When I was seven or eight years old, we lived in a working class neighborhood of Rockville Centre, Long Island. It was all blue collar, the place my mother wanted to emerge from, to rise out of. But for me as kid it was largely paradise.
Sure, there were scary moments. They weren't Halloween-y. They had more to do with the older neighborhood boys who abused small girls for sport. We had no words then for "abuse." The damage they did has had lifetime repercussions for some kids I knew then.
I was lucky. No one messed with me. The younger boys on the block were my pals and we played marbles, trains, softball together.
On Halloween, I was allowed to go Trick-or-Treating with my best friend Caren. My neighborhood only--Caren's apartment was off limits. Even then, we only knocked on doors within a three block radius, and mostly we approached houses we knew.
Rebecca's house next door to ours offered heaven for us candy-seekers. Her mom dressed up as a witch (we didn't love that, it kind of freaked us out). But Rebecca's mom made candy apples. And they were memorable. That was more than 50 years ago, and I can still see the red, and taste it. O my goddess!
We weren't afraid to take unwrapped candy from our neighbors. We revelled in it, we rolled in it, we made ourselves sick and then we got over it.
A few years later someone put a razorblade in an apple--or at least, that was the rumor. And childhood was over, in some ways.
For Rebecca, our neighbor, childhood had ended sooner. Her father used to beat her. He was not the only father on the block who punched his kid. No one said anything. We had hedges around our house; the Berlin wall was still up; we were not supposed to know.
That funky witch who was the mother--why didn't she know? Or was she a punching bag, too?
We have made some progress. These days the cops will come on domestic violence calls. We have language for what oppresses us, and battered women's shelters.
My poetry class is reading Marie Howe's book, "What the Living Do" and Lucille Clifton's "Blessing the Boats." Both authors were hurt by their fathers; and the mothers did not protect.
Literature bears witness and educates us. Halloween holds scary creatures, but none so scary as those that live cloaked in righteousness as our next door neighbors.
Listen to the children. They know what's going on.
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.