Halloween’s Darkest Hours

Ryan as a clown and Rachel as "Able Baker Charlie" from the Richard Scarry Books, 1989.

Ryan as a clown and Rachel as “Able Baker Charlie” from the Richard Scarry Books, 1989.

It’s dusk on October 31, and for the first time in decades, we won’t be turning on the porch light for trick-or-treaters. It has been years since we had more than a few visitors, and we could have justified bowing out some time during the last millennium. Living on a dark street with no streetlights or sidewalks, we are in forbidden territory for wee princesses, jedis and older ghouls. When a family with three young children still lived next door we knew we’d get at least a few visitors. Alas, they moved to California and we can no longer count on them. And even our kids never trick-or-treated close to home; we always drove them to neighborhoods with sidewalks.

But the most important factor in our decision to close is that our 15-year-old is not doing Halloween this year. Too much homework, a diminished taste for candy, and a long day of school and after-school activities have made John decide to throw in the towel (or the pillowcase). While his friend Zack called a few weeks ago to try to get him interested in prowling a few neighborhoods, John has officially retired from trick or treating. This will be the first time that none of our children has gone trick-or-treating from our home, since all but John are grown and flown.

So the pumpkin went uncarved this year, and I have to say that my hands, with their creeping arthritis, won’t miss scraping out pumpkin guts with an ice cream scoop. I think about all the thought we gave to pumpkins in the past, all the faces we dreamed up, all the candles we lit, all for naught because nobody came. Yes I am relieved but also feeling a little regret.

John as "Batista," a favorite wrestler, 2010.

John as “Batista,” a favorite wrestler, 2010.

Halloween used to be a big deal. I remember dressing my daughter Rachel as a bunny, when she was just a year old, and looking forward to showing her off around the neighborhood, but she fell fast asleep on my shoulder by the second house. At our former home in Pennsylvania, in a densely populated neighborhood, close to 80 trick or treaters would visit each year. When I had more youthful energy I’d make up Halloween party bags with homemade cookies for the kids and set out spiked cider, cheese and crackers, and pumpkin bread for their grateful chaperones. As I look through old photos I see the march of time: from baby bunnies, gypsies and clowns to “Scream” masks, cross-dressers, slashers, wrestlers and pimps. In grade school my daughter Rachel dressed as a football player and son Ryan as a cheerleader. Ten years later Ryan borrowed my longest white coat, added a big hat and trick-or-treated as a pimp. Our son Ben went out one year dressed as a bag of trash, and somewhere we have tape from a camera that doesn’t work anymore that shows a toddler John whacking Ben with a pitchfork that year. Despite a half-hearted clucking about violent-looking costumes I always enjoyed the creativity the kids brought to Halloween.

Jesse and Rachel, around 1987.

Jesse and Rachel, around 1987.

But all six have moved on, and no neighborhood kids have taken their place. So tonight we’ll catch up on all the shows we missed because of the World Series (go Sox!!!) and maybe watch Young Frankenstein again. But we will take one last wistful look at the ghosts of Halloweens past.


Football player and cheerleader, around 1994.

Aging Out of Halloween?

Our son John, 14, is on the fence about Halloween tonight. He’s the youngest of six and we haven’t rushed him to put away childish things like trick-or-treating.  His friend Will already gave up Halloween two years ago, opting instead to stay home and hand out candy to the younger visitors in his neighborhood. John has made tentative plans but we have the feeling this may be the last time. I know one thing: he’ll be ready to give up Halloween before I am.

You can’t do Halloween without youthful accomplices, either your own or someone else’s.  Unless you are invited to one of those adult Halloween parties that require you to dress like a naughty nurse. Was it just yesterday that I was dressing my daughter, now 27, in a pink stretchy and bunny ears? How many flashlight batteries did we burn through as we lurked on the sidewalk, fidgeting in the cold, while our kids ran eagerly from door to door? The parade of costumes is marching through my head, their order blurred by the passage of time: the clown collar and hat I made for my son, now 24; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Sonic the Hedgehog outfits; the year my daughter dressed as a football player and my son as a cheerleader; the year my Evan-Picone white coat became a pimp’s costume; the ghouls and ninjas and arguments over which costumes looked too bloody; the year son Ben dressed himself as a bag of trash; John’s portrayal of wrestler C.M. Punk last year, in which he looked less like Punk and eerily like big brother Jesse.  Last year was the first time we let him go around unsupervised, although it was in a familiar and well-lit neighborhood that could be easily conquered for a quick and generous haul.

As I wrote a year ago, our neighborhood gets few visitors at Halloween because we are on a lonely country road.  The small children who once lived next store – the only reasons we bought candy during the last week of October – moved to California last month.  Still, as long as our youngest is into Halloween, the Styrofoam tombstone and plastic skull will take their place beside the tasteful mums in the front yard. We’ll gingerly scrape out seeds and pulp from a boulder-sized pumpkin, place a candle inside it and revel in the holiday’s cheesy ghoulishness.

What happens when he is no longer into it? Will it happen next year, or the year after?

Last night I visited our basement freezer and found dozens of candy bars and bags, leftover from John’s adventures last Halloween.  We had gorged ourselves last Halloween night, gradually tapering off to one candy item each day after that, until we were sick of sweets.  The leftover candy was inedible, tasting of freezer burn; not sure why we kept it that long.

The memories of those past Halloweens are still unspoiled by time.  So tonight we will send John, dressed in his Homer Simpson costume, into the darkness once again. We’ll wait for him to return home, hoping for a generous number of Three Musketeers bars.  I’ll eat at least three of them and hope we get another chance next year.

It’s Halloween, and it sure gets lonely here

People like us — who live along a country road with no sidewalks or streetlights — on Halloween are like whaling widows from the 1700s, who keep the candle burning in the window night after night, waiting for their husbands who years ago were lost at sea.

Despite the fact that we live on Elm Street – an iconic name in horror movies — Halloween is a dud. No parent wants their child trick-or-treating on a winding road with no lights and plenty of blind turns; the type of road that Freddie Krueger would have relished.

Still, year after year we carve the pumpkins, buy bags of Reese’s peanut butter cups that end up in the freezer, and put on the lights, hoping that we will enjoy a classic Halloween, haunted by princesses, jedis, ninjas and ghouls. This year, as we gaze out the window at the chrysanthemums and corn stalks smothered by an early snow, does not look promising.

We can usually count on the three small children from the next house visiting early in the evening, before their parents drive them off to more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. And our son and his friends will load up on our candy before they too decamp for happier Halloween hunting grounds — where the homes are close together and a pillowcase can be filled in the time it takes to watch two episodes of Sponge Bob.

A few years ago was a banner year. We had a total of 12 trick-or-treaters: the three children from next door, then John and his pals. The doorbell did not ring for at least an hour, then lo! A half dozen teens appeared on our doorstep, all dressed as slashers. It was our friends’ son and his friends, They made pleasant conversation and helped themselves to some candy before getting down to business: inquiring politely if they could use our bathroom.

I guess we could just keep the lights off and not open up for Halloween. But I am still haunted by the memories of the Oldhams, the one household in my childhood neighborhood that did not open up. Their house and front path was spattered with burst eggs, which they’d hose off every Nov. 1. And old Eddie, may he rest in peace, would complain bitterly to my parents about “those G-D kids” and how “it’s a terrible world out there.”

Halloween is the only time I miss my former home in Pennsylvania, in a new development where everyone had small children. Back then I would make at least 80 candy bags and they would be gone within an hour. Neighborhood children would visit, and as they grew older they brought posses from other neighborhoods. We also had a spread for the adults accompanying the little ones: pumpkin bread, cheese and crackers and (most importantly) cider spiked with Laird’s Applejack. One of the dads, a school principal who always dressed in drag for Halloween, would down two glasses while the kids loaded up on candy; then took one for the road. Each year our home became more and more of a draw; I wonder why? 😉

But this year on Elm Street, where on any other day we’d savor the peace and the privacy, Halloween will be a lonely time. Still, we go through the motions and hope for the best.

Tonight we’ll carve the pumpkin like we always do. Tomorrow night we’ll find a used but still substantial candle and place it inside; then set the illuminated pumpkin on a rock by our driveway…in plain view of anyone who passes by. We’ll put on all the lights in front of the house, to make it look welcoming. And we’ll wait.