In the last year of his life, I sat with my grandfather on his porch steps on Halloween night. A bowl of candy between us. The neighborhood had turned and most of the elderly neighbors who kept tidy little homes were now gone, either in nursing homes or dead (he said the latter were better off). The houses were either given to grandchildren or sold to people who just didn't care what the neighborhood used to be. The manicured lawns and smooth clean sidewalks were gone. My grandfather was the last of his kind. And his clean little house was too.
It was an exceptionally warm Halloween. And humid. We sat handing out candy to costume-less teens and loud young parents and their children who forgot to say trick or treat, or even thank you. The kids came in tiny clusters in-between long empty lulls, which suited me just fine.
We didn't talk much. We never did. So when he took a deep labored breath and said that he needed to tell me something, I knew something was wrong. So I whispered ok and kept staring ahead, down the empty street.
He told me on Halloween night when he was ten years old, he played a prank on an elderly widow up the block from where he used to live with his parents. He said it was something he heard about in school. A bag placed on a porch and lit on fire with a match. Inside the bag, the droppings of a dog - a big old dog with a big old appetite. He laughed when he told me that part.
After the fire was lit, he rang her doorbell and ran. And hid. He saw the curtains flick a bit and the widow peek out. Then the door opened. She came out onto the porch and stepped right over the bag, as if she didn't see it. The robe or housecoat she was wearing caught fire. Quickly. He said she just sorta stood still while it all happened. He told me he ran in plain sight down the block, in the center of the street, and into his house. He told me the widow had died.
But no one saw him. And he never told anyone. And he was never blamed, or even questioned.
Some kids came up for candy and I watched him drop a few pieces in each of their bags. They were the last of the night. My grandfather scooped up the candy bowl and slowly stood. Before he went in the house, he turned and said that Halloween was over.
And I guess it finally was.
Friday, April 29, 2011