BREAKING NEWS: June 21. Masked man robs Marden’s in Scarborough. Round up the usual suspects.

It was the summer of 1939, I believe. Four young armed masked men, with bandannas and what appeared to be a large napkin masking their faces, held up Schneider’s Drug Store on Holly Hills and Michigan Avenue.

Mr. Schneider, the druggist, said that they came in shouting, “Stick em’ up!” No one else was in the store, and no one was harmed.

Mr. Schneider obliged the masked men by dropping his flyswatter and raising his hands. One of the young men grabbed a handful of comic books and they fled.

The assailants were later identified as Billy Hagany, Junior Reed, Sammy Webber and Jerry Devine, all fourth grade students at St. Mary and Josephs School.

Later that day, four mothers came into the store, apologized to Mr. Schneider and returned the comic books. No charges were filed.

I was the one with the large napkin. True story.

Halloween was the only night of the year in those days when anyone wore masks, and they were usually homemade cardboard masks worn as part of a Batman or The Phantom costume and didn’t cover the lower half of the face. Only bank and train holdup men like Jesse James or the Dalton Brothers or others in cowboy movies wore bandannas … or large napkins.

My “gang” and I were big fans of the bad guys. Only Alan Powers, by best friend on that day, was spared embarrassment. His father, Police Detective Cornelius Powers, frowned on such activities.

That morning so long ago comes popping back into my mind as I sit in my car, designer mask fitted about my nose and mouth, waiting for the light to change. On the curb to my right, a family of four, all dutifully masked, waits in the hot afternoon sun to cross the street. The youngest — a boy of, I would say, fourth-grade age, with tumbling hair falling cross his nose as mine did at that age, and wearing a cowboy bandanna — stares at me for a long moment.

Our eyes meet and then as the light clicks to green, and they cross in front of me, he stops and waves. We can’t see our mouths, only the twinkle in our eyes, but I know he’s smiling as I am. Sure we are. A moment has passed between us, a piece of the past floats between his soul and mine. I can feel it. I wonder if he does as well.

As the family moves past the big fire house and down the street I watch him in the rearview mirror. He keeps looking back and as I drive away, a door, far at the back of my heart (one I generally keep closed) creaks open.

Do you believe as I do in reincarnation? My belief is that we pass to the other side, spend a few celestial days visiting family, and then are sent back to begin again. I know that Alan always regretted missing our “holdup” that morning. Maybe that was he, waving hello and goodbye again?

So, She and I will at sometime in the remaining months of summer, go for afternoon rides and watch the parade of masked and unmasked neighbors pass in front of our glass.

At first, the few who wore them, used the stock procedural pharmacy blue masks. Then as the orange cloud grew denser, and boredom set in, the selection became varied, decorative, political and stylish.

My dear old friend, Ray Bradbury, now on the other side, or perhaps come back, perhaps in the flesh of a small boy waiting at traffic light, once wrote in his “Dandelion Wine”:

“It is the privilege of old people to seem to know everything. But it’s an act and a mask, like every other act and mask. Between ourselves, we old ones wink at each other and smile, saying, ‘How do you like my mask, my act, my certainty? Isn’t life a play? Don’t I play it well?'”

Yes, Ray, we do. And you and I used to talk about those things in the long ago.

J.P. and Kay Devine wear their masks. Submitted photo

Here we are Ray; She and I, two old people embracing that privilege and wearing the masks we chose to act in life’s play.

Do you like our masks, Ray? Our certainty? Do we play it well?

We’ll meet again over there, old friend. We’ll wink and smile. See you then.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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