Monday, November 2, 2009

The Ghosts of Halloween Past, Present and Future

Another Halloween has come and gone. Al pulled out all the outdoor ornaments and we elicited the requisite "oohs" and "aahs" from all the elementary school kids who walked past our house each day. He really does a great job and the kids love it, especially the cat eyes in the top windows. But now that it is all behind us, I can't help but feel a little let down. When the kids were all younger, we had great neighborhood traditions that were fun for all of us. Emily was always going to be Jasmine, or some other glamorous Disney beauty. Joey would always choose a weapon first -- nunchucks, sword or gun -- and then find a costume to work with it -- ninja, pirate or soldier. And after some brief experimentation with the ubiquitous licensed costumes such as Spiderman, Jack too graduated to the weapon-based art of self presentation.
Our house was on the corner of a neighborhood densely populated with families about the same ages as ours so Halloween was a big deal. Each year, we would have a big pot of curried pumpkin soup, plenty of pizza, cold beer and wine. Several families would meet up for a quick bite to eat and then load up with some road beverages and a passel of trick-or-treaters. I would head out with several friends as our kids scoured the streets for the best offerings. We tried to stay close enough to make sure everyone (mostly) behaved but far enough away so the kids did not think we were hovering. However, we were often still chatting with a neighbor at his front door while the kids were two or three houses ahead of us.
When the kids were really little, they could barely hang in there for an hour. We would return to our house to swap duty, sending the menfolk out to forage, as we hung back with the younger kids and a fresh glass of wine. There was a steady stream of trick-or-treaters young and old, including the parents who came to rely on us as a refueling station. Unless someone was sick or otherwise detained, we could all count on Halloween as an exhausting but fun-filled evening.
Now that the kids are older, our role in Halloween is becoming more and more behind the scenes. Emily is now away at UCSB, home of the largest annual Halloween street party in the state of California. Some 40 to 50 thousand kids flock to Isla Vista each year where the partying starts two days before and does not end until a day or two after Halloween. We try not to think too much about what was going on but we are thrilled to know she survived unscathed. Joey went to a party with a friend in coordinating thrift store outfits that they picked up earlier that afternoon. I cannot say exactly what he was dressed as but his costume included neon colored beach pants and "Bud Light" Mardi Gras beads. Jack was a crazed clown, sporting a rubber mask and his favorite shirt which reads "It's my brother's fault."
I took Jack and four of his friends to a festive street a couple miles away. Virtually the whole street decorates big for Halloween and there are thousands of people milling about. It is quite a spectacle. While the kids delight in the carnival atmosphere, they complain about the slim pickings in the treats department. Make no doubt about it, this is a well managed process and each child gets one small piece of candy from each house. Many families have dispensing stations set up at the end of their driveways in an effort to promote efficiency and protect their landscaping. Although I usually bump into someone I know, I could easily wander about anonymously as I do not know any of the families who live on the street. I cannot quite come to terms with the fact that we drove here. When did Halloween become a destination?
While I wax nostalgically for the Halloweens of old, I realize that this transition would have occurred regardless of where we lived. Halloween is a holiday for kids and my kids are growing up. Jack is 11 years old and I doubt he will want me trick-or-treating with him and his buddies next year. Al says I can stay home with him and pass out candy, probably watching a baseball game while we are waiting for the doorbell to ring. I can delight in the faces of a new crop of children who watch wide-eyed as I drop handfuls of full-sized candy bars into their bags. Sounds okay. But I will cherish the memories and the ghosts of Halloween past.


  1. Ellen, I hope it will make you smile to learn that the group of Jack's classmates with whom I walked around on Halloween night made this very clear: "Let's go to Jack Multari's; his father works for Willie Wonka!" Your house was a big hit and major destination, so you should enjoy being there next year to receive those trick-or-treaters...

  2. The comment above came from Mica's mom, your neighbor Amy -- I just figured out how to select a profile properly for my comment...

  3. I like the image of Al working for Willie Wonka, but he hasn't looked like an Ooompa Loompa since grad school.