s I lay listening to my grandfather and older relatives, I watched the gnarled limbs of a tree silhouetted against the full moon. In the distance, a dog barked and only served to underline the supernatural images being created by my grandfathers words. The children had been put to bed on quilted pallets in front of the fireplace while the older generation sat around a table in the next room and talked.
My eyes would be growing heavy, almost succumbing to the Sandman, when I would hear those predictive words of my grandfather, Edna, Do you remember Then I would become fully awake; eagerly awaiting the stories of ghost lights, Indian spirits and Civil War apparitions I knew would follow.
Those stories, it seemed, were without end. For most of my childhood, I listened in rapture every time Granddaddy would tell them. And for me, the ghost light on Kennesaw Mountain was as real as my next door neighbors cat. Every day, without fail, my mother would warn me to be home before dark, mister.
Often, when the baseball game was just too good to leave, I would find myself walking through the neighborhood in semi-darkness and paying little attention to my surroundings. Suddenly, a twig snapping would send my imagination flying back to those old tales. My steps would speed up as I convinced myself that every rustled leaf was the ghost of some long-departed old Indian tracking my footsteps.
The simplest of occurrences can spur childhood imagination into filling the world with bizarre creatures. My imagination was never more vigorous than at Halloween.
My brothers and I began our preparations far in advance of the holiday. We would spend hours lying in the dark and talking of the perfect costume for the magical night to come.
We also lived in a time before The Hulk, Spiderman, and other ready-made costumes became so prolific. For us, the side of a cardboard box cut into the right shape and meticulously painted would become Prince Valliants shield. My mothers colander turned upside down over my head became a Viking helmet, always accompanied with a flat curtain rod decorated with a cardboard disk to serve as the sword hilt.
Aluminum foil became the perfect material for turning any plain piece of cardboard, no matter what shape, into a silver wonder. The preparation of our alter egos was almost as much joy as the actual act of going Trick-or-Treating. The camaraderie we shared during these Halloween preparations became a part of the glue that fused our childhood memories together.
As the night itself approached, our excitement grew in direct proportion. With undisguised anxiety we watched the evening shadows creep slowly across the floor in anticipation of the night ahead. For this one night of the year, we would be allowed to roam the neighborhood until late into the night, and we could not wait to embark on our moment of freedom. There is an enchanted and dreamlike quality to a familiar neighborhood at night. Commonplace objects take on an almost supernatural nature when seen by the light of moon and stars.
From door to door, and street to street, we would journey through a new world of our own making and talk of future roles we would play, of lives not yet spent. Some of those dreams would die in the fields of Vietnam; others would come true by following roads we had not yet imagined. As I remember the children, I cant help but think of the adults they became, and the friends I shall never walk with again.
Many years have passed since those marvelous nights, and Ive learned a few things along the way. As I walk my daughter around the neighborhood in her costume, Ill not fear the rustle of leaves. I dont worry so much about vampires sucking my blood as I do greedy leaders sucking the spirit out of our community. I worry more about the guy who becomes a beast behind the wheel of his car than those who might transform under the full moon. I am more inclined to fear the evil of prejudice than the evil of spirits.
And, Ive learned that nothing should be cherished so much as a childs imagination. Perhaps instead of teaching our children to fear what cannot exist we should teach them to reach for the promise of what might exist.
I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? - Robert Francis Kennedy, 1968.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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