I love Halloween.
Well, of course I do. I love dark and creepy stories, movies, books, and things that go bump in the night. Horror-ish art. Strange little knick-knacks. If it's weird, the odds are that I'll be fascinated by it.
But I also mean the holiday itself. I have fond memories of it. When I was very young, we were super-poor, and Halloween is the only holiday where you can participate just the same as the kids whose families have bucks.
I remember being maybe 4 years old, and sick with the flu, watching one of my older brothers (who was about 13 at the time) prepare to go out trick-or-treating. He put together different old clothes, drew on some creepy make-up, and he was ready to go. He spent hours going door to door, street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood. There was no money for treats for us during the rest of the year, so he meant to stock up for us, while having a great time with his friends (whose families weren't doing all that well, either).
His trick-or-treat bag? An old pillowcase.
I remember him coming home with it crammed full, emptying it out on the bed, then going out again. He went far and wide, returning I don't remember how many times. I probably fell asleep and missed some of it. We were in a tough neighborhood, and kids learned at an early age to negotiate the slightly-mean streets. It wasn't a drive-by, pushers-on-the-corner sort of place, but it sure as hell wasn't the suburbs, either. Still, a lot of kids (not all) had their independence as long as they stayed out of trouble, and at 13, my mother knew my brother could handle himself.
And, as expected, all went well. He collected enough candy and stickers and small toys that he could have opened his own store, and we had a happy week or two, feeling just as un-deprived as the rich kids for a change.
That is the first Halloween that I specifically remember.
I also remember a Halloween when I was in, I think, 3rd grade. The school let us wear our costumes, and we had a party during the last half-hour of the school day. I was dressed as Blackbeard The Pirate. It never occurred to me at the time I saw it in a store, that he was a guy and I was a girl. My mother raised me to think that I could do and be whatever I wanted, and I thought the bearded guy with the patch over his eye seemed very Halloween-y. It wasn't a feminist statement. I wasn't coming out of the closet. If he was a cute male pirate, I'd have had a crush on him instead of wanting to dress like him. I just liked the look of the costume. Okay, maybe it was also the rubber knife that came with it.
These days, of course, no school would allow a kid to bring a knife to school even if it, and the sheath it sat in, were rubber. They'd probably suspend you and insist you get mental health treatment. Instead, I had a fun day. Until I got home. It turns out that sliding a rubber sheath through a belt and expecting it not to break and fall off was too much to ask. Somewhere during the walk home (yes, we walked to school, wow!), I lost my beloved rubber knife. I went back to look for it, but it was nowhere to be found. I guess some other kid got a Halloween bonus.
The last Halloween that I went out trick-or-treating with my friends, I was 14 years old. I wore a lizard mask with a long snout (is that what you call a lizard nose?), a black derby hat, black turtle-neck pullover, and black pants. It was warm enough weather that I didn't need a jacket, although at 14, I would have ditched it anyway.
A local fast food place was giving out free fountain sodas at the drive-thru window, for anyone in a costume, so we stopped by. Then, toward the end of the night, we switched portions of our costumes and went back for a second soda, certain that the grown-up at the window would never figure out that we were the same kids who'd been there earlier. Yeah, right. Bless her heart, though -- she pretended she fell for it, and gave us each a soda.
I don't remember splitting up and going home, don't remember how much candy we collected or what types there were, but I remember getting a big kick out of being a lizard for a night, and fooling a grown-up with our sneaky brilliance.
If someone ever does invent a time machine, I'd love to go back and re-live that very last Halloween night. My family moved away the following spring, and my friends, my house, and my neighborhood were lost to me.
But I still have the memory. :-}
Copyright ©2014 Nik Barnabee. All Rights Reserved.
Jack-O'Lantern photo by lobo235 on Flickr Commons