Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Rites of Fall in the Acre

Photo fr. Pintrest
I truly believe I was given a gift of being brought up in the right place at the right time- the Acre of the late 1950s. One of the first rites of Fall was the hanging of the storm windows. Now anyone under the age of 55 will have no idea of what I speak. In the cellar of the tenement I was brought up in were stored the 14 storm windows that had to be put up when the leaves changed, and taken down when the lilac buds showed. These windows weighed as much as a full grown adult and had to be lugged up the stairs and brought outside for cleaning. Our apartment, like most of the time, had no central heat- just a space heater and the kitchen stove. Having ice form on the inside of the windows was no foreign occurrence. Back to the storm windows.

My father would take out his wooden, 6 ft step ladder. The one that listed at a 45 degree angle. As he said, it was in perfect condition, why get a new one. With a mouthful of 8 wood screws per window, he'd climb the ladder. I would also climb the ladder doing a flying Wallendas routine of holding the window against the house and standing on the opposite side of the ladder from my Dad. Misters Black and Decker had not invented the portable screwdriver yet, so good old Dad, with lightning speed would attach the windows. This was also the time that I learned how religious my father was as he called out to "Jesus Christ Almighty" so many times.

You knew it was really Fall when my mother would hang up the Indian corn. You don't see a lot of that now. Many houses today have blow up figures, strings of orange lights, and plastic pumpkins on the doorsteps. My folks would never waste money by putting a pumpkin on the step. We'd open it up and roast the seeds in the oven. My aunt would make pumpkin pies. But my mother used the same Indian corn for years.  The sad part was that birds, rain, and the years got to the corn, and each year she hung it up it looked more like she was hanging up just the cob minus the kernels. She often bragged how many years she kept the same corn with the faded bow.

Another rite of Fall was walking by Waugh Street and waiting for the horse chestnuts to fall. Before the blight which wiped out many of these beauties, Waugh Street was chestnut tree lined and became our own little "run the gauntlet." A horse chestnut is covered with hard spikes. When it falls from the tree it resembles a medieval torture instrument. The trick was to run under the trees before being brained by the spiked bowling balls. It was most fun on a windy day to see who could collect the most chestnuts without suffering a concussion.

But the best rite of Fall was Halloween itself. I don't remember buying a costume. I think I was a hobo from ages 5 to 11. When I turned 12, I revolted and was a vampire. I thought I was cool with a cape and blood dripping from my mouth. That's when I learned not to use red Magic Marker as fake blood. It was also a let down when a friend pointed at me and said vampires never wore glasses. So I took them off, and then looked like a blind vampire tripping on stairs and walking into doors. That was my last year of trick or treating.

What I remember most is getting my paper, orange, trick or treat bag from Greens in downtown Lowell. I think it cost a nickel. It was nothing more than an orange paper shopping bag, but by night's end it would hold a bounty of cavity producing treats. My Dad was often given the chore of walking with us. It often became a history of the Acre lesson. Being an Acre Boy himself, he'd tell me this is where he helped light the gas lanterns when he was a kid. Or this is where the Keyes sisters lived and he'd run errands for them. We'd walk by Lovejoy's mansion where UMass is now. Everyone knew it was haunted, and I'd walk a little closer to him. He'd pretend to see ghosts in the broken windows. One year right in front of Lovejoy's it started raining, hard, and my little trick or treat bag got soaking wet and broke. I was in a panic. Do I stop and pick up my candy, or do I let the ghosts drag us in to Lovejoy's basement and my mother would never see us again? I did what any 6 year old would do. I cried. My father said another prayer to Jesus Christ Almighty, put as much candy into my little hobo hands as could fit, picked me up, and walked me home.

No comments:

Post a Comment