In 1968 I was living with my adopted family. It was all pretty new to me. My new brothers built me a treehouse, which was super-cool! My sister would take me out in her Mustang and let me help shift (I’m pretty sure her hand was over mine during this and that she wasn’t trusting a 5 year old with the transmission). Our house had a little stream behind it and I spent several hours every day there catching crayfish, frogs, and salamanders.
When autumn came it was wonderful. We had a fire in the fireplace every night, my brothers would rake all the leaves in piles – we never got tired of jumping into them, and of course there was Mischief Night and Halloween.
On the upper mainline of Philadelphia, where I grew up, the night before Halloween was called Mischief Night. This was the night of toilet papering trees, egging windows, etc. One time my brothers and their friends were out on this night. Somehow (no idea how) I ended up with them. They were playing ding dong ditch but thought it was hilarious to ring the bell, run away, yet leave me standing there speechless when the homeowner opened the door. I have no idea what I said, but I didn’t let it happen a second time.
Most years my brothers didn’t go out on Mischief Night but would pick as many crab apples as they could to fill my mom’s big pot. Then they would climb out my bedroom window to sit on the roof and pelt anyone who dared come into our yard.
Halloween was a whole other ball game. My mom made sure we got whatever costumes we wanted. One year I was on cloud nine because I got my Caspar the Friendly Ghost costume (see above-shouldn’t it say flame retardant?) I remember the plastic face mask with elastic band was hard to see out of and I had to keep lifting it up while walking from house to house to line the eye holes up with my eyes. This was the old days when there were no set hours to trick or treat. Basically once the sun set it was go-time and you stopped when everyone’s porch light was off.
We went all over our, pushing the boundaries of our neighborhood. There was no need for plastic pumpkins with handles or specialized trick-or-treat bags, we just used pillow cases and we came back when they were full. There was one house that always gave out boxes of Sun-Maid raisins. Granted, this was an older couple who were probably trying to help us get something healthy to eat, but on Halloween who wants that? Certainly not us. But we always stopped there because they also gave a nickel to everyone for their UNICEF boxes. Our elementary school made sure everyone went home with an orange “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” box. I think that nickel was all that was ever in mine when I brought it back to school. No other families offered money and I don’t remember asking for it. I was afraid that if the person answering the door heard me say “Trick or treat for UNICEF ” they might give me money or candy but not both, and I certainly didn’t want to risk losing out on chocolate. Selfish, I know.
We’d return home with our bounty and each of us would take a section of the living room to spread out our goods. We’d sort all our candies by type, have our mom give the once-over to the homemade items (yes, back then caramel apples, popcorn balls, and homemade cookies were still given out) while my brothers would tell me tales of razor blades hidden inside apples and poison in cookies. While on safety patrol of our caramel apples my mom’s hand would dart out here and there grabbing Reese’s (for me, the ultimate in Halloween candy). It was a small price to pay to make sure we didn’t die. Lucky for us my mom didn’t have any candy rules, we ate until we felt it was time to brush our teeth and sleep! Best of all my mom handed out sodas – coke, root beer, and orange soda. So we had plenty to wash our candy down. Thank God my mom had good dental insurance for us.
We had two other great Halloween traditions. One was getting our pumpkins at Duncan’s Farm because I could pet the ponies. They kept two ponies in a corral there and I loved being able to visit with them. The second was one of my Girl Scout leader’s family had a haunted house in their barn. It was an old fashioned type of Halloween with bobbing for apples, putting your hand in boxes to feel the witch’s eyes (peeled grapes) and her brains (cold spaghetti noodles).
My mom was a single mom. She was a real estate agent. She excelled at what she did. She worked hard but she also tried to save money whenever possible. My brothers and I would pick crab apples and somehow she was able to create three different flavored jellies that she stored in mason jars for the year.
Another autumn ritual was the crayon melting. She would get me new crayons for the school year (the big Crayola 64 pack – every year I was so excited to get a new one). In return I gathered together all of my old crayons, whole and broken, removed the wrappers, and she melted them down. After melting them down they were poured into cupcake wrappers, wicks were added, and they were set to harden. These were called “fire place starters” and that is exactly what they were for. One was put under the logs in the fireplace, a few pieces of paper were added on top of the logs, you lit the wick, and you were done. One evening my mom was having guests over – people I didn’t know and I’m not sure if they were house hunting or sellers, or if they had something to do with her political life. I was given two tasks before they arrived: empty all the trash cans in the house, and start the fire in the fireplace. Not having hit puberty yet I did not know anything about menstruation. I decided since I already had paper trash from my mom’s bathroom, I’d use that as the paper on top of the logs in the fireplace. The fire started blazing, the flames licking the bottom and around the side of the logs but not touching the little pile I’d put on top of the logs. As the guests pulled into our driveway my mom came down the stairs, glancing into the living room as she headed to the door. She passed by and then immediately backed up screaming. I had no idea what I’d done wrong but she had me grab the tongs and pull the tampon wrappers off the top of the logs.
Shortly after I was adopted I was in my bedroom waiting for dinner to be ready, just sitting on my bed. I was facing my bureau and mirror. In front of my eyes something began to appear in the air about 4 feet above the left side of my dresser and then fell on to it. I ran over and it was coins! It was 81¢! I couldn’t believe it. I ran downstairs and asked my brothers which one of them did this. I wanted to know how they did it (my sister was off at college at this time). Both of my brothers denied doing it but I didn’t believe them. Over the next few weeks I continued to question them but both swore it was not them. I believed them because of their sincerity and because if one of them had done it they would finally have needed to boast about it. In fact, they didn’t seem to believe my account of what had happened. Finally, I stopped talking about it but even 5 years later when my mom remarried and we were packing to move, I went into the attic and looked for holes in the insulation or wood to see how this was managed. It was not until many years later that someone told me about apports. An apport is a “gift” from the spirit world. Usually it is supposed to be from a spirit that knows you and the gift should have some sort of significance. For me coins are coins, there is no special significance attached to them. In this context all I can think is that perhaps it was a spirit of a relative from my birth family. I was still new to this family and perhaps before it happened I’d been scared or feeling alone. I know I missed my foster parents a lot. Maybe the apport was just a way to cheer me up and let me know someone was watching and caring for me. Of course, back then I didn’t think of it as coming from another realm, I only wanted to know which of my brothers pulled this trick off and how.
My family went to St. David’s Episcopal church. Every fall they had a fair and I would get so excited about this. For me the highlight of the whole thing was the Go Fish booth. I couldn’t believe others, such as my family members, would waste their money anywhere else. Other games didn’t guarantee a prize. At the Go Fish booth you picked up the plastic rod, cast your line off into the opening of the cardboard booth, and pulled it back and a prize was attached. Easy, peasy! Not being a gambler, the only other game I liked was the baby pool filled with yellow ducks. You picked one and got whatever prize was written on the bottom of the duck. There was always a prize listed, you never lost. We’d arrive at the fair and immediately split up.
St. David’s has a “new” church on one side of the street but the fair was held on the side with the “old” original church built in 1715. This is where my sister got married. It was also where they held Good Friday services. The Good Friday services lasted from noon until 3, had no music, black shrouds covered the cross and windows, and as a little kid this service seemed to last forever. Whenever I think of the old church it brings up a feeling of dread. Near the church were old stalls and they were put into service during the fair – I think they may have been selling things in them but since my time was spent fishing and grabbing floating ducks, I didn’t really notice. The graveyard is just past all of this. There are some famous people buried there such as General Anthony Wayne. Along one side of the graveyard are some small mausoleums that a few families owned. I do not know who it was, but one year I ran into a boy my age that I either knew from school or Sunday school. We went off by ourselves exploring the graveyard and talking about the fair. I must have been about 8 or 9. One of the mausoleums was open, which was not normal, and I walked in. Thinking it was funny, he pushed the door shut and I was locked in. He ended up having to get someone to get groundskeepers keys and get me out. It was only about 10 -15 minutes but it seemed like hours to me. This was not a movie style mausoleum that you could walk around in, you literally could only take a step or two, which has contributed to my fear of running out of oxygen. I am fine in elevators but put anything close to my face like an MRI machine and I need Xanax.
Green Valley Stables was next to my junior high and I would go there after school every day. I had taken weekly lessons for years but as I began showing horses and getting more involved I worked grooming horses, cleaning tack and stalls, and saddling lesson horses to pay for extra lessons. I used to go horseback riding throughout Valley Forge Park. It was beautiful with all the leaves changing, the covered bridge at one end, and cantering over the hills. The stables was right on the edge of the park, next to Valley Forge Junior High (which is now a middle school). Green Valley Stables is long gone.
Great memories like these, the beauty of the changing leaves, and sweater weather (no more summer heat but not the biting cold of winter) makes autumn my favorite time of year.