Saturday, October 28, 2006
All Souls Day
My mother also prided herself on making good us good costumes for Halloween.
She had no use for store-bought outfits, the cheap plastic junk that rolled off some assembly line in Hong Kong.
Oh, no, not when she could whip up something 10 times better with just a needle and thread.
I think the pinnacle of her costume-making career was the one Halloween when she dressed up my sister and me as Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy.
My memories of that time have faded, and I have yet to find any photos of us in our outfits, but I do recall distinctly that we were the hit of the neighborhood.
My brother Peter and I used to team up for Halloween. He was older so he was stuck with the job of watching me. We had good times, though. Back then it seemed like the whole world was comprised of three or four blocks, like a small town.
There was streams of kids going from door to door, no parents necessary back then, and we got tons of this godawful stuff that we actually considered a treat (except for the candy corn, which I always hated!) Today I wouldn't even look at that crap, let alone eat it.
We had to be home before it got too late, of course, because the older kids, the bad kids, would come out like vampires and go egging--pelt people, buildings, and cars with eggs. Or they'd spread shaving cream all over you.
The day after Halloween always looked like a war zone with egg shells and dried shaving cream all over the place. It was considered a pretty serious crime back then, but of course, this was years before Columbine.
I also recall pelting each other with socks filled with chalk dust. I don't know if this was a Halloween-specific event, but we usually did it around that time of year. We'd put on old clothes and pound each other, covering our clothers with various colors. It only hurt if someone didn't break up their chalk into small enough pieces.
A lot of Halloween's have gone by and I haven't dressed up in something like 15 years. To be honest, I really don't care much for Halloween.
As I kid I loved the scary movies and, of course, the candy, but as an adult it just leaves me cold. Any magic connected with the day left me when I was about 10 and it never came back.
I don't know, I consider myself a pretty creative person, but when it comes to a Halloween costume, my mind goes completely blank--I have none of my mother's vision.
I tell my friends that I'm the Ebenezer Scrooge of Halloween. You keep it in your way and leave me to keep it mine.
Last night I tried to get into the spirit by going to a haunted house on Union Street in Brooklyn. I didn't think I'd enjoy it, that I was too old for this sort of thing. Maybe I am, but it was good silly fun and I'm glad I went.
My two companions and I actually got a pretty good scare when we got separated from the rest of the group.
It was pitch black in the place and I thought it was part of the show, that we were being cut off for a reason. But no, we were just seriously disoriented.
"They don't know we're here!" one of my friends wailed. "We've got to call somebody!"
Yeah, like who? The fire department? We'll say we're trapped in a haunted house, please come save us. I think I'd prefer to stay lost rather than resort to that.
We were getting pretty antsy when one of the performers finally yanked open a door and shouted "go to your right!" in a ghoulish baritone. I don't often get directions from the living dead, but I decided not to argue.
Of course right and left lose a lot of their meaning when you're in total darkness, but we eventually caught up with the others in our party and emerged from the haunted house alive and reasonably well. I'm glad we didn't call anyone.
Pick A Card...
I took another walk through the spirit world this week when I went looking for some important family papers.
My father is still in the nursing home recovering from a stroke and we have to produce a whole series of documents if we want to admit him as a full-time resident. Naturally, I have no idea where most of this stuff is.
For some reason, they want my mother's death certificate and the deed to her cemetery plot. I have no idea why they want these things, but I also know it is useless to argue. They want it and we have to give it to them.
I thought I'd hit paydirt when I found this weathered envelope from the old Lincoln Savings Bank, where my mother used to work.
However, instead of important papers, the envelope was filled with old mass cards of people who had died years ago. I found the card for my grandfather, my mom's dad, who died when I was less than a year old. There was a card for Monya Donahue, who died in 1975. She was the sister of my then-best friend and she died so terribly young.
There were others: Fiore Vaccaro, August J. DeFazio, Jenny Nelson, my dad's mom, a honor roll of friends and family who have gone on before us. I also found a scapular with images of the Virgin Mary and a title reading "Our Lady of Mount Carmel Pray for Us."
That felt strange, since my mother died on that day, July 16. She was born on Assumption Day and I like to tell people that she came into this life with the Virgin Mary and went out the same way.
My grandmother gave my mom the middle name "Assumpta" to commerate the holy day, except the doctor, who wasn't Italian, put down Susanna on my mother's birth certificate. My mom always said her middle name was Susan.
I found the death certificate in a box under the bureau in the dining room. It's strange to see my mother's name on this form, to see this a loving, vibrant woman, who made children's costumes and loved ceramics, reduced to a name and statistics on sheet of paper. It seems terribly unfair.
There was a small case in the box as well and I knew instantly what it was: a viewfinder with glass slides of my parents' wedding back in 1950.
These slides are incredible. They're actually three-dimensional, and the color is so vibrant, it feels like you walk right into them and join the celebration. Viewing these pictures is like going back in time.
There's a slide of my mother in her wedding dress sitting before a mirror in our house. My aunt is on one side and my mother's reflection looks right at you. She is so young, so beautiful, I can hardly breathe when I look at picture.
Another slide shows my dad pouring my mom a glass of beer at the reception. With the 3-D effect, it feels like you can reach out and pick up one of the rolls on the table and that color is so intense it keeps my parents young and happy forever.
I found a great shot of them standing behind their wedding cake and kissing each other to beat the band. Their marriage had a lot problems, to put it mildly, but that photo is so romantic that I can forget about all the misery that was to follow.
I never realized what a handsome man my father was. Growing up, he was always overweight and slovenly, but in these pictures he is trim and so good-looking, I can see why my mother fell for him.
It's hard to believe he is the same man who is now in a Coney Island nursing home, making obscene comments to the nurses and claiming he's the victim of a conspiracy to keep him at the place. I guess he really isn't the same man anymore, is he?
I saw my grandmother, who died when I was in the fifth grade, smiling as my mom pins a corsage to her dress. Behind them there is a sign on the wall reading "God Bless Our Home." I saw my grandfather, whom I do not remember at all, walking his daughter down the aisle of Our Lady of Angels.
I've heard he wasn't terribly fond of my dad. My father tick grandpa off by calling him "Pop" the first time they met. And anyway, my father was Irish, and that was enough for to rub my old Italian grandfather the wrong way.
There's my Aunt Margaret, dancing with her brother, the groom, and she's smiling ear-to-ear. Margaret's hands are now twisted by arthritis and she needs a walker to get around, so there's no more dancing for her.
And there's my Uncle Mike, my father's brother, and the official black sheep of the family. Mike died earlier this year, but in this photo he's smiling broadly and holding a little girl in his arms. I have no idea who that child is, but I reckon she's probably a grandmother by now.
My parents told me they had a zither player at their reception who did performed the theme to The Third Man, which was very popular back then.
I wrote a novel back in the 80's--no, it wasn't published--that featured an old man who spent his days looking at the slides of his daughter's wedding. The daughter had run-off one day when her son, the hero, was a little boy.
Toward the end of the book, the bad guy barges into the house and breaks all the slides while the old man cries. I made sure that bastard paid dearly for his sins.
I saw the name "Donbar Studio" on the slides and the address of 10 W.47th Street. I googled it, knowing it was highly unlikely the guy who made these slides was still around. I found a place in Strasburg, Va. and I'm tempted to contact them, ask if they ever had a place up here.
So now I'm sitting in the same house where my mother was photographed on her wedding day. I'm the only one here, everyone else has died, or moved away, or, like my father, is in a kind of limbo.
I guess I'm something of a ghost myself now, walking up and down the hallway. Maybe I should put a sheet over my head.
I've done pretty poor job of organizing the family papers, but I am going to take care of these slides. I'll guard them with my life and anytime I feel like visiting my relatives I'll just crack up the case and stop by and say hello.
God bless our home.