Three weeks before Halloween the sign would go up. Right outside of our neighbor’s front door. Usually atop plastic decorations, mock spiderwebs, and tarantulas or pumpkins that would let us all know the most anticipated holiday of our year was finally here. We didn’t know why or how this tradition had started, or even how long ago, but the truth was we didn’t need to know. It didn’t matter.
All we knew was that as soon as the sign up sheet went up, all of the kids at the Bali Hai apartments would line up to sign up for October 31st. Every day after that, we would walk back up the stairs to the neighbor’s door and check to see how many more of our friends had signed up as well. From then on, that was all any of us could talk about too. Our parents didn’t care much for Halloween. It was a holiday most of them had never heard about in their home countries. It was silly, crazy, even sacrilegious my mother would say.
Esas son cosas del diablo… ¡Ay qué feo! Por qué mejor no se compran otra cosa, she would always suggest. And nevertheless every year she would concede to at least letting us buy some black and white makeup for our annual Dracula costumes. Yes. All three of us (my two brothers and I) would dress up as Dracula for Halloween every single year. It was the easiest costume we could all put together with one package of costume makeup and three capes. Besides those simple additions, we’d all wear our good running sneakers, our nice collar shirts with black slacks, and maybe even a little red makeup for the bloody effect. That was one of my older brother’s favorite last touches to give himself around the eyes and the mouth.
Just as we would jump out of the restroom and into the kitchen to scare our mom, the van would honk outside, and all of the neighborhood kids would come pouring out in their Halloween best. None of us were wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, so our costumes por lo tanto were improvisational at best. We had the cholos with eyeliner-painted mustaches and bandanas on their heads, the princesses with dollar store tiaras, the fairies with civilian clothes and miniature wings strapped across their backs, the more affluent of the bunch with actual store-bought costumes, and then of course, the three traditional Draculas that would never dream of missing all of the fun.
Doña Pera would drive us, all squished up like sardines screaming and yelling in anticipation, all the way to the River Oaks neighborhood nearby where all of the riquillos lived back then and still do. Ahí sí que nos dabamos gusto. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was kid back then, or that in actuality Halloween was an entirely different celebration during those years of my life, but I remember having the best times running up and down the streets collecting entire plastic grocery bags full of top of the line candies. Snickers, Butterfingers, Skittles, at some places we would get entire chocolate bars for ourselves. And the decorations, man were they amazing! It was as if the entire neighborhood would spend the entire year planning and preparing for just that single night, to spook us and give us one of the best night’s of our lives every single year.
On the ride home we’d laugh and make jokes, fight over candy, trade stories, and scarf down a couple of our favorite treats before we had to check every single candy in front of our parents to make sure they hadn’t been tampered with. Even the slightest tear or loose end would result in candies being thrown in the trash because they were too much of a risk. At least a third of our candies were lost to this process every time. Still, even with all the trashed loot, between the three of us we would almost always end up with a couple of months worth of candy. Eventually we would agree to mix all the candies together into one large shared pile, and then eventually we would end up fighting over which candies belonged to who.
Those Halloweens were really magical.
Ironically, it wasn’t until this past weekend when my older brother and I were reminiscing about these memories with our wives that I actually wondered why Doña Pera had even started this tradition to begin with. She didn’t have any necessity to do so? At least not that I knew of. And none of the children that she would transport were actually her own… and still, every year the list would go up and the van would show up on Halloween Day. It also made me realize I never had the chance to properly thank her.
Doña Pera, if you’re out there, muchas gracias for the kindness and the memories.
I hope you’re still out there delivering smiles to children’s faces on Halloween Night!