"Do you know what one casket asked the other casket?
Was that you coffin?"
Halloween in Frenchtown was much like Halloween in other cities when I was growing up. Kids dressed up, knocked on doors, shouted "Trick or treat!" and hoped for some goodies.
Outside of Frenchtown, in the other more affluent neighborhoods, the costumes were more elaborate, the treats often purchased candy, and the youngsters holding out their bags for the depositing of treats, gaving off a sense of entitlement. In other words, their attitude was simply "give me some candy or something I like, because I deserve it and you owe me!"
Nothing could be farther from the truth in Frenchtown! Our costumes were homemade, usually from clothing or materials having no other reasonable function, such as an old sheet to disguise you as a ghost, bandana around your head and an eyepatch, homemade wooden sword tucked in your belt to signify you were a pirate, or a full apron and a white paper hat indicating you were a baker, and, of course, the old fallback, a smudgy face, handkerchief stuffed with paper and tied to a stick heisted over your shoulder, in order to "disguise" yourself as a hobo.
Everyone knew who we were and we knew them! Pranks? Very few! We had a great deal of respect for our elders, especially since Uncle Lou warned our little band of ruffians, year after year, he'd kick our ass so hard we'd have to open our shirts to shit if we caused anyone in Frenchtown harm. We believed him! It was a threat not needed, but heeded. Besides, he treated us nice and we really loved him and the rest of the Sunday Club. The very last thing we wanted to do was to shame them or cause them to be embarrassed by something we might do, so we were very, very careful! Outside of Frenchtown- totally different matter!
The treats we generally received were items such as popcorn balls, fresh apples, pears, caramel apples, oranges, chocolate brownies, peanut clusters, homemade fudge (God, I loved Mrs. Anderson's homemade fudge), Grandma Thompson's homemade cookies (those were to die for!), and, once in a while, some store-bought candy, but usually homemade treats. We enjoyed them and thanked those who prepared them for us.
One year, some of the neighbors got together and cranked out some homemade ice cream, bunches of it! There must have been forty kids gathered in the yard scarfing down that delicious treat. I later discovered Grandma Thompson organized it and obtained the milk and cream from some of the local farmers who had cows. The ice was donated by the Ice Plant and the neighbors kicked in sugar and other items needed to make the ice cream. It was one of our better Halloweens!
We weren't allowed to go to everyone's house in Frenchtown, only a select few.
"We don't want to overtax their hospitality," Grandma Thompson reminded me, so we wouldn't.
Thinking back, what was implied, but not spoken, was the simple fact there were many people who couldn't really afford a great deal, so be thankful. At the time, the war was over and rationing as well, but not everyone was prospering.
It was that time, just as the war was over and rationing coming to a close, I experienced a most unusual Halloween. Listening carefully, as Hardy and I munched on donuts Pudge made for part of the "Sunday Club's" breakfast, we concluded something was afoot!
The men were being rather secretive, especially concerning the fall duck season, now opened for about a month. We gathered it was a very successful waterfowl season, especially the effort of Ned, Ernie, Walter, Carl, and Vinnie. Those guys loved to hunt ducks and spent every opportunity they had at "Tallywackers." The two scull boats were kept busy!
Halloween Night, after Hardy and I, chaperoned by Grandpa Thompson, finished our round of Treat or Treating, feeling inordinately pleased by our "haul" of goodies, were taken to "Uncle Lou's" where another surprise awaited us!
Grandpa and Uncle Lou, assisted by two older lads who were table waiters at "Uncle Lou's," loaded another car, relatively non-descript, with bags and bags of something while Pudge outfitted us in long, white waiter's aprons and donned our heads with white paper "soda-jerk" hats. Our job, he explained, was to deliver each bag to the appropriate house.
Curious as a cat I suppose, I asked what was in the bags and Pudge just smiled mischievously answering only "something special" and no more. Each bag was accompanied by a note revealing only "From our house to yours on this All Hallows Eve."
The two older boys, one driving, the other sorting out the appropriate bag from the others, drove us from house to house, delivering the bags.
Hardy and I just had to peek inside each bag. In each bag were at least two cleaned, frozen ducks. We were delivering the ducks the "Sunday Club" guys shot, cleaned, and froze to widows, widowers, and those with less in their larder and purses. The larger the family in need, the more fowl were provided. There were five bags with ducks and one large goose. We learned those were for those who lost someone in the now ended war!
Of course, the men shot and possessed more than the legal limit of waterfowl, yet there was nothing on the note or the bags which might be used to identify where they came from. All of Frenchtown knew, but their lips were sealed should a state or federal game warden make an appearance or inquiry.
Hardy and I learned this wasn't the first or the last time Uncle Lou and the "Sunday Club" made provisions available to those in need during the deepest part of the Depression, the years of rationing during the war, or in rough times in general. It was a good lesson for Hardy and me to remember as we grew older – take care of your people and they will do no less for you!
We'd were just finishing a foray into the "better part" of the city Treat or Tricking about the time we were entering Junior High, our bags all holding a goodly quantity of candy and other treats. All our costumes were homemade of course, but a couple, I thought, were quite clever! Moocher and Buzz were dressed up in long, red underwear (you know, the kind with the backdoor flap) with cardboard horns attached to the red beanies on their heads. A pair of devils they were indeed! Skeeter and Sketch were ghosts (old white sheets with holes cut out for eyes). They were in costumes they used for several years. They liked them since underneath they were as bare-assed naked as the day they were born!
We were being driven in one of Uncle Lou's vehicles by a young college guy who worked at "Uncle Lou's." Skeeter was pleased, noting to us, from the front seat, our driver had a very stiff six-inch circumcised cock.
"See," he announced, reaching into the young man's pants and extracting the stiff, throbbing member.
Skeeter waited in the car while we made our first foray down one side of the street. When we returned, his sheet was rucked up around his waist and he had the look of being just fucked good and proper! Moocher decided, while we did the other side of the street, he was ready for "proper rogering," if the college boy was up for it.
"Oh, hell; he'll be 'up' for it," snickered a happy Skeeter. "That prong of his will hone in on your bung like a Mustang Fighter on a Japanese Zero and unload his guns!"
Duly warned, but twitching with anticipation, Moocher dropped his rear flap, climbed in the front seat, grabbed the lad's stiff joy stick, and settled down for a smooth landing.
Our last stop before calling it quits on Halloween, was always Mr. William's house, two doors down from Buzz's. Mr. Williams was in his early seventies at the time, I think, a single man without any family, relatively hard of hearing, living alone with some infirmities due to age. Somewhere, sometime, Buzz and Mr. Williams connected! Buzz always made certain Mr. William's lawn was mowed in the summer and walks shoveled during the winter. He also did errands, such as accompanying him or going it alone, grocery shopping (there was a nice grocery store in Frenchtown not far from our neighborhood) helping him with his housework, and assisted him when he bathed.
If Buzz's mom made cookies, baked a cake, or pie, Mr. Williams was certain to receive some. If there was extra from a casserole or any other meal, Mr. Williams was treated with some as well. Buzz thought a great deal of the old gentleman, to the point he'd save up some cash, if available, and buy a Hershey® Bar for him. On Halloween, if Buzz would receive any for treats, the Hershey® bars went to Mr. Williams.
This particular Halloween, after our foray into the "other" part of the city, Buzz received three Hershey® bars and all were destined for Mr. Williams!
We approached his house, noted the porch was faintly illuminated by a light shining through the living room window. Mr. Williams, barely visible, could be seen sitting in a chair on the porch, evidently awaiting Buzz's arrival, as he always did on Halloween Night.
Stomping up the steps, led by Buzz, our troop of rapscallions seemed to make enough noise to wake the dead! Mr. Williams, head drooped forward, chin resting on his chest, arms in his lap, didn't move!
"Mr. Williams," Buzz called softly, wondering why he hadn't noticed all of us on his porch.
Mr. Williams didn't move!!
"Mr. Williams!" Buzz said more forcefully.
The elderly man still didn't move!
Skeeter, scooted up to Buzz's side, took a close look, shook his head slowly, before announcing, "I think he's dead!"
"No!" cried Buzz in anguish! In disbelief, he reached forward and touched the man he loved as a surrogate grandfather.
"BOO!" Mr. Williams said grabbing Buzz's arm.
All of us, except Buzz and Moocher screamed and ran from the porch!
I hesitated in my bounding down the steps, turned back toward the porch, and saw Buzz in Mr. Williams' arms, sobbing his heart out! Stopping, I overheard him say,
"Grandpa Willy, I thought you died! You're the closest person I ever had I could call Grandpa!"
His announcement brought me to a screeching halt!
"I'm so sorry I frightened you, my dear boy! I love you as much as a grandson and you know that! I fear I fell asleep and didn't hear you come up on the porch."
"I called your name a couple of times," explained a much relieved Buzz, still sobbing lightly.
"I'm certain you did," Mr. Williams said apologetically, "but Lou Thompson brought me a bottle of my favorite wine and I had a glass of it. Put me to sleep, it did!"
Mr. Williams continued to rock Buzz back and forth, holding him close, comforting him, assuring him all was well, and he wasn't dead; a little hard of hearing, but not dead.
The rest of us slowly drifted back up on the porch, bade Mr. Williams a Happy All Hallows Eve, and left Buzz and Moocher with him.
Mr. Williams did pass on a couple years after we all graduated from high school. It was his wish to see Buzz receive a high school diploma, something he'd never received. He suffered a heart attack one evening, and died later that night with Buzz at his bedside.
His home and property, along with all his possessions were bequeathed to Steve (Buzz) Carlson, his "grandson of his heart."
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