Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist
Halloween 1946 was a dismal one for me. A week or two before, I had had a tonsillectomy, and under strict doctor’s orders, I was to stay in bed and then stay at home and miss school and other fun things until I was pronounced free of any side effects or risk of infection. My paternal grandmother came to see me, and true to her Sicilian upbringing and Catholic faith, she brought me a small red woolen square fastened tight with fastidious stitches that she pinned to my undershirt, smiling as she did so and bestowing God’s blessings for a safe recovery from my operation. Inside was a small piece of palm, a small oval picture of the Sacred Heart protected by cellophane stitched with red yarn around the edges, and a neatly folded scapular. I still have the last two items.
Of course going out Trick or Treating—or as we called it “Halloweening”—was out of the question. But how I envied the fact that my big brother and his friends from Derby Street had that privilege while I could only stay at home and watch as they went from house to house, soon losing sight of them as they roamed further and further away from the familiar neighborhood.
But the next year and years after that a small group of us would begin our candy quest, starting toward Brooklyn Square, a short block away, and turn down Harrison Street where a few of my grade school friends lived where we could knock on doors and be rewarded with whatever treats were on hand, some times a piece of fruit or small change that a family man would dig out of his pocket. Halloween candy, which nowadays comes in definitely seasonal wrappings–even plain old chocolate bars—didn’t make it to my immediate neighborhood. A Hershey bar looked like a Hershey bar and was a Hershey bar, if you were lucky enough to get one! And we learned which houses would welcome goblins and which we steered clear of.
Rounding the corner to walk south on Allen Street, we were curious enough to knock on the door of St. James convent to see if the Sisters Of Mercy were handing out any treats—not my idea, but that of Catholic School friends! So we did, on a Halloween night that I recall had gotten very cold, cold enough to have a few snowflakes in the air. Knock, knock. Silence. Should we stay or leave? The door creaked open—it was a large old house—and a Sister of Mercy stood in silhouette. The inevitable “Good evening, Sister” came to our lips, which was echoed stiffly, along with “Come in, please.” There I stood, shivering in my gypsy costume, while The Sister looked me over with a critical eye. She fingered the purple shell necklace I was wearing. “Where did you get this?” “My mother bought it for me to go with my gypsy costume, Sister.” Hum. “Are you wearing lipstick?” My mother had barely stained my lips with some. “Yes, Sister.” “Why?” I dutifully: “To go with my gypsy costume, Sister.” By that time, I think she thought very little of my mother. Nevertheless, we were given a yellow paper napkin filled with a small helping of candy corn and tied with curly ribbon. “Thank you, Sister.” And off we went. I’m sure I told my mother every word that I have written here!
And I have one more story to tell on myself. I don’t think I was quite school age when my father decided to bring me Trick or Treating to a few neighbors’ houses, because he probably got a bigger kick out of it than I did! Not really understanding what Halloween was all about, I dutifully said “Trick or Treat” and received whatever my neighbor had or searched to give me. As I mentioned, my neighbors really weren’t all that prepared to hand out candy, but Angeline Galati, who was all smiles as I made my way up the steep back stairs to the second floor apartment where she and her family lived at 25 Derby Street holding my father’s hand, reached into her kitchen and handed me a pomegranate! I had never seen one before, but I hugged it to me. It was mine. My father, I’m sure, on our way home, told me the name of the fruit, which, somehow sounded not unlike a word I had learned and tucked away in my early vocabulary. I was excited, climbing the stairs to our second floor apartment at 17 Derby, anticipating showing my mother my prize. I’m sure I was all smiles when I held out this foreign fruit and said, “I got a telegram!” My mother was convulsed, and I could hear my father laughing behind me. “You got a what?” she said. And, of course, I repeated, at their delight, that I had gotten a telegram! I’m not sure how I even knew the word “telegram” but some how the two words sounded awfully similar to me, and that’s how this story ends. Except, of course, it went on and on through the family over the years, as those things do.
I don’t go out Trick or Treating any more, but a few years ago, my dear friend JoAnne Callas and I went pumpkin picking at DeWolf’s Farm in New Egypt, NJ—not too far from where I live in Jackson—so I leave you with this photo of the author in a pumpkin patch! Happy Halloween!