Halloween was not an occasion that I looked forward to as a child. I didn’t know “how” to set my imagination still enough to dress up with what I wanted to meet in the mirror.
One of my fondest memories of Halloween was the excitement of going out with my brothers and sisters, and over to Mr. & Mrs. Neil’s house for Trick-or-Treating. They were neighbors that lived on the cross street away from our house. We lived in a small end of the row home where all the houses had flat fronts with a single marble step that extended from the front door. Mr. & Mrs. Neil lived in a larger porch front house. They didn’t have any children (none that we were aware of .) Then again, they were much older than our parents that even if they had children, they would be much older than we were.
One of my younger brothers worked after school in Ted’s Butcher Shop. He delivered groceries and fresh meats to the Neil family with his wagon a couple times a week. In those days, no one owned a freezer large enough to keep meats fresh for long. My brother was friendly with the Neil family and often remarked about their kindness and generosity that they showed him. We’d eventually come to find their warmth and welcome, too, on Halloween night!
The house usually lay very dark and quiet all through the year, with not even a single light on. There was never a feeling of distance from the Neil family, other than the message that they preferred peaceful solitude. But for some mysterious reason; Halloween was an extraordinary time of the year for them. They opened their home for the children. Back in those days, a simple porch light was the only sign we looked for to know that we were welcome!
We now had an open opportunity to get closer and greet them. We’d walk up to their well kept wood steps and onto the front porch for Trick- or- Treat. I can remember as clear as if it were today, the feeling and the sound of the creaking porch floor that somewhat spooked an unknown presence all around me! There were two wooden rocking chairs side by side and a cord of firewood that sat in the corner. We stood on the porch for a few minutes knocking on their door before they answered. We were the Skeleton, the Cowboy, the Indian, the Witch, the Ghost, the Hobo and the Beatnik. With our large brown carryall bags opened wide, we joyfully greeted them with “Trick- or- Treat!” Mr. & Mrs. Neil opened the door with delighted smiles on their faces. We somehow knew that our presence was truly welcomed. They addressed each and every one of us and tried to guess which one we were? We patiently stood there while we perspired under our half mask and anxiously waited for our treats.
From outside of the doorway you could see the large bushel of apples and a huge jar with coins on their table. You couldn’t help but notice the exceptional kindness they shown to one another as Mrs. Neil gave us an apple and Mr. Neil limped towards us to put some coins in our bags. We were young and innocent to ask how the limp ever came about, or ask any questions about their family. We thought it wasn’t our place, and had so many in our own family to concern ourselves with.
When our night came to a closing, we’d all go home and empty our bags of chocolate bars, tootsie rolls, candy corn, and apples on the kitchen table. I didn’t have a love for candy so the treats that stood out the most were the red apples and the pennies from Mr. & Mrs. Neil. And the most joyful surprise came from finding a nickel or a dime in the bottom of our bags! A nickel or a dime was a small fortune to find at that time. I was still excited, even though I didn’t find one in mine. I’ll never forget how it felt walking on the creaking wood porch, the smell of fresh apples, and the jingle of the pennies that dropped in our bags - And most of all our warmest welcome on the porch that somewhat spooked an unknown presence all around us.
Perhaps, the mystery of Mr. & Mrs. Neil were angels in our neighborhood that knew how to dress up and welcome every child to this wondrous presence on Halloween night.
Causes Catherine Nagle Supports
Westwind Foster Family Agency, Christian Children's Fund, Compassion International, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Invisible Children, Save the Children