October: All Saint’s Eve
from Mata’s Story: 1943
Mata Kerchner, sister of Otto Kerchner, central figure of the Beyond the Blue Horizon Series of historical novels detailing his life and times from 1927 until the present. She presently lives with her grandson Pete and his wife Cindy in an apartment off the porch of their home in Pioneer Lake, Wisconsin, her home town. Mata is at present 91 years old and feels the weight of time on her shoulders and also the burden of loss for her brother, who took off a month ago for what he said was a routine practice flight in his beloved yellow Piper Cub. He never returned from that flight, and no sign of the aircraft or of Otto has ever been seen. In this chapter, Mata reminisces about their early life together.
I am an old woman now, and do not expect to have much more time on this beautiful earth, so I thought I would tell you about my life. Every October I remember the first time my brother Otto and I went trick or treating. That was Halloween of 1930. I was eight and Otto was ten. He was a typical big brother with a younger sister: teasing, impatient, but also protective and caring. And if you’ve been around him for more than five minutes, you know that he is crazy about airplanes and aviation and that Charles Lindbergh was his biggest hero. But our first Halloween night when we were out trick or treating we found out he could not protect me from everything.
Mama told us, as she did about everything else, how it used to be in the “old country” in the Hartz Mountain area where she grew up. When she found out our plans to go trick or treating, she sat us down at the kitchen table and spoke to us in her warm, firm way. “Mein kinder, in the old country we did not go door to door begging candy from people we did not know. But we had other times we dressed up and received sweets.” She leaned back in her kitchen chair and smiled. “Halloween for us was a religious observance, the evening before Allerheiligen, or All Saints Day, when we remembered all the saints.”
“You remembered the saints?” Otto asked. “I thought we were Lutheran.”
Mama smiled again, somewhat wistfully. “I was Catholic until I married your pater?. I almost became a nun before I met him. If I had, I would not have had you two wonderful kinder.” Otto dropped his head, embarrassed but pleased to be so complimented. I reached over and took Mama’s hand and held it.
“And we are so lucky to have such a wonderful Mutter,” I told her with a slight catch in her voice. Mama patted her hand. “I am so pleased when you use words from your first language.” She caressed my hair, which was long and red hair and then put both hands in her lap, studying the ceiling for a moment to recall her story and then continued on.
“If we had had Halloween then, we wouldn’t have said—what is it? How do you ask for candy when you go out?”
I smiled faintly. Her dear Mutter could be so cute at times. At other times she could be not so cute, in fact, strict if she needed to do so, which she didn’t very often–with her. Otto, however, was another story.
“Children here say, ‘Trick or treat,’ Mama.”
“Ah, well then. We would have said, ‘Süßes oder Saures!’ Do you know what that means?”
She looked at them expectantly, but they only shook their heads. “It means—trick or treat!” She laughed heartily and slapped her knee while we looked at each other, bemused. Our mother didn’t make many jokes, but when she did, they were like this one—unexpected and droll. “Ah, but later on, just a few days later, came Fasching and St. Martinstag.”
I wrinkled my brow. “What do those words mean?”
Mama looked perfectly at peace. “We started celebrating on der eleventh of November at 11:11 AM.”
“That was the time the Armistice was signed ending the Great War,” Otto murmured.
Mama nodded. “Jawhol, and that is why that date and time was chosen to end that horrible war.
“Fasching is a wonderful occasion of parties, parades, parties, bonfires, celebrations, gifts, marvelous food and sweets, costumes and dress balls. Everyone wears a costume during this time. Also several guilds are elected to form a pretend government, and they make fun of the actual government, but it’s all in good fun. The people also choose a carnival prince and princess who plan the carnival festivities.
“Now, this is also a religious festival, marking the season before Lent when people enjoy themselves as much as possible before they deny themselves starting on Ash Wednesday.”
“Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans and other places,” I mused.
Papa came in from milking and sat at the table. “Why are you talking to Otto when I need him to help me?”
I sat up. “Mama was telling us about Halloween in the old country.”
Papa snorted. “Humph! No doubt she was telling you about those heathen practices by the papists. You tried to entice us into your false religion by giving us sweets on Reformation Day.”
Mama brought him a cup of coffee and set it down. “Papa, you know that was all a long time ago.”
Papa took a sip. “Yes, and who knows what would have happened to you if I had not come along and rescued you.”
Mama looked down demurely. “I would have become a nun. Then we would not have had für diese wundervollen Kindern, these wonderful children.” I had never seen my father look chagrined before, but he did at this. He looked away for a moment. “Das heißt wahr,” he murmured. That is true, I translated in my head. And it was.
Mama bustled around the kitchen for a moment, and then made the same motions that she used to shoo the chickens into their little house. “Go! Go! Get on your costumes! We will drive you to town!”
“Und was werden Sie tragen warden?” Papa asked. “And what will you be wearing?”
“I’m going as ein junges Mädchen gergman,” I answered. “A young German girl in traditional dress.”
I smiled. “You might be surprised to know that Otto is going as Charles Lindbergh.”
Papa threw his hands in the air. “Well, of course, I should have guessed! That boy is going to turn into an airplane!”
Mama laughed. It’s the coming thing, Papa. Our Otto will be rich and famous one day.”
Papa sat down heavily. “He will if I don’t kill him first.”
Mama went over and kissed him on the top of his head. “Don’t worry, mein Schatz. I’ll make sure you don’t hurt each other.”
“And I couldn’t ask for a better Ehefrau.”
My father wasn’t tender with my mother very often, so this is the memory I treasure most of our time growing up. They are gone now, but I think of them so often, and I remember them well.
To be continued in Mata’s Story: 1943, appearing first as a series of stories and then in book form through eLectio Publishing, Midland, Texas (www.electiopublishing.com).