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Mr. and Mrs. Neils:

Halloween Presence

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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 single dwelling house at the corner. The houses on our side of the street had flat fronts with marble steps 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’d be much older than we were.

One of my younger brothers worked in Ted’s Butcher Shop after school. 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 darkly 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 trembling 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 Frankenstein, the Cowboy, the Indian, the Witch, the Ghost, the Skeleton, and the Beatnik. With our large brown paper bags opened wide, we joyfully greeted them with “Trick- or- Treat!” Mr. & Mrs. Neil opened the door with delighted smiles on their faces and invited us in. We somehow knew that our presence was truly welcomed. They addressed all seven of us and tried to guess which one we were? We patiently stood there while we perspired under our half mask and homemade costumes anxiously waiting for our treats.

From the foyer where we stood, you could see the large bushel of apples and a jar with coins on their kitchen 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 slowly limped towards us to put some coins in our bags. We were young and innocent but mannerly enough not to question how the limp ever came about even though it stirred our fears a bit.

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 at the bottom of our bags! A nickel 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 I trembled walking on the creaking wood porch, the smell of fresh apples, and the jingle of the pennies that dropped in all our bags – and most of all our warmest welcome on the porch that somewhat spooked an unknown presence of light.

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