When we moved to the country, we had to take the bus to school. The Catholic kids sat up front, and the public kids in the back. All the Catholic kids were then let off at St. Francis Catholic School, and we walked a block and a half to the public school. On the way past St. Francis, I put my fingers through the chain link, cyclone fence and watched to see how the Catholic kids play. I noticed they played a lot like us, but I knew in that church they had other games, games like Catechism, some weird hybrid of catacombs and hypnotism. And the girls running about all in their plaid dresses and the boys in their blue shorts and white shirts. I wondered if, when Halloween comes, they all have to be little plaid witches, and holy ghosts with short pants and white shirts.
Whap! A ruler struck my fingers through the fence.
“Nuns! Run for your lives, it’s the Nuns!” So when Halloween arrived and mom asked me what I wanted to be, I said, “A nun. I wanna be a nun.”
“No,” she said. “Kevin, nuns are peaceful, god-fearing people.”
Was she buffaloed or what? “A monk? Can I be a monk?”
For some reason a monk was okay. But when choosing a Halloween costume, I always liked to choose what I feared most, in hopes of overcoming the terror by living in the feared thing’s skin. My brother always picked a costume by how he wants to exact vengeance on the human race.
One year he went as the devil. The costume was a plastic mask and red suit from Snyder’s Drug store. After the candy was handed out, he told neighbors simply that he would see them in hell. He never said it like a threat, more like, “See ya’ later.” Then he would stand in the doorway, his happy little blue eyes peering form the inside of the mask. The affect was unnerving. Neighbors were calling for days wondering if Steven was mad at them for some reason, and whatever that reason was they were sorry.
That year he was a Choctaw warrior. Mostly because he liked the word “Choctaw.”
So, I was a monk, and my brother a Choctaw warrior, out for trick-or-treat. His enthusiasm was low too. Now that we lived in the country, there were only two houses within walking distance of ours. About a block from the house, I turned and saw my mom was nowhere in sight. I flipped my hood around, pulled up my white turtleneck with the hole cut in the throat, and presto chango, I am a nun. Ava Maria, climb every mountain. I had a ruler hidden in my sock. Now it was the nun and the Choctaw warrior. We arrived at the first home, and knocked on the door.
“Trick or treat.”
“Oh, trick or treat. Well, look at you. What are you?”
“Luc laham chock chok femna haknaw,” my brother declared.
“He says he is a Choctaw warrior, you silly white woman.” I translated.
“Heavens, and you?”
“A nun,” (laugh). Ava Maria I pulled the ruler from my sock.
“But nuns are peaceful god-fearing creatures.” She was buffaloed just like mom. Then she took out a huge bowl of candy, dumped half of it into my bag, and the other half into my brother’s bag, and said, “It’s so nice to have children in the area.” She closed the door and was gone. We’d only been to one house and our bags were full. We still had another house to go! The nun and the Choctaw warrior were dancing down the street.
“Oh,” my brother said, “We should have brought the UNICEF cans.” We next arrived at an old dilapidated farmhouse. All the lights were off and the windmill in the yard squeaked as it turned in the cold, grey, wind. Spooky. I knocked on the door. It opened with a creak, and there, sitting in his front hallway was Mr. Mershing. Mr. Mershing had pulled his Lazy Boy recliner to the front door, and next to him was an end table, and on the end table were two jars of pickles. One marked “edible.” The other marked, “Halloween.”
“Trick or Trea—”
“Oh, trick or treat,” says Mr. Mershing. “Well, do you boys like pickles?”
“We love pickles. We can eat a million pickles.”
“Oh, you can eat a million pickles?”
“A million, more or less.”
“Well, how about one of these?” And Mr. Mershing took the jar marked “Halloween,” unscrewed the rusty lid, reached into the jar, pulled out a pickle, and set it on the table. These are the largest, and unnaturally greenest pickles I had ever seen. Mr. Mershing handed one pickle to me and one to my brother, licked his fingers, and rasped, “There you go boys, and you can have as many as you want, but you must eat them all in front of me.” No problem. My brother and I took our pickles.
“Cheers,” and started in. I took a large bite, and¼.and¼ahhhhh, it’s so hot. Ahhhh, my eyes watered, my forehead itched and I had a smile on my face, but not because I was happy. It was because my cheek muscles were pinching so hard my lips were trying to crawl around the back of my head. My brother had a smile too, but he wasn’t happy either. I coughed, wheezed, and finally choked down the rest of the pickle.
Mr. Mershing said, “Would you like another?”
“Of course we would. Pickles are supposed to hurt like this.” We ate pickle after pickle, Mr. Mershing laughing the whole time. At one point he joined in, chomping on a scary looking gherkin and sweating and crying and choking right along with us. And every year we returned to see who could eat the most Mershing pickles.
Then one year Mr. Mershing stopped handing out pickles. There was a house where Mr. Mershing’s garden used to be. The next year a new house where his house used to be. I asked my mom what happed to Mr. Mershing. She told me, “Kevin, Mr. Mershing was a homesteader. That means he lived on that land, farming it. Until one day, the government said it was his to keep. Mr. Mershing worked that land until the city started to move out here. Then his taxes grew to where Mr. Mershing couldn’t afford his land anymore. And that’s when they found him in his garage.” He’d hung himself.
The following year my brother and I visited Mr. Mershing’s farm. We toted full bags of candy from the housing project that had sprung up in the area. We both dressed as Nixon that year, for very different reasons. When we got to where Mr. Mershing’s house was, I asked my brother if he was afraid. He said, “No.” I’m not either. I knew if there was a ghost it would be Mr. Mershing, and when we left, I was sad that he never came out to scare us.