Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Mask

I was five years and excited about my first real Halloween.  The truth is, I'd been excited about it since I'd found the mask at Woolworth's Five and Dime, the day after my birthday, which would have been September 10th.  I spent more than half of my birthday money on the mask, after agreeing to mother's stipulation that I would not wear it, or even take it out of the box until Halloween evening.

I remember the mask today as well as I remembered it Halloween evening, 1947.  It was a pirate mask, made of latex.  It had a hideous scar on the right cheek and a patch over the right eye (though there was a small, secret peep hole in the patch so I could see out).

Though I couldn't take the mask out of the box, I could, with prior permission, retrieve the box from under my grandparents bed, and show it to anyone who wanted to see it.  It still amazes me to think how many people wanted to see it - dozens at least, and I never tired of showing it to them.  By Halloween night, I knew every square centimeter of the mask. 

The big night finally arrived.  We sat down at the table, Mama and Daddy, Mother, and me.  Daddy was somewhere in the south Pacific, but a post card from him that day said he was heading back to the states in two days and should be home before Thanksgiving.  I was way too focused on Halloween and my mask to think much about Daddy, or anything beyond the evening's revelry.

I looked at Daddy King, and he looked at the kitchen window, where he could see the setting sun, "Just a few more minutes, Pistol," he said.  

I breezed through the rest of the food on my plate and looked at him again.

Once again he looked out the window, then said, "It's not quite time, but almost."

Mama King served desert and gave me a fresh glass of milk.  The grown ups drank coffee, and I gobbled my banana pudding, washed it down with the milk, and looked at Daddy King.

He didn't even look toward the window.  He just smiled and said, "It's time."

I jumped out of my chair, said the things I'd been taught to say, "I enjoyed my supper.  May I be excused," and without waiting for an acknowledgement ran for the mask.

It was dark in the bedroom, but I didn't need a light.  In a few seconds, I'd ripped the mask out of the box, put it on, and in the dark, felt my way around my grandparent's bed to my grandmother's dressing table.  I pulled the stool out and carefully put one knee on it, then lifted myself up until I was balanced on both knees looking into the dark mirror.

At that moment, Daddy King turned on the bedroom light, and I saw my reflection in the mirror.  I screamed and fell over backwards onto the bed.  I was taking a deep breath, getting ready to scream again when Daddy King scooped me up.

"Easy, Pistol.  You're OK.  It just your mask.  Remember?"

I raised my hand, touched the latex mask, and giggled.  "I forgot," I said.

Daddy King laughed softly and then said, "It's easy to do, Pistol.  It's easy to do."

That sixty-five year old story from my past is also your story.  In fact, it's everyone's story.  We all wear masks.  Most of us have more than one.  We've been wearing them so long we've forgotten they are masks.  They aren't made of latex but rather of our beliefs, our fears, our hopes, dreams, and expectations.  We made our masks to let people know what they could expect of us, or, to put it another way, we made our mask to be a symbol of who we believe ourselves to be.  Now, we've worn them so long we've forgotten they are there, why they are there, and how to talk them off.  As a matter of fact, most people never take their mask off.  Unlike my Halloween mask, we have to take ours off to see it.

If you manage to see your mask for what it is, don't scream.  Instead remember what Daddy King told me, "You're OK.  It's just a mask."

The Mask was Number 11 in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series.  I'll post number 12 tomorrow.  I call it Tattoo Artist - here's the illustration:


  1. I still look in the mirror and scream. It's not the mask. It's the age I see pictured there. Great story. You always take me back to places in my mind where I haven't visited in a long time.

    1. Thanks Caleb,
      That's exactly what Norman Rockwell is doing for me.

  2. Great story, Bama!! Norman Rockwell had no idea what he would stimulate!!

  3. Another great story Bert, and new tidbit of info -you and I share a birthday! Us September babies do tend to weave a yarn or two from time to time. I thing Norman Rockwell would be pleased to see his images inspire and evoke such memories in those who see them.