It was probably one of my favorite holidays as a child. I can only guess that my love of costuming and putting on makeup and crazy clothes went hand it hand with my constant desire to be somebody else.
Now, there are a lot of reasons why we might want to be "somebody else" when we're a child. When you think about all the things that adults are allowed to do, as opposed to somebody between the ages of five and, say, eighteen, it's easy to understand wanting to escape. Like putting on your grandfather's suits and hats for fun, it is that strange urge to be taken seriously coupled with "dress up" time.
I can recall wanting to be so many different people--most of them famous--like James Bond, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker or Paul McCartney (or any of The Beatles for that matter).
But it's funny to think that I never wanted to be another child.
It was always somebody older.
Here is a picture of me and my grandfather from Halloween 1979.
My precious grandfather, Alex is wearing his devil mask. His nickname as a younger man was "Alley Cat" due to his supposedly legendary prowling. So this mask, I'm guessing, is more than a little apropos.
But see, I didn't go for any sort of kiddie costume. I wanted to be a thousand year old mummy!
And so I was.
And my mother brought me to the appliance store.
And from there we traveled on to a costume contest somewhere near Seekonk, MA. I remember that it was kind of not allowed to have kids from outside the area compete. But my mom was never one for rules that might impinge on character-buliding for her little prince.
So we went to the contest.
I paraded up on stage.
I got some applause. And I can only imagine what is making that lady on the right laugh like that. I was, as they say, a "precocious" child.
And then, the whole mess of people from the Seekonk, MA area got up and we were judged.
And I remember winning some movie passes to the Seekonk Cinemas (a huge deal for a nine year old).
And I also remember another woman there being somewhat upset that the kid from Fall River (a good twenty minute ride away) won something at the Seekonk Halloween Costume Contest. She had words with my mom who politely brushed her off. Nobody was taking away her baby's glory . . . or his movie passes.
I'm not sure if her child didn't win because of me. But I remember sitting in my mom's green Volvo and taking off my mask and tearing open the envelope with the movie passes in it and celebrating with my mother like we had just knocked off the Fall River Five Cent Savings Bank.
It was a moment.
I remember being very young--maybe seven or eight--and asking, pleading and begging my mom to take me to this haunted house I saw written about somewhere. It was way far away in Connecticut, probably at least an hour or so.
But my dear mom packed up the car with me, my aunt and my grandmother and we made the trek out there . . . for her little prince.
And I got out of the car and saw the line of people. I saw they were mostly big kids--teenagers--and I saw the lights flashing from inside the haunted house. I heard the screams of the actors and I heard the screams of the patrons.
And I screamed, myself.
And I started to cry like a little baby. I ran back to my mom and clasped her around the leg like a three year old. I wailed "I'm sorry, mummy! I'm too scared."
And I'm sure she looked at my aunt (who never did have kids) and there was an unspoken exchange that said, more or less, "You knew this would happen, didn't you, Judy?"
And she made sure I was sure.
And we got back in the car--wet cheeks and runny nose and all--and we drove the hour and change back home.
It was a moment.
Here in the present day we have a super duper new Haunted House in the next town over. It's supposed to be the best around, and the line to get in stretches for blocks.
But I'm too scared to go. For real. Me, a big baby clinging to my mummy's leg.
Times don't change so fast after all.
I've written about this before but Halloween was also a very dangerous time on my street.
We were the only street in our neighborhood that took it upon ourselves to plant a tree on the sidewalk. It was a big undertaking, but my mom and aunt wanted to plant something alive in memory of my grandmother on the otherwise dead cement sidewalk. So they planted a birch tree and it was beautiful.
But every year we would be at the mercy of the hoodlums (as my mom would call them) who had a strange penchant for slicing off the bark of the tree for fun.
I never understood this and still don't. But I guess destructive behavior can manifest either inwardly or outwardly.
But every Halloween we would sit on the porch and give out candy all the while watching that tree and letting everybody know we cared.
And then they'd eventually have to go to bed and wake up and find somebody had sliced up the tree and they'd spend hours putting that black gunk that heals the bark on it.
To me at that age it was like a terrorist attack. And I suppose on some levels it was. We just thought of it as the loss of morals and the depraving of America.
And then I moved away.
I try to always remember when I see things like new trees growing on the sidewalk, or street art, or even just some holiday inflatable displays, that I, thankfully, live somewhere where you don't have to stay up all night on Halloween and protect it.
I didn't move here with that in mind. I was just trying to escape. But as I grew older and can see things with perspective it makes me happy I made this choice.
Sure, there are incidents of vandalism here and there. That happens no matter where you live. But where I come from--at least when I lived there through the 1970s and 1980s--you just couldn't have nice things in plain view.
Not everybody learns how to appreciate what they have. And when you don't--or can't--appreciate what you have it makes you want to take from somebody else. And because you have no perspective you have no idea what these things mean to the people they belong to.
You take their moment but you don't end up with anything in the end. And that's probably the saddest part of it all.
But here in our little town of Florence, Massachusetts--two and a half hours west of Fall River--we'll have our Rag Shag parade tonight. The people of our village gather at a little park and have costume contests--open to anyone from anywhere--and then everybody walks the 1/8 mile through the closed off Main St down past our house and to the civic center. Then they have donuts and cider and break off from there to trick or treat.
We always have to rush back to our house where the kids are already at the door. I just made a "Boo Back Soon" sign (how clever of me) to put on the door when we leave so the kids will know to come back.
Then we spend the next few hours handing out candy to the many various age groups who come knocking. I've been here for six years now, and I'm sure that some of the kids have been coming here since they just learned how to walk. It's nice to be part of that function of time.
It's nice to be part of other people's moments.
And it's great to be old enough and stable enough to be part of these moments while keeping some for yourself.
Because these moments become memories. And these memories shape us. These memories--even if we think we don't really have many we can recall--they become part of our decision making.
They become part of our value system.
They become part of our character.
They become us.
And when we eventually leave this earth they leave with us.
That's why I write about my memories. I'm writing so that my memories don't become lost forever. I'm writing because I don't have children to share them with. I'm writing because I don't want to forget them myself. And I'm writing because it makes me feel good.
My mother and aunt used to come to Northampton frequently between 1994 (when I moved into an apartment on Eastern Avenue ) and 2006 (when my mom became too sick to travel long distances).
They would come here for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes just to check up on me, to bring me food to put in my fridge and cupboards. And often to come see me perform.
One of the places that was always so wonderful to play in is the Academy of Music. It's a 100+ year old theater right in the heart of downtown.
Photo: Richard Christian
I got to play there with Drunk Stuntmen when we composed an original score for the 1924 silent film, "Peter Pan."
Here's a picture of me and my mom in 2000 taken at the foot of the stage right after it was over.
In later years she would come see me perform there (with my aunt, of course) when the Young at Heart would play there. I remember how much fun it always was to peek out from back stage and try to find where they two of them were sitting. As most performances are general admission it was rarely the same exact seat, but you could be sure that they would be somewhere about five rows back and smack dab in the middle.
In fact, when we would go to the movies my mom had a habit of counting the seats up and dividing in half to see where the absolute middle was. It was important to her.
So when I got word that the Academy of Music was having their first ever capital campaign to raise money for renovations I was intrigued. Their plan was to restore the walls and all the fixtures back to the original colors from the first iteration of the theater.
They were going to put in new seats, too.
And for a donation of a certain amount one could dedicate a seat.
One could preserve a person's memory.
One could take hold of a moment.
And so I did just that.
And I wrote and asked if they might be able to find a spot somewhere in the middle. If they couldn't that was fine--I'm not special. But if they had an opportunity it would be most appreciated.
And so, on October 17th Jodi and I got gussied up and went to the premier of the Academy's first original play Nobody's Girl with just a row and a number: row E seat 105.
So we looked for it.
And we found it.
Right in the middle of the fifth row.
With a perfect view of the stage.
And I almost cried.
Because I could see her sitting there watching her boy.
I could picture the bright floral blouses she loved to wear. I could see the soft, faded denim overcoat whose pockets were always stuffed with cough drops, candy and tissues. And I could hear her applauding for me, her sister at her side, both so proud of my progress.
I could see it.
I could picture her just looking at me up there, thinking of how her little boy who looked so natural up on a stage in Seekonk, Massachusetts in his martial arts mummy costume in 1979 had grown up to be up there for real in cowboy boots, jeans, his guitar and amplifier.
It must have been a moment--a few of them.
And now I can safely say that their names are preserved for the foreseeable future.
They may not grace any structure in the town they are from. There is no plaque on any tree or a bench near a bus stop. Because it would be exposed to the elements and God knows what might happen if some unruly kids wanted to just go out and "have some fun."
No. Their names are on a chair--a comfortable one at that--smack dab in middle, the fifth chair out of nine, in the fifth row back in a town they wished they had moved to. And they always used to joke around that they were going to sell their house and buy the carriage house down the street from me and move in to keep an eye on me.
They liked to talk about that, but I knew it would never happen.
And what's almost as perfect as being in the middle of the fifth row?
Well, whenever anything happened or they were excited about something they had a funny affectation: they would always exclaim, "Eeeeeeeeeeeee!" long and loud. I think it was a Portuguese/Fall River thing.
Well guess what? Remember what row they got?
How about that for a moment?
How about that for a memory?
I think they'd be happy.
And more than that they'd be thrilled that I got them both on there--two for one!
They always loved a good deal.
Now I have to get ready for the kiddies. They need their candy and their parade and their walk around town.
Jodi and I are happy to be part of it and we've got costumes to boot.
It's a good life, and it's these moments that make it so.
Happy Halloween, and thanks, as always, for reading.
PS: I suppose this has all come full circle--this whole dressing up as somebody older. Because this year my costume is going to be a Young at Heart Chorus member. And to join that club you gotta be 73.
So how about that for closure?
Funny, funny stuff.
And if they saw me in this getup I'm sure they'd say to me, nice and loud, "Eeeeeeeeeeee!"
Miss you guys, always.