Halloween Less of Mayhem, More of Magic

Blogger’s Note: This originally ran as a column in Tuesday, October 27, 1998, edition of The Pioneer daily newspaper, Big Rapids, Michigan. Our oldest was 11 months; he’s almost 11 now. Time flies, but as I drove home, I looked west to see the orange skies behind bare-bones trees, and got that old feeling again …

I spent the best Halloweens on Littlefield Lake in the woods between Barryton and Clare. Back then the neighborhood was less densely populated and surrounded on all sides by woods — mournful willows, tall creaking poplars, dank cedars with their long toes awash in swamp water — and Halloween night fell black as coal. The winds tossed harried handfuls of leaves high into the air; clouds blew like smoke across the sky and bare tree limbs rattled like old bones.

We all trick-or-treated together — hobos and monsters, clowns and devils. Usually my sister and I would head down the hill at dusk to the first stop; from there our motley troop would gain members until four or so stops down the way, just as darkness was setting in, we’d be marching 10 to 15 strong, going from house to house snatching candy treats from little old ladies with bluing hair and kindly old white-haired men (the result of our frightful appearances, no doubt).

Our parents followed a block or so behind, talking amongst themselves. Jack-o-lanterns grinned like skulls from nearly every porch, casting flickering shadows on the walk, and eyes wide with anticipation, we could hardly keep from running house to house.

There were those stops along the route we came away with a handful of change, or an apples, or raisins. There were those houses that sat quiet and dark, oblivious to the dread crew marauding the subdivision in search of food.

But we treated ourselves to what was given, and never tricked — unless it was to run ahead into the bushes to frighten stragglers and our parents. No TP, no window-soaping, no flaming bags of doggie-doo — our mothers were just behind us, and the final trick always belonged to them.

Halloween, for us, was a pinch more of the magical and very little mayhem. Even the fake blood and weapons were kept to a minimum — our costumes were often created at home, and violence and gore were rarely themes.

As you might imagine, then, it saddens me to see more and more families (Blogger’s Note: And schools!) celebrating “fall festivals” and neglecting Halloween. It may be a holiday founded in paganism; it may be frightening, what with the ghouls, the goblins, the “slithy toves” and the “frumious bandersnatch,” but ultimately, it is one magical evening for youngsters — like Christmas, a night when the impossible can happen.

So, with a son not yet a year old and with too few teeth for Milk Duds, I can feel Halloween come creeping. The pumpkins are carved, the candles lit, and my eyes are wide once more.

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