Hiding Out

Porcelain, cardboard, tin, and plastic Jack o’ lanterns grin from a ledge in the laundry room. I moved them to the basement the morning after Halloween along with candy corn lights and a gauzy witch that cackles when someone walks past. Here’s my sad secret, Halloween is nowhere near my favorite holiday. I find it kind of scary for other reasons.

In Luxemburg, WI there was no trick or treating. We wore our costumes to school and at night a parade happened on Main Street. Candy and substantial treats were thrown from the town’s firetrucks. Many of the town’s 400 or so residents, including many who drove in from their farms, stood on the sidewalk to collect the goodies.  Then everyone joined the parade for about a six block walk to where a bonfire burned at the fairgrounds. Adults and kids partied and danced way after a school night’s normal bedtime.

When we moved to Milwaukee my mother declared her children were not going to ring strangers’ doorbells to beg for candy. She called the city’s Halloween traditions dangerous. And she wasn’t going to encourage others to ring our doorbell. So instead of a parade or walking the neighborhood with other kids, our parents took us to a shopping mall for the special treat of dinner out. If stores offered a treat bag, we were allowed to accept. 

My brother managed to weasel out of the family outing after a couple of years. He claimed he was going to help a friend distribute candy so the parents could walk with younger siblings. I snuck out one year with a girlfriend whose mother called to invite me to a sleepover party. It was a ruse because they felt so bad that I had not experienced the joy of running around in the dark with a pillowcase to collect candy. 

Only I didn’t really find it all that fun. I heard my mother’s disgust with kids begging for candy and caution about the city’s danger. I was kind of afraid of scary costumes and decorations. I worried my parents would drive around the neighborhood and recognize a cheerleader wearing white tennis shoes as their daughter. By high school Halloween parties frequently included booze or pot which weren’t my thing.

Fortunately, I was great at disguising my fear of Halloween from our children who adored the holiday. A granddaughter’s enthusiastic participation in anything connected to Halloween is awesome. I still decorate and usually keep a treat bowl filled, but I’m more comfortable spending Halloween in the basement reading a book.  

Halloween Past—St. Helena by Day, Fairy Godmother by Night

When I think of Halloween, this memory comes to mind: cutting across neighborhood lawns (it was faster than running down the sidewalk and up each driveway) and clutching a pillowcase that was at least one-third full of candy. It was dark and the streetlights were on, but I wasn’t scared, because decades ago when I was 9, none of us worried about crime. Besides, I ran in a pack with half a dozen other kids who were also trick or treating.

How I imagined my costume looked . . .

I recall jogging down Charlestown St., several blocks away from my house, because more is more, and I wanted to cover as much territory as possible before 8:00 p.m. when I had to be home. My parents were home, not trailing along on the sidewalk or in the car. I doubt Mom even remembered to take our picture before we left. Halloween was for kids, not parents.

That was an era before tampered-with Tylenol or razor blades in apples. I was old enough to take care of myself in the neighborhood. Running block after block was no trouble because I was 9, and kids ran everywhere, especially if it meant more candy.

My molded plastic fairy godmother/princess mask was pushed up off my face so I could see while I ran. I’d pull it down before I rang each doorbell. I had hiked up my belted white shift so I could run, and my blue cape floated behind me. I had worn this same costume to school—minus the mask and magic wand/scepter—so I could go as St. Helena, as my saint namesake, a Catholic school requirement.

St. Helena

The nuns at my grade school kept us rooted in the religious meaning of Halloween—All Hallowed’s (Saints) Eve. November 1st is All Saints Day, which involved going to Mass and praying for the dead, but it didn’t really resemble the Mexican Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos). Supposedly, that’s a day when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead thins and spirits of the dead can visit.

However, the usual boundaries of my life were also looser at Halloween. My parents were indulgent. They didn’t fuss about us being out after dark on a school night. They reserved the right to cherry-pick some of the better loot, like Reese’s cups and Butterfingers, but I got to keep and eat the rest of my Halloween candy.

What I remember most is how carefree I was.