Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
When I was three or four, I got my first Halloween costume — a bought costume. My grandfather got it for me at Terrell’s, the five and dime on Main Street in Citronelle. It was a happy witch, complete with black wig, plastic dress, and sparkly hat, not to mention the plastic mask, which was guaranteed to become damp with the condensation from your hot breath in under a minute. But who cared? It was a bought mask.
This is the only bought costume I recall ever having.
I waited anxiously for Halloween to finally come so that I could show off my fancy costume. I was so proud of it I wanted to wear it every single day. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” signaled that the big day was nigh. It only came on television once a year, so you had to be ready or resign yourself to waiting 364 days to see it again. I was ready.
Finally, finally the long days passed, and Halloween came.
Mama helped me into the little plastic dress, arranged the fuzzy, black wig, and stretched the little rubber band around my head so that my mask was just so, and I could breathe and see, sort of. Mama put on her own witch hat and long black dress, and we were off.
We went out to town to trick-or-treat in the little residential grid of three streets that joined State Street to Lebaron Avenue. Back then, you were sure to get more homemade treats than not. Popcorn balls, cookies, possibly a piece of fruit or a dime. Every now and then you’d hit the jackpot and get a caramel apple. I still flat love a caramel apple.
Everybody would be out on their porches, neighbors chatting and trick-or-treaters running up and down the sidewalks shrieking and laughing. There were a few jack-o-lanterns smiling from the shadows, but not really much other decoration. Except for, that is, Mr. Stanley’s house down on First Street. It was big and dark and spooky, and Mr. Stanley would lurk up on the porch in the dark waiting for some unsuspecting young’un to creep up his walkway, the lure of a sweet treat stronger than his fear of the dark. Then, when it was least expected, a ghost would fly down from the porch to greet the innocent. Mr. Stanley would laugh and laugh and then heap treats upon his little victim.
Down the street from Mr. Stanley lived the Carneys. They had a pet monkey that they kept chained to the porch. It wore diapers. This aberrance always struck me as way yonder creepier than Mr. Stanley because he was just scary one day a year. The Carneys and their screaming monkey were bizarre every day.
Back at home, I would sort out all my goodies and gobble up my favorites, at least those that I hadn’t eaten during our trek through town. But while all the confections were naturally a delight, the real treat that year and every year after was the thrill of being out in our little community, walking up and down the streets in the cool, fall night air sharing in all the eerie fun with our friends and neighbors.
I still like to dress up like a happy witch, much to Sonny’s dismay, but it always reminds me of that very first Halloween. If I only had a caramel apple.
Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog folkwaysnowadays.com.