"Halloween was always a struggle for me," my mom said to me on the telephone earlier today. "364 days a year I taught you NOT to take candy from strangers, and then, on one night I was supposed to dress you up so you were unrecognizable and send you out to beg for candy from strangers. I never understood it."
To her credit, or perhaps in homage to my naivete, I had no idea my mom had such anti-Halloween feelings. I have very fond memories of the creative costumes she made; and our costumes were always homemade, never store-bought. One year she made me a bumble-bee costume, with the body made of poster board hung sandwich-board style on my body with and styrofoam wings. I remember the bubblegum machine costume she made for my brother - a clear garbage filled with small colored balloons and a little hat with a fake nickel coming out of it. As a kid I loved the creativity involved in thinking up a costume and finding a way to construct it. I remember being an angel, a zombie, and a fisherman.
I also loved trick-or-treating. We went out for what felt like hours, unsupervised. (I learned today the unsupervised part was because my mother refused to go candy begging with us.) We lived in a densely packed community filled with children, the bustle of kids and lights and doorbells was intoxicating. Mr. Schenk, one of the 6th grade teachers at my elementary school, lived about a mile from us, up through tony Twin Hills, and we'd strive to make it to his house before he ran out of the full-sized candy bars he and his wife allegedly gave away to the kids who legitimately lived in their neighborhood. I remember an old woman who lived in a pink and strangely foreboding house at the start of the fancy street that bordered the local park. She always gave away creamy Life Saver pops, but only after you did a trick like recite the alphabet backwards or sang Yankee Doodle. Every year we'd draw tiny strips of paper out of a glass bowl to discover the trick we needed to do to earn our treats. My siblings, and, as I got older, my friends, and I would wander the streets for hours, careful not to miss a house with the lights on as we weaved from one street to the next for blocks. There was never a clear line of demarcation that told us we needed to stop and go home. We walked and rang and laughed for as long as we possibly could. I remember being out so late that many neighbors would leave their candy buckets out on the front porch so they didn't have to answer the door anymore.
When there were no more houses with lights on, my five siblings and I would troop home and eagerly dump our plastic pumpkin-shaped collection buckets on the floor. And then we would sort the candy into piles for favorites, piles for things we'd be willing to trade, and always, one or two Snickers bars for mom. And then we'd start trading. I'd give away Good and Plenty, boxes of Dots with two or three of those faux jujubes in them, Tootsie Roll midgies, Butterfingers, and hard candy. Chocolate caramels, Twizzlers, Peanut Butter Cups, and Baby Ruth were among the candy bars I eagerly sought. When we were done sorting and trading and counting, the candy would go back into our buckets and I'd carefully dole out one or two or ten pieces a day for my lunch bag or snacks I'd try to sneak at school.
As an adult, I actually have no great fondness for Halloween. While I enjoy the sweetness of seeing young children excited by their costumes and the novelty of getting candy, I generally find this holiday to be disconcerting. I feel unnerved by, and disingenuous around adults in costumes. I've dressed up only once in the last 15 years, at a Halloween party hosted at the commune where I once lived. (I felt like an idiot in my rented green sequined mermaid outfit carrying a tinfoil covered pitchfork intended to look like a trident.) I don't understand why some people want to trick out their houses in order to seem spooky or dangerous or pagan. And the greediness that I embraced as a child is now a little gross to me. I was at the mall earlier today during the "trick or treat" hours, and the place was teeming with kids and their parents trying to angle for the best treats. "Let's hurry up and get to Godiva. They better be giving out something good," was a frequently heard exclamation as I dodged and weaved to avoid the crowds.
We do have a jack-o-lantern on our porch, carved with enthusiasm by me. And a plastic cauldron, courtesy of the neighborhood "Phantom", sits by the front door filled with white chocolate Kit-Kat bars (dyed orange), boxes of Nerds, and those hateful Midgies. It is 5:15 now. And I imagine in the next 30 minutes or so we'll start to see the dozen or so neighborhood children begin to trickle through the neighborhood, nervously prodded by their parents onto strangers' porches, to ask for candy. And BMG and I will "oooh" and "aaah" over the costumes and make a big show out of the generous handfuls of candy we toss into the brightly colored receptacles carried by the princesses, robots, and medieval knights who roam our suburban street. I do this because I remember how much fun this was when I was a kid and I want to do my part to offer this same delight to the little people who creating their Halloween memories tonight.