Today, Halloween, it’s been two years since my father died. He loved Halloween.
I was thinking of him a lot yesterday. The woman at the corner store reminded me that it was “Devil’s Night”, the night before Halloween, notorious for childish pranks involving egg throwing or the knocking or the ringing of door bells. We used to call it.” Nicky Nicky Nine Door”
It made me think of the stories he told around the supper table, especially the ones on or around Halloween. The seven of his children would sit quietly listening to the tales of his youth and his own Devils Night pranks. He told the tales, cautioning us the whole time from doing these things ourselves. In some strange way, it also seemed like he was giving us some good ideas. My brothers and sisters and I would listen to him wide-eyed, eating our spicy hot bowls of chili that our mother had just made that day, occasionally giving each other a “look” or a nudge under the table when his ideas gave us ideas.
My father told us the story about attaching a string to an old dollar bill, leaving it on the sidewalk and hiding behind some bushes waiting for someone to pass by. As they would stoop to pick it up, he and his friend s would pull the string causing the dollar to skip across the sidewalk and out of reach of the passerby.
My father told us the story of him and his friends sneaking into the parking lot of a funeral home at night and releasing air out of as many tires as they could. He told the story, half giggling, remembering the incident from the carefree innocence of a young kid, being silly. As an adult, he was ashamed of that one and warned us strongly to never ever do that. And we didn’t.
He told us the story about the large Manor that was in town. It and the surrounding property had been turned into a museum and public park. At night, young lovers would often hide in the bushes to engage in amorous activities. My Dad told us about one night, when he snuck up on one of those couples, and with his friends edging him on, swatted the young lad, (who clearly was too busy to hear my father’s approach), in the behind. This led to a chase in which my father’s only escape from the black iron fenced park enclosure was over it. That is where he ripped his pants, almost losing them entirely as he hoisted himself over the spiked top.
My mother would shake her head, knowing these stories might entice her children into engaging in some mischief of their own.
My father didn’t seem to think it something to worry about. These were just stories of him and his old gang, as children, being young and childish. He had turned into a brilliant and wonderful family man who was a hard worker, a union leader and fair arbitrator. His old gang, the guys he ran with, had become successful as well, a teacher, a couple of doctor’s, a lawyer.
My father would pause momentarily, heeding my mother’s concern. Then he would rub the top of his head, wiping the sweat that would occur every time he ate her cayenne sprinkled chili. He loved it.
We would encourage him to tell us more.
He would wink at my mother and then continue on.
He told us of the time, he arrived home from a long stay away in the days he played professional lacrosse. He had been gone for months. He came home for a surprise visit. When he arrived there, he found the front door of his family home wide open. He entered inside and called to his mother, “Mom, I’m home”. No one answered. He went to every room in the house singing out his arrival. “Hey everyone, I’m back.” Still no one answered.
He thought he heard a noise coming from the basement. He peeked down the stairs into the blackened corridor. He called out again, “Is anyone home?”
He heard some shuffling around at the bottom and descended down to greet whom he thought was his mother or father.
Instead, just as he was about to reach the bottom of the stair well, a man, whom he described as rumpled and disheveled, jumped out from around the corner of the stairs and started charging towards him yelling some frightening sound. My father turned round and darted back up the stairs and out of the front door and kept running.
When asked where the man went, my father would say, “Who the hell knows, I didn’t turn around to see.”
He didn’t know if it was a robbery attempt or if it was a homeless man who had just stumbled in to a random house with an unlocked door.
We were terrified of that tale, no matter how many times he told it.
My father loved telling us stories of his youth. We loved hearing them over and over again.
With our imaginations running wild and a few good prank ideas under our belts, my siblings and I would head outside for a few hours to play after dinner was finished. My father would caution us on the way out to be careful and stay out of trouble.
The old street where I grew up, a small crescent was abundant with kids; loads of them. We had a family of 9 including my parents. It was the norm to have families of 5 or more. Most nights, after dinner, the children of the street, of all ages gathered for games of hide and seek, “corner corner, alley alley”, we called it. Other days were filled with go-kart races and beauty pageants, games of tag and red light green light.
On devil’s night, we gathered as usual, usually playing a game of “Nicky Nicky nine door”. I’m sure the neighbours fully expected our pranks. It was a small street and most of the time we were knocking on the very doors of the children’s houses that were in our little gang. Besides, we did this while it was still light outside; many of us had to be back inside before the street lights came on.
One Devil’s Eve, a boy on the street made his way up the porch of the house we called the “Duck Man”. He was a mean man, in his 5o’s I think. He yelled at the children on the street throughout the year. He strutted down the street, waddling, like a duck, as if he owned every piece of sidewalk. He didn’t like us riding our bikes past his house, heaven forbid you stepped on his grass.
This boy, I’ll call G, crept up the porch, covering his mouth, stifling a mischievous giggle, as he looked back at our little gang standing on the edge of the curb. “Watch this” he whispered, as he pulled out a bar of soap from his pocket. We were aghast. Not at the bar of soap but at the fact that “Duck Man“must have been waiting and had opened up his inside door of his house and was now standing behind the storm door staring at G.
G, without looking at the door and still staring back at us for feedback to his gag, started to quickly rub and smear the bar of soap onto the door. The gang started to back up, one young fellow started to point, trying to warn G to turn around. He did turn around, staring for a moment. His vision was obscured by the smeared soapy window. He looked closer, and then in horror, discovered “Duck Man”, standing with hands on hips staring back at him. He tried to run. It was no use.
We sat on the curb and watched G scrub the soap off the windows.
You would think we learned our lesson.
A short time later, as we wandered around in the back alley of one of our friend’s house, G once again got a brilliant idea. He plucked a rotting tomato from a garden that had not been harvested, and threw it clear down the alley and onto the street that it opened onto.
I was probably seven at the time. I was one of the youngest ones out that night. My older brothers and sister were responsible for my care. I followed them around like a puppy. They couldn’t get rid of me if they tried. They were always good-natured about having me around. I felt big being allowed to be with them.
G threw one tomato and then another. A few of the older boys joined in, challenging each other to throw farther and farther. It was harmless enough until a car passed by on that street at the end of the alley and then SPLAT!
There was a chorus of gasps and then all out laughter as we all scattered and hid behind the garbage cans and overgrown bushes.
Moments later, after it seemed the car had continued on its way, the ten or more of us gathered again, in the center of the alley. G was reprimanded by one boy. Another boy plucked off another tomato from the vine. Three of us girls, my sister, her friend and I stood off to the side shaking our heads in condemnation.
And then…. two headlights came whizzing around the corner and down that alley, the brightness shining a spotlight on all of us.
“Run”, I heard someone yell. So we did. We just scattered and ran; an all directions.
I don’t know where my oldest brother went, he was always really fast.
My sister grabbed hold of my hand, and we ran through the alley, across a neighbour’s yard, through a gate, down a driveway, across the road and up another neighbour’s driveway. There was no turning back. My sister’s friend pushed from behind for me to keep up. We ran into the darkness, passing one of our street gang member’s feet that were poking out from under a parked car. Another boy was hiding under an ever green tree in the yard of the woman that had the only pool on the street.
The brother closest in age to me, hid inside a garbage can. I remember seeing the whites of his eyes as he placed the lid over his head.
We ran wild, up the driveway, across another backyard, hopping a fence to land into another alley way.
We ran down the alley, until we reached our own back yard where my sister climbed over the garbage stand and then pulled me up from below. I made it to the top and then my sister grabbed hold of her friends hand and pulled her up. Just as we were about to make our leap to the safety of our own backyard, a hand reached out of the darkness and grabbed hold of the shoulder of my sisters friend. She stopped dead in her tracks, eyes wide with fear.
My sister pushed her friend back towards the hand, saying “take her” as my sister and I took the leap into the yard.
My sister and I landed inside the yard. We backed up slowly, strolling almost. We might have feigned a whistle.
My sister’s friend, with shoulders raised and a hand on the back of her neck, disappeared into the night. Moments later, we saw her being escorted to her parent’s front door.
Nervously, everyone emerged from their hiding places and suddenly felt the need to call it a night and head home.
At our house, we put on our pajamas and sat quietly on the couch, shoulder to shoulder, the five of us, not saying a word, not wanting a snack.
This made my mother question us.
My father was also suspicious.
A half an hour later, a knock at the door sent shivers down our spine. The confession of the night’s events was called for immediately after.
My father shook his head at us. My mother shook her head at my father.
We were grounded.
I don’t know why those particular memories came forward in the last two days. Maybe I needed a little nostalgia. Maybe I just wanted to remember my father in a simple way, doing nothing extraordinary other than just being himself and parenting us as parent s do. I wanted to remember the way he was, the story-teller, capturing our attention and feeding our imaginations. I wanted to remember a simpler time, when we were just kids, doing kid things and our Dad was just a dad being our Dad.
That in itself was extraordinary.
Thanks Dad, you were awesome!!!!