Am reading a very interesting book entitled The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of the American Community by Marc J. Dunkelman, New York: Norton, 2014. This essay speaks of the quality of community that is lacking in many places these days. This Halloween memory is vivid for all who knew the Schultz family in Kingston, NY.
Early every morning, except for the last few months, he walked past my house headed for the bakery and a copy of the New York Times. Rejecting jogging sneakers and shorts, he wore all-purpose leather shoes with khaki work pants and favored the layered look topped by a worn plaid shirt. A rumpled tan fishing hat completed the look of a man prepared for some woodland adventure. His once tall lanky frame now somewhat bent from academic pursuits maintained a steady unaffected stride. He was Mr. Shultz. I never got to know him better than that because he lived a few blocks away. He was just Mr. Shultz whose house my sons and I had visited once a year on each of twenty Halloweens in response to the offer of cider and doughnuts for any trick-or-treater, young or old, who needed a place to catch his breath, hide from ghosts and goblins, or duck barrages of shaving cream.
Mr. and Mrs. Shultz rearranged the cherry and oak antiques and Chinese porcelains in their living room each All Hallows Eve. After covering half of the room with painters tarps, they placed indestructible wrought iron furniture at the periphery of the protected area and set out long maple benches laden with bowls of doughnuts and cool, refreshing cider. Family and friends gathered to view the costume parade from the intact end of the room while sipping an evening cocktail. Mrs. Shultz ladled out cider. Mr. Shultz extended a warm greeting at the door. The only requirement for visitors was that each sign the guest book where attendance could be verified and compared to statistics kept since 1946. Could that first Halloween open house have been a joyous celebration of long-awaited peace, a welcome to those boys who returned from war along with Mr. Shultz, or a tribute to the memory of past trick-or-treaters who did not come home? I never asked.
Two days ago, Mrs. Shultz died at the age of seventy-five. A detailed obituary in the daily paper mentioned the Halloween open houses. Its straight forward narrative filled out the character of Mrs. Shultz beyond that of hostess feigning fright at diminutive ghosts and admiring awe for dainty fairies. She had graduated from Vassar, raised four children, founded the Boys’ Club, managed a business, sat on numerous boards, and loved Mr. Shultz for over fifty-three years. It seemed fitting to pay our respects to Mr. Shultz on this occasion out of sync with the annual round but in memory of that Halloween hostess and accomplished woman.
At Carr’s Funeral home, a daughter greeted us. We explained that we had been Halloween visitors. She replied, “Isn’t it wonderful that the paper included that in the obituary. Of course, my father wrote it.” Turning from another conversation, Mr. Shultz took my hand in immediate recognition and acknowledged my son. “We’ve come in memory of Halloween, “ I said. “Oh, I’m so glad. Wasn’t it great of them to put it in the paper. Did you sign the book?” We nodded. My son said, “I should have written that we came because of Halloween.” “Oh, please do that,” said Mr. Shultz, “we’d love it.” He continued to hold my hand as another daughter approached saying, “I see that Kermit the Frog has arrived.” My son and I marveled at her memory. We chattered in a highly self-conscious struggle to express the heartfelt. Mr. Shultz seemed a little more bent, pale and lost. Our hands had parted as he spoke of not knowing what to do about Halloween. I told him that the obituary was beautiful and that his wife’s achievements had impressed me so. Unexpectedly my eyes filled with tears and my lips quivered a bit as I praised her accomplishments and devotion. Mr. Shultz’s face began to glow, his features becoming more animated. As we said our “good-byes”, he expressed his gratitude for Halloween visitors. I took his hand to shake in parting, a final gesture of sympathy for the loss of his wife. He raised it to his lips and kissed it. With eyes steadfastly focused on mine, he said, “Thank you”, appreciating me for appreciating her.