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(HOST) Commentator Stephanie Montgomery remembers when October thirty first was the holiday of homemade entertainments and make-do creativity. And in those days children were heroes because witches were – oh, so real.

(MONTGOMERY) I did most of my trick or treating in the 1950s. All elbows and knees with long braids that flew out behind me, I lived on a lonely road in a small New England town in a big, tum- ble down, colonial house that my parents were forever shoring up.

Woodsmoke, and more particularly, the smudgey smoke of maple leaves haunts all my Halloween memories. In those days everyone burnt their leaves at the edge of the road.

I see my Dad in a heavy red plaid shirt pushing his metal rake at the edge of the pile, and I smell the sweet scent of the gold and
russet leaves giving up the ghost. Sometimes the fires grew
large and I would run in swift circles around and around, lov-
ing my fantastic shadow playing against the giant trees.

A day or two before Halloween my mother would let us loose on the attic where she stored every kind of old stuff. My brother and
I tried on hats and capes, giggling and parading, but we always went out trick or treating in much the same outfits. We were hobos or ghosts, gypsies or circus clowns.

These costumes allowed Mom to pad us against the cold. Then she either blacked our cheeks with charcoal or reddened our noses with lipstick, and off we went into the night.

Although I remember candy corn, we had no other store-bought treats. At our house there was always a big bowl of popcorn balls, and we knew where to go for the best fudge, the prettiest maple sugar candy, and the sweetest pumpkin bread. When we got home and emptied out our paper sacks, everything was stuck to everything else.

Terrifying our neighbors was good fun. They would gasp and hold out their hands to ward us off until we proclaimed who we really were. Then they would chuckle and tease us for having given them such a scare. Then they would ask for a little show before we could have our treat. I was always ready with a poem or a song. My brother knew riddles that stumped everybody.

We also loved scaring ourselves silly. Walking by old Mrs. Curtis’ house we would dare each other to rush up onto the porch and ring her doorbell. One of us always did. We held our breath, clutching each other until her bent shape shadowed the frosted glass, and we both rushed away into the dark shrieking.

The best Halloweens came on chill nights when the wind scared up the leaves and a pale moon rode inky clouds, making long, snaky shadows across our path.

Halloween was a holiday of make-believe when we were encour- aged for just one night to let our imaginations run away with us.

I felt the witch’s boney fingertips plucking at our shoulders. My brother heard ghostly footsteps behind us. We plunged into the dark pageant of ghouls and came home safe. We returned glor- ious, triumphant and rich with sweets.

This is Stephanie Montgomery of Walpole, NH.

Stephanie Montgomery is the Director of Memoir Cafe, an online writing service for women. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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