Looking outside this afternoon, I was struck by the absence of costumed kids strolling up and down the street. That got me to thinking about the Halloweens of my youth. If this most wonderful holiday fell on a Saturday, kids would be walking around in their costumes all day long, showing their fright rags like top models walking the runway. And it wasn’t just the kids. Adults, too.
I remember the first time I saw my mother get dressed up for Halloween. She didn’t have a party to go to or anything like that. She just wanted to get dressed up. “For the kids,” she said. At the time I had no clue what she was talking about. I learned later that day, when I came home from school, what she meant. Picture this:
A chilly October afternoon in Brooklyn, NY. Kids in store-bought costumes (remember how stifling those plastic masks were, but would we take them off? Hell no!) scurrying down the sidewalk like roaches in a filthy kitchen as they make their way out of one yard and into the next, comparing bag contents as they ask each other what they got. I follow behind them, eager to be home so I can get my homework done and start my horror movie marathon.
As they are about to turn into my yard, I see them hesitate and exchange nervous glances. Not know what’s going on, I walk by and take a peak and I chuckle under my breath. Leaning against the brick wall is a five foot tall witch: flowing black robe with a cowl pulled up over her head; long, stringy, black hair; wart-covered, green, rubbery skin. Without a pause, I cross to the other side of the street to watch this scene unfold.
Their voices have dropped to nervous whispers, as they decide what to do. This is something they’ve never encountered before. Yeah, they walked into yards decorated with cobwebs and jack o’lanterns, but never before have they seen a life-sized decoration such as the one that now blocked their path, keeping them from the next deposit of chocolate-covered goodness into their orange, pumpkin-shaped treasure chests. After a few seconds of hushed discussion, one brave soul ventures forward, opening the gate and inching their way inside. Mind you, there’s still about 8 feet separating this adventurous spirit from the scary hag, but the slow, suspense-filled trek has begun. He makes his way slowly across the concrete, gaze constantly shifting from the doorbell to the witch and back again.
Once he has made it past unmolested, he turns and waves his friends over, and even though he has just shown them there’s nothing to be scared of, they, too, inch their way past. They are now clustered into the stairwell, as as one reaches for the doorbell, the others look nervously over their shoulders at the witch, half-expecting at any moment to become the next ingredient in the witch’s brew. All their nervousness is forgotten the moment they hear the doorbell and all heads turn forward.
Even from across the street, I can hear the nails-on-a-blackboard voice say, “Nibble, nibble, little mouse, who’s that nibbling at my house,” as the folds in the robe start to flutter and glove-encased hands rise up, holding a black plastic cauldron filled near-to-overflowing with candy.
The reaction is instantaneous. They turn as one, and it only takes half second for them to realize where the voice came from, and another half a second before the screams begin and they’re shoving and push each other closer to the witch so they can escape to safety.
And the laughter. Mine and that of the witch mixing with the terrified squeals of the piglets. We didn’t hand out much candy that year, but oh was it worth it.
That was the year I found out Mom loved Halloween almost as much as I did, and every year after that, to my father’s shaking head, we would get dressed up to answer the door and hand out candy.
Seeing how love for this holiday seems to have dwindled over the years, especially among the little ones, it makes me wonder if Halloween is dead. The thought of that makes me sad — but at least I still have my memories.