I wrote this as a memoir story and the tense is present as if I am still a kid in the 1960s!
Extraordinary Autumn Daze.
Out of all the now 50 states, I live in the smallest capital city of the second smallest state. Carson City, circa 1960, mirrors other American locales in many important ways. Her population of around 5000 belies the usual perception of a city. Nevada’s old west attitude makes her the most talked about relative to the rest of the oh-so-proper United States. Quickie weddings/divorces, 24-hour casino activities, and legalized prostitution – while giving my state a “bad girl” reputation, have little do to with me.
Statehood, however, fills a special niche in my childhood. Battle born Nevada proudly joined the Union as a non-slave state on October 31st in 1864. With good judgment and foresight, the 1933 state legislature declared Admission Day as an official, annual state holiday. Government offices and schools in Nevada, get Halloween as a day off! Better still, in Carson City, trick-or-treat is held the day before due to the big parade in town the next day.
On October 30th, as the sun sinks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains behind Ash Canyon, jack-o-lanterns gleam and flicker from most porches along the streets. Ghosts, goblins, cowboys, Indians, witches, and princesses conspiratorially converge then scatter with whispers and an echo of footsteps. Moms stay home to dole out treats confident in the safety of this neighborhood and the responsibility of their offspring. My mom bakes cupcakes bejeweled with candy corn, licorice drops and bright red, green, and orange lollipops. Amid the ebb and flow of small groups of children intent on filling their pillow case bags with treats, everyone soon determines where to get the popcorn balls, cupcakes and coins.
Wood smoke scents the air as leaves crackle underfoot and children shriek in laughter and fleeting fear. A short trek down Richmond St., trick-or-treating at all the houses along the way, brings us to the most haunted house in town. Large, scary ghosts and goblins lurch out of a dimly lit doorway to urge tricksters past a creaking gate, through deep, murky shadows to the dark garage. An ugly, cackling witch cajoles me to enter the haunted house. Taking my shaking hand in her dry palm, she guides me past a dimly lit skeleton, through large, clingy cobwebs into a gloomy laboratory. She dips my hand into a bucket containing a warm, crimson liquid. A quick shiver runs up my neck even though I know it’s just rubber tubing and not the intestines she describes. It is hard to believe that this elaborate ruse was rigged up by the nuns who teach at my school. Sister Theresa Ann is that cool, but not Sisters Imelda and Virginia. They really get into the spirit of All Souls Day and Hallowed Eve.
Finishing off the evening, I meet up with friends whose mom will take us to the Governor’s Mansion. Yep, Governor Grant Sawyer and his wife Bette hand out treats and converse with the crowd on the steps of their mansion on Mountain St. I think everyone in town ends up here.
Nevada Day, October 31st, is parade day. A crisp, clear, autumn day dawns with a certain anticipation in the air. People come from all over the state to march in, ride in and watch this fanciful affair. No parking is allowed, this day, on Carson Street along the parade route. 10,000 people line the street, sitting on the curb and lounging against the buildings. Adults converse while drinking hot cider, beer, or coffee against the cacophony of kids laughing at clowns or sobbing over an escaping balloon.
My dad parks our green and yellow 1949 Ford pickup on the corner of E. Sophia St. between the Carson City Bowl and the Dairy Kone. Soon most side streets will be blocked with pickups backed up to Carson St. Sitting on our tailgate, feet dangling, or way up on top of the cab clutching my trick-or-treat candy bag, I can see everything.
Vendors move among the crowd. Bright pink cotton candy and silly toy monkeys entice my young eye. Golden leaves flutter against a Nevada blue sky and crackle underfoot as parade goers ooh and aah. Riotous floats, flocked with wadded, brightly colored paper napkins plugged into chicken wire frames portray the year’s theme. Mounted groups on high-stepping horses in silver trappings pass by. Sadie Grant can-can steps along in her vintage skirt and boots. All the bands hail from Nevada schools and sport their colors and mascots. The flash of light off a gleaming tuba, the sharp clash of cymbals and a staccato drumbeat mark time for another march to begin. Hoof beats on asphalt echo along this modern canyon of Carson Street from the Dutch Mill at Hwy 50E to the Hunger Hut Drive In at end of town just past 9th Street. Smiling politicians wave and nod from floats, old-time cars, and fire engines tossing out candy to a flowing, scramble of kids along both sides of the street. Mounted parade marshals on their imperturbable horses patrol back and forth along the curbsides, herding back the eager spectators edging a little too far out into the fray.
After the parade, the crowd of 10,000 retreats noisily as cars trail after the last parade entry. Horns blare. People call out to friends. Engines rev, as if no one wants the day to end. My family stays for the party at Alley 7 Bar. The Scottish bagpipers always return here and pipe for their beer. Some adults sing along to the haunting tunes while children race and jig around on the sidewalk.
The day winds down amid an eerily deserted Carson Street. Litter skitters in the gutters. Now a chill, teasing breeze hints at the end of this fall day.
Sleepy and candy-sated, hunched against the cab in the bed of the pickup, I return home knowing that there is no school tomorrow. All the public school kids in Carson envy those of us at St. Teresa’s. November 1st is a Catholic holy day, All Saints Day and another school holiday. We pay a price, though, for these Church holidays.
On Nevada Day, it definitely seems worth it even if we attend school a week longer than our public school friends. In my mind, that makes living in Carson City, Nevada just that much better.