It is Oct. 31, 1951, a bitterly cold Halloween. My mother and I are rushing home from the neighborhood bakery in the late afternoon, as the fading rays of sunlight blink at me from between the stores along Merrick Road. My mother is pushing my sister in a big baby carriage and I am running alongside, trying to keep up and, at the same time, to keep my eye on the white bakery box with the charlotte rousse tucked inside. The sponge cake, the heavy whipped cream, and the cherry on top — I can practically smell it through the white cardboard.
The wind blows, and we lower our heads into the cold air as we push along, hurrying home. My mother is nervous, urging me to move along faster as we turn a corner onto a residential street. Just then, some teenage boys come running around the corner and knock into us, laughing and shouting and trying to “get” one another with big, thick sticks of colored chalk.
My mother yells at them to be careful, and they run off. My mother, though, is frightened, and seems worried about getting home before dark. I ask her what the boys are doing, and she says the big kids sometimes “chalk” people on Halloween, and that seems about as scary to me as anything could be. I walk faster.
All these years later, although nothing at all happened to us, I remember the tension of that walk and the relief of getting home and closing the front door behind us.
Later, my dad helps me put on my gypsy costume, and we ring doorbells up and down the block, collecting candy. The mystery of being out after dark on Halloween, the slight tingle of fear down my spine, feel delicious, as long as my hand is tucked into my dad’s. No big boys will chalk us on our own block! When we get home, we dunk for apples in the big yellow bowl my mother usually uses for baking, and I eat my charlotte rousse, with a Tootsie Roll chaser. How could I know then that it was a Norman Rockwell moment?
Looking back, it seems a fine and fitting Halloween, with just the right amount of fear to spice the afternoon and just the right amount of sugar to sweeten the evening. It was 62 years ago, but it seems like 200, for all the ways the world has changed.