Every year on Halloween night, I remember Halloween night in 1963, when I was seven years old. Our family had just moved into a newly constructed house in a new neighborhood about a month earlier. I had my own bedroom for the first time in my life. My room was on the corner of the house, and the wind (always fierce in Richland, Washington, on the Columbia River) blew around that corner so hard it whistled and howled.
My younger brother and I had been out trick-or-treating earlier in the evening. I don’t remember what costumes we wore, nor which parent took us, though it was probably our father. I’m sure it was a happy evening, as all Halloween evenings are for kids of that age.
I was in second grade at a Catholic grade school, and the great thing about my school was that we always got November 1 off, because it was All Saint’s Day, a Catholic holy day. We had to go to Mass with our parents on November 1, but we didn’t have to do homework on Halloween night, so we could stay out a little later than the public school kids. Of course, for a seven-year-old, staying out late wasn’t a huge advantage, but it became a bigger deal as I got older.
After trick-or-treating, my brother and I came home, indulged in our favorite candy, then went to bed.
In the middle of the night, my father woke me up. “I have to take your mother to the hospital. Just stay in bed, go back to sleep, and I’ll be back by morning.” There was a sense of urgency in his voice.
Even at seven years old, I knew what the problem was. My mother was having a miscarriage. Again. She’d lost one baby in February 1960, then had a miscarriage in January 1962, and now was pregnant again.
Wide-eyed, I nodded my head at Dad, and he left.
I couldn’t go back to sleep. I tossed and turned and listened to the wind rattle the windows. In addition to concern about my mother, I worried about whether the house would burn down and whether a burglar would strike and all the other fears children have when they’re alone. I thought about waking my brother up, but Dad had said to go to sleep.
Finally, I turned on my light and read a book as the wind continued to wail. This might have been the first time I ever read in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep, though there have been many, many occasions since then when reading has been my remedy for insomnia.
At some point in the wee hours of the morning, I did fall asleep. Sure enough, Dad was home for breakfast, and he retrieved Mother by noon. She lost the baby, but otherwise, all was well, though I don’t think we got to Mass that day.
I’ve often wondered about my father’s decision to leave my brother and me at home by ourselves. We didn’t stay home alone during the day yet, nor in the evenings if our parents went out. This was the first time I’d ever been left in charge.
When my mother lost the first baby in 1960, I was not quite four. I don’t remember that night at all—he told me many years later that he put us in the back of the car, still asleep, and took us to the hospital with my mother, where he left us with the nurses. I don’t remember the 1962 miscarriage either. We were living in a small house with good neighbor friends next door—he might have called the neighbor lady to stay with us. (I do remember the neighbor lady bringing us casseroles in the days following.)
But in 1963, in our brand new neighborhood, we didn’t have next door neighbors yet, and didn’t really know anyone else in the few occupied houses on the block. Besides, I was seven—a big girl. I remember feeling very grown-up and responsible when Dad told me they were leaving me in charge. But I wasn’t grown-up enough not to fear the wind.
What frightening memories do you have from childhood?