My First Halloween
I don't remember if I was four years old, or five, but I do know that it was my first Halloween, and for some reason my mother and I were at my grandparent's house near Meadowview, Virginia. Papa Joe and Grandma's house. After supper, my Aunt Irma turned to me and said, "It's Halloween, Nancy Kate. You can be a ghost."
Irma left the table and I followed. In her room, Aunt Irma tossed an old sheet over my head, trimmed the bottom, cut holes for eyes, and slits for my arms. "There. Now you're a ghost," she announced. "What's a ghost?" I asked.
My aunt didn't know what to say. She pursed her lips and sighed. "Oh, Nancy Kate.... a ghost is part of Halloween. It's a white thing that floats out side in the dark..... It's a spirit of a dead person."
Dead ! Once I saw a dead cat on the road. I knew what "dead" was. Underneath the sheet, I touched my face. I tugged at my hair. "Aunt Irma," I fearfully asked her, "Am I dead yet?"
"Of course not, Nancy Kate. You are a little girl." She turned me toward the mirror and lifted up the sheet. "See?" Then Aunt Irma put the sheet back over me. "Now you are a ghost." She turned and walked out of the room, leaving me alone in front of the mirror.
I stood in front of the mirror for a while, looking at myself while I lifted the sheet up and down. I whispered, "I'm a girl. Now I'm a ghost. A girl. A ghost. A girl. A ghost." Once I was certain that it was still me in the mirror, under the sheet, and that I was not dead, I went to the kitchen.
Everybody made a big fuss about me. "You make such a cute little ghost!" and "Ooooo! A ghost! It must be Halloween night!" I still didn't really understand what a ghost was, and this Halloween stuff was unsettling. It was the late 1940's. Television, in-door plumbing, and refrigerators were still uncommon in this area of rural southwestern Virginia. Bands of roving costumed urchins begging candy were not part of my experience. Halloween? I had never heard of it.
Grandma patted my hand and told me our neighbor Miz Rector wanted to see me. Aunt Irma would take me. I wasn't interested in going anywhere, especially to ol' Miz Rector's house. She was the oldest woman in the world! She had white hair that stuck out in all directions. Her skin was thin and white and papery because she never went anywhere. She had blue eyes that turned into two needles when she looked at you. Her hands were all boney and knobby, and there were big blue veins on them that stuck out and looked like blue snakes. She always wore the same old white apron and her kitchen smelled like sour milk. "It's dark outside," I said. "I don't want to go."
My mother scolded me. "Nancy Kate. It's Halloween, and Miz Rector is waiting to see you. She's an old woman, all alone in that big house on top of the hill. You are going, and that's all there is to it."
My grandmother smiled and patted my hands, sticking out of slits cut in the sheet. "Nancy Kate, you run along now. Be sure to give Miz Rector my love. I haven't seen her in years. My, my, how we used to talk and talk and carry on." She looked away and smiled a quiet smile with her eyes.
Aunt Irma and I left Grandma's kitchen and followed the oval light from Irma's flashlight as it bounced across the path. When we walked around the coal shed, I saw something that I had never seen before. A silent, fire-y, scowling head seemed to float in the air next to the path! I cried out and turned to run away, but Irma tightened her grip on my hand. "Stop it, Nancy Kate. It's only a jack-o-lantern." Irma calmed me and wiped my tears. Then she told me how she and mother had carved the pumpkin and put a lit candle inside it. "It's part of Halloween. We thought you'd like it. We didn't mean to scare you." I thought that this Halloween thing must be pretty important. I remembered the big pumpkins that I had seen in Papa Joe's garden. Irma lifted the lid off the pumpkin. It was black from the candle, and it smelled like pumpkin pie. The inside of the pumpkin was brilliant orange with orange strings dangling down. I smiled and felt better, so we went on. We walked past the barn and the hen house into the dark, sweet smelling apple orchard. There were night sounds, creaking branches, an occasional falling apple.
I thought of day-time trips to Miz. Rector's house with my mother or Aunt Irma. We brought Miz Rector eggs from our chickens, and Miz Rector gave us butter that she churned from her cow. Sometimes I would pick a bunch of sweet-pea flowers and give them to Miz Rector. She'd put them in a jelly jar, but Miz Rector never said much to me. I couldn't think of any reason she would want to see me on Halloween - especially with a cut up sheet over my head!
I squeezed Aunt Irma's hand as we climbed up the steep hill toward Miz Rector's house. It was a long walk, and I didn't like the dark. Finally, we were in the field, the stars twinkled, and the lights from Miz Rector's house seemed to pull us, making the final steps easy. A smiling jack-o-lantern sat on her porch next to the wringer washing machine.
Aunt Irma tapped on Miz Rector's kitchen door. Miz Rector opened it, and when she saw me, she stepped back. "Oh, my gracious!" she said. She wrapped her hands around her elbows and shivered. "My goodness sake! It's a ghost! I'm scared! I'm so scared! Oh me, oh my, it's a ghost!" I yanked off the sheet. "Miz Rector, it's me! Nancy Kate!"
Miz Rector laughed and laughed. Her eyes sparkled. I could see that she never really thought it was a ghost at all. Miz Rector was playing with me. I never knew that ol' Miz Rector could play! Aunt Irma smiled and folded the cut up sheet.
Miz Rector looked different that night. Her white hair was all pinned up in a tidy little bun. She was wearing a blue flowered dress and a clean white apron. When we went inside, her kitchen didn't smell like sour milk. It smelled like gingerbread. We sat down at the table, and Miz Rector served us gingerbread with warm apple sauce on top. She winked at me while we ate. I thought, Miz Rector sure can make good gingerbread. I told her that Grandma "sent her love".
Miz Rector sat still for a bit, she looked far away and said, "It must be ten years since I last seen your Grandma. I probably won't leave this hill until I die. And Nanny sure can't walk up it no more neither." Her eyes looked little misty when she said, ‘You tell Nanny that I think about her and I remember all the times we had together. Nancy Kate, you carry my love back to her." She reached across the table, smiled at me, and patted my hand. I noticed that her hands looked a lot like my grandmother's hands.
I still remember that night. When Aunt Irma and I were leaving, Miz Rector leaned down and stroked my cheek. "I want to thank you for walking up that big old hill in the dark to see me, Nancy Kate..... Did you know that Halloween is my favorite holiday?"
And then she told me that she could still remember her first Halloween. Can you imagine, I thought, Miz Rector's the oldest woman in the world and she can still remember her first Halloween!
"I can't remember if I was four years old, or five," she said, "but for some reason, I was at my grandmother's house......" She smiled with her eyes, and nodded slightly, "and I was a ghost."