When I was a kid we were afraid of my mother. I mean, very afraid. It was a healthy fear, of course. And as I got older I realized it was respect, not fear, that we had.
But it sure felt like fear.
My dad worked out of town and while he was gone my mother was responsible for everything. There were three of us (and a dog) and only one of her. From the time I woke in the morning till I fell asleep at night, my mother was always busy. She didn’t coddle us when we stumped our toe or lost a favorite toy. And tattling on each other was never the way to go. My mother didn’t waste her time explaining in great detail her expectations of us. When she told us to do something, we knew to get started on it. We didn’t wait to see what would happen if we didn’t.
When I was about six, we lived in town. On Halloween night my brothers and I went trick-or-treating in our neighborhood– about four city blocks of residential streets and homes filled with people we knew. We returned just before dark and dumped all our treats into one pile in the middle of the living room floor. While my mother divided her time between answering the door and cleaning the kitchen, we blissfully poured through our candy pile, separating the popcorn balls and candied apples from the Pixy Stix, Bit- O-Honeys and other things we would eat as fast as we could when my mother wasn’t looking.
We were engrossed in our candy sorting when a couple of older boys knocked on the door. They were wearing plastic masks, but no costumes, and carrying paper bags. When my mother went to the kitchen table to get them some candy, one of the boys rushed into the living room. He grabbed as much of our candy as he could, then ran out the door.
My brothers and I were stunned. We were speechless for about five seconds, then we let out a chorus of caterwauls. Someone had just stolen our candy. When my mother realized what had happened, she calmly set the candy bowl for trick-or-treaters in front of us.
“Stay inside,” she said. Then she opened the screen door and took off running.
Immediately, we took the candy bowl and went out on the porch to watch. Groups of devils and witches and firemen and Deputy Dawgs and their parents moved out of her way, as she ran down the street in her apron and bare feet, screaming for the boys to stop. Trick-or-treaters who came to our house while she was gone stayed on the porch with us and watched my mother running past house after house, shrieking, before the boys finally out ran her and disappeared into the darkness.
She stopped in the middle of the street and put her hands on her hips. For a minute or two she just stood there, probably to catch her breath. Her silhouette of surrender was framed perfectly by the streetlight and all I remember thinking was that she looked larger than life. When she turned around and started walking home, my brothers and I ducked back inside, hoping she hadn’t seen us on the porch. When she came through the door, she wiped her hands on her apron, then sat down on the floor with us and reached for a piece of candy.
“Well,” she said, “Someone will catch him.”
Not a Halloween goes by that I don’t think about the night my mother ran down the street barefoot, screaming like a banshee and chasing a candy bandit. But now I also remember what I learned. Without saying a word, she showed us that if someone takes something from you, you don’t cower. You do what you can. When someone does something wrong, you call them on it. And you expect others to call them out, too. Though she never caught up with those pranksters, they knew how she felt about what they had done. The entire neighborhood knew. My mother didn’t just tell us what was right and wrong, she showed us every day by the way she behaved.
I know that now.
But that Halloween, I only knew this—my brothers and I would never get away with anything!