Like most kids growing up in the Phoenixville area, my childhood friends and I would wonder as far east as Pickering Creek and south to Township Line Road in our quest for Halloween candy.

By Michael Quay - Weekly Column

It seemed as if we walked for miles on Halloween night.

Like most kids growing up in the Phoenixville area, my childhood friends and I would wonder as far east as Pickering Creek and south to Township Line Road in our quest for Halloween candy.

In those innocent years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, children of this borough did not need to fear abductions, perverts or poisoned candy. Kids of all ages roamed freely into the night. Knocking on the front doors of even total strangers was the norm back then. People in all those other areas of town may not have been your personal friends but they were certainly your neighbors and there was nothing to be afraid of.

I would go everywhere to accumulate my stash of treats; up Fourth Avenue to the Robinsons and the Woodruffs, down to the house of the old woman who lived at Third and Gay streets, (she would give you money! Large old dollar bills from the 1920's). Back up to Fifth Avenue to Miss Sheiler's House. She was THE piano teacher for just about every kid in Phoenixville. Miss Sheiler didn't think I had much talent for the piano, (I never practiced) and she justifiably fired me when I was in the third grade. My mom had bought a grand piano and situated the thing in our living room like a gigantic symbol of past culture. My mother played very well, and my sister Sherri made it at far as her second recital before she jumped ship. I, on the other hand, was clueless on the keys.

I didn't lift up my mask at Miss Sheiler's door, I just shoved my Acme grocery bag in the piano teacher's face and, in a disguised voice, mumbled "trick or treat." She peered into the eye sockets of my vampire Halloween mask, looking for some feature of recognition.

"Are you one of my students?" she asked delightedly.

"Uh...no" I said, "I've never seen you before in my life."

"Very well," Miss Sheiler replied, "Here's a treat for you - some nice fresh fruit; we don't want to fill up on just candy, do we?" She dropped a huge red apple into my sagging Acme bag.

Fruit? Who wants fruit? I turned to walk away, and Miss Sheiler called from her doorstep, "Now don't stay out too late Michael Quay, you don't want to worry your parents!"

How did she know it was me, I wondered, making my way down Main Street. It must have been my fingers, I concluded. The piano teacher recognized my clumsy fingers. Miss Sheiler was right about the time ... it was getting late, and the throngs of other kids along the avenues had dissipated. And the breeze was turning cold.

I remember lifting my mask and feeling the cold night wind blow against my face, and the smell of yellow leaves swirling up Fourth Avenue, and seeing the millions of stars in the clear autumn sky and the beautiful dark earth colors that fall brings with her. And everything just felt so good.

I wouldn't know the words to describe what I was experiencing that Halloween night, I was only nine or ten years old, but I do now; it was "delight" and it was "reverence" for the world that I lived in. Even in the autumn (especially in the autumn) you can feel the energy in the air. The message that everything is changing, and the season is turning, and winter will soon be here...and ain't it grand to be alive?

Before the advent of Christianity and supply-side religion, people used to call this time of year "Samhain." A Celtic word meaning Fire or Sun Festival. It was observed through much of western Europe for centuries. Huge bon-fires were lit and there was much celebration, until the "missionaries" invaded and threw a wet blanket over the fire. I did some arithmetic and I figure it was only about sixty generations ago that many of our ancestors, adults and children alike, celebrated Samhain. It is a wonderful idea to celebrate the earth and all the nourishment it gives us before the winter sets in. As valid as any other invented feast day, this night could be an "earth festival" again: Thankful for the warmth and sun we left behind, and looking forward to the coming winter.

Happy Halloween.

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