Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Halloween Story

In the spirit of the Halloween season I decided to relate a story from my childhood and how assumptions about people can turn out to be unfortunately the furthest thing from the truth.

I lived in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago until I was around eight years old. Because of the close proximity to Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, which was the "anchor" of the area, the neighborhood was predominantly made up of Greeks. We lived in a three flat, on the third floor, and my grandparents lived on the first floor with my uncle. My uncle eventually married a girl a few doors down the block. Two blocks away were my other set of grandparents living in an apartment building with another aunt, uncle and cousins. Across the street from them were my godparents. In addition, there were other assorted sets of relatives in the immediate vicinity. It was a close knit neighborhood, by blood and friendships.

One of the common sights in our neighborhood were the older Greek widows who would wear black dresses (this was pretty common with many ethnic groups in that era). Recall the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and visualize Nia Vardalos' grandmother and you have the picture. Quite often you would see them walking along the alleys or vacant areas picking dandelion greens. They would boil the greens and then serve them with olive oil  and lemon or vinegar (one of my favorites, although I use endive). They would save the water from boiling the greens, refrigerate it and drink it as a cure-all for whatever ailed you. ( That old Greek mentality was represented in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" by the Windex as a cure for everything....in my family it was this "horta water.")

Nonetheless, there was one of these Greek widows who was different from the rest. Our neighborhood was a hodgepodge of three flats dotted with occasional single family homes and she lived in one of these homes. It was almost directly across the street from our apartment and it was set well back off the street, partially obscured by trees and bushes. She lived alone and seemed to be perpetually annoyed with the neighborhood kids, who would be running on her lawn and just doing the typical sort of things rambunctious young kids would do. She would holler at us in heavily Greek-accented English and, being young kids, she would frighten us. We began to call her "the witch" because of her demeanor and also that she was always dressed in black. We were afraid to venture too close to her house for fear of being snatched up by the "witch" and facing a horrific fate.

 I was seven years old and it was Halloween. Little did I know that it would be my last in the old neighborhood, as we would move to the suburbs the following April. We got our little band of friends together and prepared to do our typical systematic canvassing of the neighborhood for trick or treating. We worked our way down one side of the street, crossed it and were working our way back down the other side. We then realized the next house was the "witch's house." It was bad enough being around her house any other time, but with it being Halloween, we were really frightened that the danger would be heightened beyond what we could even imagine. We looked down the long driveway back to the house and we decided to skip her house. I thought I caught a glimpse of her peering through her curtains right at us. I quickened my steps and was trying to get away as fast as I could.

Suddenly her front door opened and she hurriedly moved down the driveway calling to us in her thick accent asking us to stop. She had something in her hands and we all became even more nervous, trying to move away. But there was something different in her calling to us this time and I was compelled to stop. I stood on the sidewalk as she approached me. My friends stopped, turned to watch and felt sure something bad was going to happen. As she approached me she held out her hands and she was holding a number of large Hershey's bars, much larger than the ones we would typically get for trick or treating. She said, "This candy is for you kids." She had an unusually warm smile for her but her eyes had a touch of sadness in them. My friends returned and gladly accepted the candy from her, thanking her profusely. We had a friendly conversation with her and she then returned back down the driveway to her home. From that moment on, she was no longer "the witch."

Following that experience, we would always say hello to her and if the situation would allow it we would spend some time talking to her. I learned a great deal about her life and background from the stories she would tell me. She never did yell at us anymore and seemed pretty happy whenever we were around. When we moved away, she was one little piece of our neighborhood that I would miss.

This story is an example of how we can make judgements of people and unfortunately adversely impact our relationships with them. If you take a little time to get to know someone, where you can really get to know the person inside, it will end up being beneficial for both of you. We have so much we can offer each other. In this experience from a Halloween long ago, a simple act of kindness by a "witch" blossomed into a beautiful relationship between an elderly woman and some neighborhood children from which we all learned a valuable lesson.










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