Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Devil vs. the Egg

1982. Halloween. Dusk had just melted into full dark.  Hamilton neighborhood of Baltimore, MD (picture dozens of Gladstone-style houses, with the odd Dutch Colonial mixed in).

When the streetlamps buzzed on, we were supposed to come home.  That was always the rule, regardless of season, regardless of holiday.  Even a holiday dedicated to the unabashed, though unfortunately nocturnal, collection of candy.

The streetlamps buzzed on.  We didn't go home.

Oh, there would be some degree of hell to pay.  But it would be worth it.  Completely and totally worth it.  Well, unless the last house gave us Mary Janes, or ten pennies wrapped in aluminum foil like Miss Barbara.

(Miss Barbara was the neighborhood harridan who, legend has it, grumped at my Grandpop that his hoopty left an oil stain on the street in front of her house.  The public street.  Which she then scrubbed to get rid of said oil stain. Actually, I'm kind of nostalgic for the days when people cared that much about the appearance of their homes and environs.)

Anyway, we figured we'd wheedle Mom's forgiveness by deluging her with our Mounds and Almond Joys.  She loved those candy bars.  We did not.  So, kind of a win-win for all parties.

"It'th time to go home, guyth," my Older Brother said.  He was twelve years old, and dressed as the devil.  His eyes were rimmed with black, and he had a Van Dyke painted on his chin.  He also sported a set of plastic vampire fangs, hence the lisp.  The costume itself, replete with red cape and horns, was a hand-me-down.  My father had worn it to a costume party six years earlier. My mother?  She wore an angel costume to that party. It should be noted that she was visibly pregnant at the time.

"Can we go to one more?" my five-year-old Younger Brother asked.  Still carrying the rounded tummy and cheeks of babyhood, he was dressed as a puppy.  His nose was painted black, with whiskers striping his face.

I said nothing, as was my custom. Still is, really.  I am a pondering sort.  Also known as an introvert. 

Hmm....  I can't remember my costume.  I was probably a ghoul, which was my go-to.  The recipe for ghoul was:  white face, black circles around the eyes, a slight drip of blood for the corner of the mouth, and swathed in a white sheet.  Voila! Scary, eight-year-old me.  Who was, I have to imagine, not at all scary.

"Okay," Older Brother said, audibly sucking spit from the vampire fangs.  "One more. Then home."

We took a few steps along the sidewalk, finding ourselves in a pocket of dark between the streetlamps' amber rays.

That's when Eggy rounded the corner.

Eggy was the neighborhood bully.  His last name was Eichorn, but he was Boo Radley-pale, platinum blonde, and pear-shaped.  Given his coloring, the Hamilton kids collectively decided he was, in fact, egg-shaped.  Between that and the phonetics of his last name, they christened him Eggy.

Eggy stomped over to Younger Brother and snatched the bag of candy from his grip.  Younger Brother wept, his hard-earned treats now funding the ever-widening expanse of Eggy's bottom.

Older Brother jumped forward, still clutching his pitchfork. He had the presence of mind to drop his own candy collection, though, and a few pieces spilled onto the cracked sidewalk.  They scuffled, and Eggy punched him, knocking him down.  I clutched my bag tighter, hoping to escape without giving up all of my chocolate.  But it wasn't necessary.  Once Older Brother was on the ground, Eggy sauntered away, his big, ovate self wobbling as he laughed and ate Younger Brother's candy. 

Younger Brother was still crying.  I gave him a hug.

Older Brother stood up, dusting himself off. After he made sure Younger Brother was okay, he said, "Let's go home." The fangs had fallen out in the midst of the action, so the lisp was gone. He reached down to pick up his pillowcase of candy.

We followed without arguing.

We made our way back to our house, the porch light a beacon in the distance. We told my parents what had happened, they calmed us down, and Older Brother and I split our candy with Younger Brother. 

There's a family photo of Younger Brother in the tub, dolorous, the puppy paint being scrubbed from his face.  Older Brother is also in that photo, mugging, arranging his features in the most devilish expression he could muster.

(Why my father thought that this was a night to commemorate in Kodachrome, I can't say.)

This memory lingers with me because it was the first time I encountered menace. But the thing that really sticks is that even in the face of that, my family protected me.  Not only that, but Older Brother stayed true to himself, and even after getting knocked down, he got us home, and he goofed around until bedtime.

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