It saddens my heart to think that by and large today’s kids (and big people) no longer have the same opportunity for relationship with October 31st as I once did. There are, of course, still cultures which honor the times when it is believed that the separation between those here on the earthly plane and those who have gone on to experience other things is lessened. But this, as in the case of so many other warm traditions has given way to a curious and unsettling quest for fright. I can only hope that out there in bastions of sanity and good will lurk conscientious communities where the focus on commercialism and lack of connection to self and others is diminished, and that the joy of communion with family and friends is still alive and well…
There was once a time in my life when the best mom on the block would be the one who conjured up homemade caramel into which were dipped apples, crisp and fresh from the local orchards. Or encased in a candy coating that would explode on one’s taste buds with real oil of cinnamon as the scent of hot cider wafted out through the door. Next best were ginger snaps and sugar cookies shaped like pumpkins. And sometimes well-needed coins would find their way into our bags.
Kids of all ages roamed the streets wearing costumes made from their imagination, sparked by characters in books they had read. This was a time when eight and nine year olds could safely roam about after dusk because everyone they passed were familiar faces; moms, dads, aunts and uncles, grandparents. The babysitter from next door, the grocer with his wife and toddler, the librarian from the school… The only things lurking in the dark were one’s cousins and older siblings waiting to go “BOO!” from behind a tree. Even the occasional bully was too busy being a clown or lion tamer.
I vividly remember one Halloween becoming aware of the infamous “scary house” in our neighborhood that had grown in enchantment as the years had passed and the night went on. Not because it was bedecked with the latest gore filled, blood spattered plastic imports, but because the old lady who lived there was stern of face (lighting I presume) and the path to her door was marked by a tangle of overgrown vines which cut out the glow from the stars and moon. Word had gotten around (mostly due to older brothers and sisters) and it’s mystique had grown in status as the story was told and retold until she was most certainly a wicked witch jumping out from the pages of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
One of my friends that night was dressed as a Christmas present in a discarded appliance box with holes cut out for her arms, legs and head. It was transformed with wrapping, ribbons and all. She looked great. An imaginative coup. I was a spider with spats and white gloves (don’t ask me how I came up with that part). I rustled up from somewhere a black long sleeve leotard for the body and stuffed it with newspaper to make it round, then stitched an hourglass shape in the middle. Four rather worn black dress socks filled with rags sewn along the sides of my body created more arms and legs. Plain white gloves were unearthed in the back of my mother’s drawer, black legging tights and shoes added to the ensemble. I made more little white gloves and shoes out of felt to match my own. And with a bit of string attached from around my wrists to the wrists of the faux hands and down further to the ankles of the faux feet (this allowed me to move them about whenever I waved) I was ready.
Among the gathering of friends in addition to the Christmas present and myself were a pirate, a cat, a scientist and a scarecrow. All were constructed with assistance from their family members. To buy a costume was unheard of. People were still influenced by the post war concepts which had engendered a “make due with what you have” and “work towards what you want” mentality. Frankly, I think it was just tons of fun growing our ideas and helping them come to life. Mother’s makeup, Dad’s shirts (worn or new depending on the costume) and whatever could be found around the house (inside or out) came into play. And play it was. Half the enjoyment was to see what everyone had come up with each year. No two alike! (Except for the occasional twins dressing as twins. Twin fireman, twin fairy princesses, twin auto mechanics…)
After visiting half of the neighborhood, much deliberation, and rumors of the best candy bars on the block, we decided to venture into the realm of The Scary House. Breath held we made our way cautiously towards the front door to ring the bell. “You ring it.” “No! You do it. I did the last one.” “Oh move over I’ll do it.” (Yes, the doors were closed as people actually listened for a knock or peel of the bell before they opened it to hand out treats back then. No grabbing plastic mummy hand on a movement sensor hovering over a bowl screeching and cackling suddenly from a repetitive low quality audio chip on a doorstep.)
We stood there in anticipation for what seemed like ages building up images in our mind of what we would encounter on the other side of the door (to the point where one of us suggested that no one must be home and we really SHOULD go now), when a dark misshapened figure began to appear through the mottled opaque window… Growing larger, larger and larger still… The door finally creeeaked open (it really did, swollen from the sea mist I suppose). We suppressed the desire to scream and braved the backlit ghoulish Scary Lady to get our candy bar, holding out our paper bags at arms length until, overcome with terror, we made a sudden mad dash back down the path.
It was Scientist in the lead, Pirate second by a nose, Cat a pace or two behind me, then… Bam! Christmas Present, legs and arms flailing was wedged in the gate! A frantic crawl underneath her and Scarecrow was free… We legged it to the sidewalk a mile away (actually about 30 feet) only to turn and witness the unveiling as our friend tore her way frantically through the gift wrap to safety. Bravery swelled our hearts as we all managed to return and pick up the bits of her costume at lightening speed before tearing around to the corner to catch our breath. It was then that we realized she had abandoned her bag of treats.
You know you have true friends when they offer to share their best candy with you and that is what we all did. Then to steady our nerves (and collect a new paper bag) we limped back to her house and downed a stiff hot cocoa before making our way back out into the impenetrable darkness filled with glowing Jack ‘o’ Lanterns and the occasional bed sheet ghost that was All Hallow’s Eve.