This past weekend, as we put up the bevy of large and small electrified Halloween pumpkins that grin and grimace from our entryway, our 3-year-old granddaughter,Ava, who last year was frightened of them, squealed with delight.
She calls them “Grampy’s pumpkin patch” and the first night they went up, she dragged my husband outside about a half-dozen times to take a look at them. From her perspective, they must look spectacularly big and creepy.
As I brought out some of the other decorations – one of my favorites is a whimsical witch my Mom hand-stitched with colorful purple, orange and green fabric – and filled little ceramic jack-o-lanterns dishes with candy corn, I was cast back, as I am every year, to the Halloweens of my youth. One has stood out, and it has taken me years to figure out why.
Growing up, I was always fascinated with a large house up the street from ours, its circular driveway and cream colored, rounded façade lined with large vertical windows was a real departure from the single-story ranch-style homes that mostly filled our neighborhood. I thought it was elegant, like a home a movie star would live in.
The home was occupied by a reclusive elderly lady and her white cat, who would languish in the windows, gazing lazily out at the sparrows which flitted among the many pomegranate bushes that lined one side of the yard.
My brother and I would occasionally pluck one of the huge pomegranates dangling on the edge of her property, split it in half, and sit on the curb giggling as we popped the plump, juicy kernels, warm from the sun, into our mouths, our hands turning red with juice. I wonder now if the woman who lived in the house ever watched us enjoying her fruit. A sixth sense tells me probably so.
We hardly ever saw our neighbor with the pomegranate bushes, yet each Halloween, as we trooped up her driveway dressed like witches and superheroes, pillow cases in hand, we would find a bowl of hand-made popcorn balls, wrapped in colored cellophane and tied with ribbons, in a fancy bowl next to a simply carved pumpkin.
We would each grab a ball and run back down the driveway, my brother polishing his off before we got back to the street. I always brought mine home for my parents to inspect for razor blades or poison, and my parents always declared our neighbor’s handmade treats perfectly fit for consumption. My Mom would remind me that our neighbor probably came from a time when Snickers, Mounds and Pixy Stix didn’t exist and that homemade treats were how kids used to celebrate Halloween.
I recall that as I tentatively took a bite of that first homemade popcorn ball, how much better the buttery caramel tasted than some of the sugary standards we coveted. As a result, I overcame my silly fear of being poisoned by our neighbor (I think I worried she was mad at us for stealing her pomegranates), and garnered a new admiration for her which, in my youth, I couldn’t quite put a finger on.
Though I know our neighbor is long gone, I wish I could go back and knock on the door to her grand house and thank her for the trouble she went to, making those old fashioned popcorn balls. I realize now that the feeling I had as a kid came from an innate sense that she showed us kids we mattered enough for her to take the time to make them.
And I’d ask her about the Halloweens of her youth, when a sticky, hand-made popcorn ball was a real treat indeed.
Lynn Selich can be reached at [email protected].