It is the end of an idyllic summer on Tanglewood Street in Daytona Beach, Florida. My sister, age 6, is excited and practices her Frankenstein walk all afternoon and I, age 8, can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror. A magical transformation has taken place. I am a black and terrifying spider. It does excite me to pretend to be what I am not. It is fun to feel strong and confident behind that mask against a scary world.
It is 1942. The Second World War is on everyone’s mind; a different sort of scary.
There are newspaper collection drives. We gather old rubber bicycle tires as a basis for raw material that eventually become a part of the Armed Services equipment sent to England. Some people hoe Victory Gardens behind their homes as a way to help the war effort. Some grow lettuce patches for a salad or two, but I only remember failing as a farmer who mulched a strawberry patch but nothing came of it before the bugs took over. Air Raid Wardens in hardhats knock on your door if you forget and leave a porch light on during a practice for an Air Raid “blackout”. As a child of eight, I am aware of war and what it means to be “male” and how lucky I am to be a girl; never forced to go to a place from which I may never return. I feel this is unfair. How is it that courage is demanded of some and not of others? It leaves me confused. I try to make sense of my world, but fail.
Halloween has been, traditionally, a time when people ‘celebrate’ and laugh at the fearful, the future or the scary. It becomes an outlet for facing superstition, magic and things that go bump in the night that cannot be explained and so the farce continues. Each generation tries by wearing a mask of their own and challenging the fearful.
My sister and I walk the darkened streets of downtown Daytona Beach that night with our mother between us, holding our hands. It is a grand, candlelit fantasy; the singing, the dancing, the costumes, the candy…before the truth of war descends and I feel small again.
(re: photo is pic of my sister (she’s Red Riding Hood) and myself (far right) dressed as some kind of Spanish male dancer for Halloween in the 1940’s. Observe my face. I was a very serious little girl, even then.)