|Mama and one of the twins, age 14|
Mama was little, never bigger than a 12-year-old kid, and her younger sister Eva, who we called Pete, wasn't much bigger. The Halloween my twin brothers Hall and Harrell were 15 they blackened their faces and went out “slamming gates”, i.e. begging at doors for Halloween candy.
It was 1944 and wartime. Everything was rationed and pickings were slim. Mama ran out of treats early. Pete was visiting and Dad was working "evening tower", which meant he wouldn't be home 'til 1:00 am, so Mama and Pete decided to dress up like "hobos" and go out slamming gates themselves.
They blackened their faces, stuffed their hair under slouch caps, pulled some threadbare work clothes out of the rag-bag and laced some of the twins' old boots over their own shoes. They looked pretty good, like a couple of half-grown boys, totally unrecognizable.
They walked a few blocks over to a row of houses where Mama didn't know the neighbours and hit a rich vein. It wasn't long before their sacks started filling up. They were feeling pretty pleased with themselves when a familiar voice hailed them from behind. "Hey! What you fellers doing in our territory?"
They turned around to face a gang of 15-16 year boys, including both of my brothers, and they didn't look friendly. One of the twins was swinging a sock with a fist-sized load of marbles tied in the end of it. "Gimme that sack kid,” he said to Mama, “or else I'm giving you a thump on the head with these marbles."
Mama narrowed her eyes, and steam just about came out of her ears, but she didn't dare speak. She handed over her sack. "And you too," he said, pointing at Pete. Pete reluctantly handed over her sack. "Now git!" he said and he hauled off and thumped Mama one with the sock of marbles on the side of the head, catching her just above the eyebrow.
Mama reeled from the blow, then she and Pete broke and ran for home, scrambling and stumbling in their too-big-boots, mocking laughter following them.
Now Mama had an Irish temper that was scarce contained on a good day, and this was turning out to not be a good day. As soon as she and Pete got home she clomped down to the basement and sawed the last two-and-a-half feet off of an old broomstick. Then she stomped upstairs, took two aspirin, wrapped a big chip of ice from the icebox in a wash rag, put it on the lump above her eyebrow and sat down at the kitchen table to wait for the twins. Her blackened face was not as black as her mood.
It was a school night, and it wasn't long before the twins came through the door laughing and hooting, carrying several sacks of loot. They roared into the kitchen and came to a screeching halt when they saw Mama and Pete in the guise of the two "hobos" they had robbed and assaulted an hour before. Mama pulled the washcloth away from her brow to expose the purple goose-egg there, and the dried rivulet of blood.
She stood up, broomstick in hand. "Boys, it's like this," she said thumping the sawed-off broomstick into her palm with a certain slow and menacing rhythm. "You give me your sacks, and the satisfaction of beating you with this broomstick until you holler uncle, and I'm willing to tell your daddy that I ran into the doorjamb in the basement in the dark. Or you keep your candy and I tell him what really happened. It's your choice."
Well, Mama and Pete got their candy back plus some, and she bruised the twins up pretty good with that broomstick, because they were just too proud, and too stubborn, to holler uncle. She finally just wore herself out and had to quit.
I'll bet they told me that story me a dozen times when I was growing up, usually as we suited up for Halloween. Maybe that's what made me think of it now, as Halloween approaches. I wasn't even born when it happened, and now I'm old and all of them are gone, and being a sentimental old fool it makes me cry to think I'll never see, or hug, or kiss, or fight with any of them again. My only comfort is any old Russian proverb says, “Our ancestors live, as long as they are remembered.”