October is my absolutely most favorite month of the year and Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I’m going to wear something silly and hand out candy for trick-or-treat tonight, for the first time in many years. I don’t care if there’s only a handful of kids that will show up, since we live on a block with no other houses. I don’t care if it is cold, rainy, and windy–the forecast shows a 90% chance of that being the case. I’m just doing it because it’s what I want to do.
So I got started yesterday (which of course was a gentle, sunny, pleasant day) and rummaged in my storage box of Halloween decorations. Apart from two electric Jack O’Lanterns and two strings of lights, nearly everything in the box hailed from my childhood. The oldest item was a medium-size plastic pumpkin with a standard square-toothed smile and triangle eyes and nose. I actually had to sit down for a few moments and do the math. It was fifty-four years old. Fifty-four! I still remember carrying it, dressed as a witch (a “real” store-bought costume, no less), tagging along with an older cousin and her girlfriend for trick-or-treating. They were thirteen, and dressed as princesses or something pretty. I was six, and I wanted to be scary. I’m ten times older now, which is scary enough, but I’m dressing as a witch tonight in order to secretly feel younger.
In the 1960’s, one could go to the local five-and-dime and pick up lots of printed-cardboard “scary” decorations, such as the one in the picture, and black cats, skeletons, spiders, etc. They seem so quaint now when compared to what’s available at Target or Walgreens, the fully-articulated plastic skeletons, hairy spiders, lethal-looking rats with glowing red eyes, and zombies. Oh, the zombies.
All my friends and classmates were overstimulated by the mere idea of Halloween. Even a cardboard Jack O’Lantern could generate thrills of anticipation for candy and spooky hijjinks. If we had been time-traveled into what passes for typical decoration these days, we’d probably end up with PTSD.
I had my last Halloween party in my Freshman year of high school, before any of us girls started dating (16 was the accepted age back then–it’s probably something like 9 now). And yes, I said girls–co-ed parties simply weren’t done until one was old enough for a Sweet Sixteen (read: ready-to-date) Party. Mom helped me to decorate for that one, and we went “all out” for it–cleared out one of the unused bedrooms on the unheated top floor of our farmhouse and transformed it into as atmospheric a Halloween slumber party room as could be had at the time, complete with an aluminum foil “guillotine” and sheet-covered bloody “corpse.”
The highlight of the evening was when, without my knowledge, a neighbor guy came by with an extension ladder and scared the crap out of us with weird noises, howls, and movements outside of the window. Six girls screamed their heads off for real and ran breakneck down the very steep stairs. The grownups laughed so hard they were darn near crying. That was a good one.
Another Halloween laugh was when I read Eleanor Estes’ classic children’s book, The Moffats. There is a chapter where the kids tried to scare a neighborhood bully by turning their mother’s dressmaking dummy into a ghost on wheels in the attic, only to be scared silly themselves when their cat made it move before they did. Estes told it so well.
Maybe I’m reconnecting to a sort of childhood concept because I’m becoming prematurely doddering–or maybe it’s because I’m a grandma now. That being said, it’s not a total return to childhood. Steve will be cooking dinner and we’ll be having wine and cheese and crackers while I hand out the treats, snug and cozy and very much in the here and now.