It’s not just that my major addiction is candy that makes Halloween my favorite holiday, it’s the dressing-up part. It’s such a great excuse to be someone else, even if only for a night. Our mother made our costumes. All the mothers did.
As a kid venturing past our usual boundaries, neighborhood-wise, way past our bedtimes, leaves crunching underfoot, shuffling in the cold dark, it was the most exciting event of my whole year.
With the exception of my birthday, Oct. 31 was the only date I held as sacred. I spent hours, days, months, fantasizing about what I would go as.
All I ever really wanted was to be a princess, but because you had to wear a warm coat over your costume, it almost didn’t matter what was underneath. The year my mother finally made me the pink faerie dress with yards of tulle and the homemade silver tinfoil tiara, I ran a fever and couldn’t go out. I remember sobbing, I’m fine. Please Mommy, let me be sick tomorrow, Mommy please! I was put to bed with castor oil and orange juice, and a consolation comic book.
There was one house that was off-limits to all the kids from Bluehills Avenue all the way to Lyme Street. Every parent gave the same lecture: Do not go near that crazy doctor’s place. It’s a known fact that children who even approach that place disappear and are never heard from again.
The year my sister was 13 and I was 9, we went out as Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, and as we rounded the corner out of sight of our parents, who stood in the doorway greeting the other trick-or-treaters, she took my hand and said, We’re going to Dr. Lorie’s. Horrified, I stopped in my tracks and said, “You can go. I’m not going. If he doesn’t kill us, Mommy and Daddy will.”
They’ll never know, she said. And aren’t you curious?
I said, No, I actually like living.
Don’t be a baby, she said.
The last thing I wanted, aside from not being dead, was to be a baby. So off the beaten path we trudged.
The house looked like the Addams Family must have used it as their model. It was like a Shirley Jackson castle, foreboding, with a high black iron fence that surrounded a whole city block. The gate actually creaked when we opened it. My sister looked a bit shaky herself, and I tried to talk her into leaving. But even in her fear she was determined. She pulled the heavy knocker a few times, and when no one came, I turned around ready to run. But then the door squeaked open and the oldest woman I’d ever seen stood in the crack and asked what we wanted. I don’t know how my sister could even muster up sound from her voice box, but instead of saying trick-or-treat, she said, as if we had an appointment, “We’re here to see the doctor.” And the woman opened the door and beckoned us in. She led us into what she called the chapel. It was a small room with three pews and a tiny stained glass window. She asked us to wait. After what seemed like two lifetimes (the ones my sister and I were about to sacrifice) a small man came in and looked delighted to see us. Ah, he said, you’re here because you probably would like to hear my story.
I didn’t say, I’m here because I was coerced, and please don’t kill me.
The little man launched into a tale that at the time seemed like science fiction, but now seems perfectly possible. He said, “When I was a boy, we didn’t have the kinds of games kids have nowadays. So we were left to our imaginations. One winter day we were playing outside, jumping from curb to curb. I missed and fell on my head. And by the time the ambulance arrived, I was dead. What I remember most vividly was meeting God, who said, You are not ready. I will send you back with special gifts. You will be a healer. And I returned.”
I was still stuck on the “I was dead” part, but when he said, Come, children, and led us outside to the backyard, which was beautifully landscaped and stretched for that entire city block, I followed.
Here, he said as he pointed to a small rock, is where I landed when I hit earth. I keep that rock as a reminder.
You have probably heard rumors and all kinds of terrible things about me, he continued. But they’re not true. He brought us into a library where there were hundreds of newspaper articles and letters with testimonials from people whom he’d healed. And then he showed us headlines that said he had been arrested for practicing quackery and shut down. And in the saddest voice he said, So you see, I don’t heal anyone anymore.
We were mesmerized, definitely not afraid anymore. I felt terrible for him. He said, I have special powers and I don’t get to use them to help people anymore. Here, he said, hold out your hand. My sister held out her hand, and he placed his just above hers. Now, he said, do you feel the heat? And she nodded her head yes, and he said, Now do you feel the cold? Shocked, she said, “Yes. Do it to my sister.” I had the same experience. I felt heat coming from his hands and then freezing one second later.
My sister thanked him, and said she was sorry that all that had happened to him. But we really had to be going. I can’t remember if I said anything. I also can’t remember if we told our parents, and I can’t remember if we ever went back.
But I know Halloween is still my favorite holiday and it’s not just the candy. It’s still the fact that you get to try on other personalities. The real costume my sister wore that night was courage, and the one I wore was trust.
These days, with so many mothers working, Amazon has replaced the homemade tinfoil tiara. In fact, as we all know, they have anything anyone could want.
Except I don’t think they sell the ones we wore that night.