Every fall, my psyche runs back through time then stops and waits expectantly at the locked door of my 1960s childhood.
Beyond the door is a blazing autumn where my parents are alive, where the tempo of a Saturday is set by the scrape-scrape rhythm of rakes and not the overflowing weekend schedules of harried parents and anxious kids.
The aroma of burning leaves floats heavy on crisp air. Burning is still what people do with raked leaves, because it seems practical, they love the scent and they haven’t yet learned it’s unhealthful.
And Halloween – oh, don’t get me started on Halloween. On Halloween we children wear our costumes to school where we are then woman-handled by an all-female brigade of teachers into squirmy, happy, hyperactive lines and paraded through the neighborhood. Stay-at-home wives and mothers, preschoolers and old people wave at us from windows and doorsteps.
Of course there’s always a certain amount of identity crisis on Halloween. If I don a devil mask and my mother laughs, “I always said you were a little devil,” I wonder what that says about me.
One year I am Donald Duck and, since I am too small to trick-or-treat alone, my father holds my hand and off we go. My mother is passing out treats and my brothers are trick-or-treating with friends.
It’s hard to see with the mask and my father helps me up the mile-high steps of a house and onto the front porch where a neighbor stands with a bowlful of candy.
“Why who could this be?” asks the neighbor, knowing full well who it is.
“Don’t tell her who you are, T.C.” my father stage — whispers, as though my part in this exchange requires careful coaching. At no point does it occur to me that he’s just blown my cover by using my nickname, the one by which everyone in the neighborhood knows me.
My four-year-old conscience is instantly rattled. Should I be polite and tell the neighbor who I am or risk rudeness by listening to my father?
“My goodness!” she gasps. “Could it really be Donald Duck standing at my door? The Donald Duck? Why, that would be such an honor!”
Should I tell her that no, it really isn’t the Donald Duck, it’s just T.C. Skelton from three doors down? Hesitantly, my hand moves to the chin of my mask and starts to nudge it up. I prepare to break the truth to her that I’m not really a celebrity, I’m . . .
“But really, now I have to know!”
Why can’t these grownups agree? I can’t stand the pressure. I shove the mask to the top of my head so that now it is a Donald Duck cap. I cry out, “It’s me, T.C.!”
When the neighbor and my father are delighted with my response, I am proud of myself for making the right call in such a pressure-cooker situation.
And then my father walks me home where my mother is waiting. My brothers burst in with their candy. Now those are a couple of little devils.