What? You didn’t trick or treat?

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Because I grew up in a rural area where isolated homes were scattered across a landscape of fields and irrigation ditches, I never ran through the chill dusk of an October evening, yelling “Trick or Treat” on doorsteps decorated with jack-o-lanterns. Nevertheless, I loved Halloween and looked forward to it with anticipation because of the annual community party the good folks of Lake Shore hosted to entertain their children.

On October 31, my siblings and I bolted dinner and rushed through chores before dressing in costumes our mother made using her imagination and materials on hand. We admired our transformation into scarecrows, ballerinas and mummies then climbed into the car. Filled with excitement, we forgot to argue over seating arrangements, wriggling and giggling happily until we arrived at Lake Shore’s business district: a small grocery store with a solitary gas pump, an elementary school dwarfed by its playground and a brightly lit Mormon church of cream-colored brick.

Inside the church gym decorated with streamers of black and orange crepe paper, we joined a crowd of princesses, ghosts, witches, cowboys and hoboes to drink root beer ladled from milk cans frosted by dry ice, eat cupcakes piled high with orange frosting and watch cartoons shown on a bed sheet stretched across a corner.

Despite the variety of activities available for our entertainment — bobbing for apples, winning a pumpkin by guessing its weight, having our fortunes told by a gypsy — my friends and I spent most of our time running through the crowd, tripping on our costumes and trying to choke each other with streamers yanked from the ceiling by ne’er-do-well, sixth-grade boys costumed like the hooligans they were.

But, before we could have such fun, we first had to enter the gym along an endless hallway turned into a spook alley manned by disguised adults of the community.

One of my earliest memories of Halloween is holding my mother’s hand, walking a dimly lit hall and wondering why our nice neighbor, Mrs. Aiken, wore a pointed black hat and insisted her bowl of spaghetti was worms. Still having the literal mind of a young child, I didn’t understand the fun of being scared witless on Halloween.

But by third grade, I believed. My stomach knotted in frightened anticipation as I made my way through a giant spider web fashioned from gauze and entered the spook alley along with my mean cousin, Blake, and best friend, Deanne, a fainter.

We made it by the witch with worms, the executioner brandishing a cardboard axe who commanded us to put our heads on his blood-stained block, the open coffin with a corpse that moaned, “Help me; please, please, help me,” and the ghost that lurked in a doorway sobbing and clanking chains. But when ice-cold hands reached through a black curtain and grabbed our wrists, all hell broke loose: I tromped on toddlers as I fled; Blake attacked; and Deanne swooned.

We were escorted from the hall, and our parents were told.

It was a wonderful Halloween.

 

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Thoughts on Halloween

11954235972119966620Machovka_Halloween_2.svg.thumbCandy and costumes have lined store shelves for weeks in preparation for the hullabaloo of Halloween, when sugar-seeking children watched by cautious parents collect treats at houses decorated with jack-o-lanterns and cobwebs.

This holiday fell off my list of favorites long ago, though I still stock up on miniature candy bars in case trick-or-treaters choose to wander through our neighborhood once they’ve exhausted the pleasures of downtown, where stores stay open late, hand out treats, and give prizes.

Then, disappointed that few children came to my door, I console myself by eating the leftover candy; such itty-bitty bites couldn’t possibly contain more than two or three calories. To finish my celebration, I feel queasy and go to bed. How festive.

witch-hat-thAs a teacher, the PTA-sponsored school party kept me busy. I found clown noses lost among the cupcakes, adjusted witches’ hats knocked askew in the spook alley, pinned up Tinker Bell’s tulle stepped on during the costume parade, and rescued Superman’s cape ripped off in a tussle with Igor.

I dreaded adult costume parties because I lacked creativity and inventiveness in costuming myself. While one friend used paint and cardboard to parade as Swiss cheese and another painted red dots on her exposed skin and attended as chicken pox, I tied on a sheet, stuck leaves in my hair, and attended as embarrassed Roman. Every year.

11954455891408674158liftarn_Ghost_with_bag_(colour).svg.thumbAs a child, I participated in Halloween with all my heart, costumed and sugar-crazed, but also disappointed when grotesque monster masks  and skeletons rattling in the wind failed to frighten me. For me, the scary trappings of Halloween didn’t compare to the terrifying tricks my friends and I inflicted on one another year around:

“See it?” Karol Ann whispered as we held our breath and searched the night with alarmed eyes. “It’s coming this way. It knows where we are!”

It had begun like any other summer get-together with my sister Carolyn and our friends, Sheila and Karol, walking through inky blackness from our house to theirs to sleep out on the front lawn.

Now suddenly—a mile from home with nothing but fields stretching away from the lane where we trembled beneath distant stars—our lives were in danger.

12154415151126295659lemmling_Cartoon_owl.svg.thumbFirst, Sheila had heard a whooshing sound; then, as we held hands and walked faster, Carolyn, daring to look over her shoulder, saw a shape — big, black and ruffled — stalking us.

“The drain ditch,” I choked out, causing us to scramble, leap, and hide, listening intently for sounds of pursuit as our hearts thudded.

After several tense moments, we decided to peek through the weeds that lined the ditch’s edge, and Karol spotted the horrifying creature still intent on capturing us.

“Run!” Carolyn bellowed.

Screeching, we clawed out of the ditch and flew down the rutted lane — a glorious moment. Four friends, self-panicked, running pell-mell for home, deliciously scared witless.

Halloween could never compare.