids are straggling to school with sugar hangovers, their lips and nostrils chapped where the cold wind came through the spit-scented slits in their plastic masks. 

I bet they don´t make those any more, those cheap costumes that came in pasteboard boxes with cellophane windows, with the empty eye-holes of your favorite cartoon character looking back at you. For a buck or two you got a plastic mask and a very poorly-sewn apron with a picture of your character printed on it. I remember them well, the cardboard smell, the frustration of putting on the apron over my clothes, and then having to cover up the costume with my snow suit! What´s the use being Casper the Friendly Ghost when the neighbors open their front doors and just see a regular kid there, with only a mask between them and her plain old self? 

A plastic mask with a rubber band round the back that tangled itself into my hair. The inside of Casper´s plastic face got moist pretty fast. My nose ran. When the wind blew through the mouth and nose holes I knew something bad was happening. In November outside Denver in second grade, impetigo was always just around the corner.

Snow fell diagonally down the streetlight beam at the end of Ironton Street. It was getting late, my pillowcase bulged with candy. It was too heavy. I would never make it. I would have to winnow out all the junk licorice blackjacks and jujubees and candy corn if I was ever going to get home. I´d have to leave them on the sidewalk on the street corner, even though my Mom loved licorice. She could come back and dig in the snow and take them herself in the morning. There wasn´t any other kid going to take them home. Junk candy. Why? I asked myself. Why give that to kids, when they only come asking once a year? 
"Bums," I called them, using a word from my dad. (I thought it meant behinds.)

And why did my big sister leave me there on the corner and run off with Tonya Ball to hit the houses along the runway fence, when she knew I was going to start crying within five minutes. (I was a whiny, sickly kid, a burden to Beth.) She knew she´d get a spanking when she got home, but whatever temptation lured her up the street must be worth it. Beth was always doing cool things with big kids.

I knew the way home from there. I could almost see the house. But Beth had the flashlight, and it was only safe in the light. The dark was home to the Boogie Man, clowns, or maybe even a Hippy. I had to stay there under the steet lamp, watch it waggle up there when the wind hit it, see the shadows waggle the same rhythm on the ground, and the snowflakes shooting through in straight lines, into the beam and back out. The snow always makes it, I thought. It has to come all the way from a cloud to the ground, but it knows its way. I knew the way home, too. I could see the porch light, I could see skinny pirates and hoboes going up the front walk and ringing the doorbell. I stepped out of the streetlight beam and headed home.

That is how, in 1969 America, little kids learned how to face scary things.

Many years later, I still don´t like candy corn or licorice, and it is me who has left behind my big sister. There isn´t much snowfall here, but I have a waggling streetlight outside my window. The rain and snow still go straight down in its beam, just like they did 44 years ago in Aurora, Colorado.

There is no Halloween in Moratinos. I did not miss it much for the past six years.

On Tuesday a pilgrim came over, a printmaker from San Francisco. We lazed on the patio, talked in American accents as we basked in the last rays of October sun. I remembered I had a big orange pumpkin on the vine out back, and the little girl in the Casper suit said "yeah. Let´s do it!"

We hollowed out its heart and cut out a face, and made us a jack-o-lantern, perhaps the first Moratinos has ever seen. We put it on the stoop outside, where maybe someone will see it and wonder "what the heck have those people done with that perfectly good vegetable?"

We have no candy, we bobbed for no apples, we saw no ghosts. But a pilgrim came out of the dark, a long-haired boogie man looking for a place to sleep for the night. He sat quietly at the kitchen table and read aloud from St.  Paul´s Epistle to Philemon. He put his name in the guest book, there with all the rest of the hoboes and pirates, heroes and princesses who´ve rung our front bell in the past six years. 

And it struck me: I don´t have to risk my complexion going out Halloweening any more. I don´t have to wear a mask, or pretend to be anything more eccentric than myself. I am the grown-up now, and the characters come to my door. 


Gerry Snape said...

this is so good...I grew up in north ireland and we celebrated it with fun anf fireworks...but my grand girls take it more seriously and maybe lose the fun. How good to have a reading from the "pilgrim"....

sagalouts said...

from one of the pirates/characters to be treated to yours and Paddy's hospitality this was such a good read.