When growing up in Grayâ€™s Ferry, Halloween was one of the holidays Catholic grade school children at Saint Gabriel School anyways anticipated with their usual fervor. First and foremost the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, (the Mighty Macs) always made sure their students knew the Catholic roots that surrounded Halloween. Every year in the lower grades, children were asked to dress up as saints in celebration of the eve of All Hallows, our modern All Saints Day. It was not unusual to watch diminutive versions of Saints, Martyrs, Bishops and other Holy Men and Women going from classroom and classroom with outstretched bags for confectionary delights.
The parade of Saints was indeed a prelude for a day off from school with the immanent Holy Day of Obligation on November 1st. Halloween night in Grayâ€™s Ferry was preceded by the infamous Mischief Night, always including soaping up car windshields, some tossing of hen fruit and even the occasional wrapping of paper around peopleâ€™s small trees and bushes. Being a kid on Mischief Night meant getting home early and being home before the festivities of the night gave new meanings to the phrase,â€Trick or Treat!â€
Halloween included groups of us Catholic school children going door-to-door, block by block to accumulate candy in any bag that would hold the booty. I remember being a skeleton one year as my Halloween costumeâ€¦there were of course Snow Whites, little Devils, Princesses and the occasional Mickey Mouse impersonators as well. In most cases, our parents stood on the sidewalk as we ransacked each house on the long rows of city blocks. One point was always clear: No candy, popcorn, apples or anything else could be eaten until examined by adults. Stories of some child biting into an apple with inserted pins, or a tainted candy bar added mystery and fear to the night. Fortunately,noÂ examples of tampering with this ritual of fall were to my knowledge ever realized.
The I.H.M. Convent was always a destination for all of the Trick or Treaters, and the Sisters always welcomed their students that were transformed into nocturnal spooks and gremlins, as compared to the diurnal gremlins they taught every day in school. The Norbertine Priory was always another favorite destination. They always had good candy for their visitors. When we got to high school, Goretti girls and Neumann boys had the Halloween Dance at Bishop Neumann High School, where adolescent teens could equally scare each other with their music, dancing and lip-locking under the supervision of the White Fathers of Premontre. They made sure their boys never got out of control with their Goretti girlfriends. In all, everyone enjoyed the Halloween Dance, the Parade of Saints and the pilgrimage for candy all over Grayâ€™s Ferry.
Growing up in Grayâ€™s Ferry always had a common sense of Catholicism and neighborhood continuity with both school and social activities. Thatâ€™s what I miss the most about living in a suburban sprawl of lawns, curving streets and anomalous neighborsâ€¦the sense of a knitted and faithful community. Growing up Catholic, of Irish descent and in Grayâ€™s Ferry always provided a sense of really belonging to a neighborhood that shared the experiences of life over generations and generations. Most especially, the Catholic parishes showed us how important these communities of faith really are in establishing our Catholic and social identity.
When Halloween is upon us this year, thank God for the great Sisters, Parents , Priests and People of Grayâ€™s Ferry that helped all of us enjoy the benefits of childhood in a rough and tumble neighborhood of ethnic plurality during the 1960â€™s, 1970â€™s and the 1980â€™s. They all deserve Treats rather than Tricks!