Connecticut is next to Massachusetts and my sisters and I had strong imaginary connections to the women, a.k.a the witches, of Salem. We had more local witches as well--the weathervane atop E. E. Dickinson's Witch Hazel factory in Essex, CT, always a favorite sight when my family would drive down Rte. 9 to the beach.
And the young Connecticut "witch" Kit Tyler, age 16 in 1667, the heroine of one of my favorite books, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.
The book frightened and thrilled me--to think about such prejudice and hatred, and to read about Kit's strength, independence, loyalty, and ultimately, faith that the truth would out. The novel and its characters felt very close to home--Kit first landed in America at Old Saybrook, just across the Connecticut River from our beach cottage in Old Lyme.
Maybe it was Kit's story that always inspired me to dress like a witch for Halloween. Each year I wore the same thing: Mim's ancient crinoline black slip, lace up pointy-toed boots, and a black velvet opera cape that I had actually sewn, and who knows why?--the only opera I'd ever attended was I Pagliacci, at the Bushnell Theater, with my seventh grade class from St. Maurice School. But there came a time when my sisters and I got seriously into capes, and we sewed them, complete with hoods, silk lining, and hand-tied black frog closures.
It was all very dramatic. Trick-or-treating down Lincoln Street, with the Whitney children (my second family and beloved babysitting charges) holding our hands in the darkness, I think we envisioned ourselves crossing some moor in Puritan times, fighting oppression and casting spells whilst collecting candy.
Halloween didn't used to be so commercialized. Plastic pumpkins were rare--who would even want one? We carved elaborate jack-o-lanterns, placed candles inside for scary illumination, and toasted the pumpkin seeds. Some families actually handed out crisp apples and we liked getting them. (At least in my memory we did. Probably not as much as Snickers bars, however.) The holiday was a melange of fun and gravity; candy and costumes mixed in with our Irish Catholicism--All Souls Day, All Saints Day, All Saints Eve, All Hallows Eve, with a dash of Celtic Samhain tradition as well.
It was New England, therefore spooky with bare branches raking the cold sky, piles of dry fallen leaves underfoot, the sound of wind whistling through the swaying trees, but also reverent, in that we felt and heard the ghosts and prayed for them to be released from this life into the next.
Then I moved to New York. Halloween in Chelsea makes me happy. So many brownstones, pumpkins, set designers who go to town on their own houses. The late great Empire Diner always decorated for holidays, Halloween included. I miss Renate and the diner. Grrr, things change, and good places and people leave.
So here's to the Whitneys, now trick-or-treating with their own children; the Witch of Blackbird Pond; the spirits of Lincoln Street; the ghosts of Chelsea; the Empire Diner; and hobgoblins everywhere. Happy Halloween. Please enjoy a good apple and a Snickers bar for me.