But I'm still thinking about Halloween, and how so few kids came to our door, and how the ones that did were driven up in minivans, accompanied by watchful parents keeping vigil ten feet away, and I'm wondering why this is and what has happened to my favorite holiday. Is it morphing into a festival of safe parties and brightly-lit events in warm houses and echoey school gymnasiums? Is the scary, thrilling magic of traipsing around on your own in the dark, hidden behind a mask, gone?
I loved Halloween as a child. I never felt frightened. I come from a big family, and we were sent out in groups of two and three to trick-or-treat together, but those groups often fragmented and dispersed a few blocks from home. Brothers took off. Sisters got cold. I roamed the neighborhood alone, sweating behind my plastic mask, clutching my brown paper grocery sack that I optimistically believed would be full by night's end.
It was usually bitter cold by Halloween night, and though we had spent half the day ransacking the house for sheets and scarves and gypsy earrings and other likely costume fodder, we always ended up covering the whole thing up with a woollen coat before setting out.
Some houses would invite us in to remove our jackets and reveal our costumes to Granny or Gramps, sitting in an easy chair in the stuffy living room. And we did, blinking in the light, and then went on our way again, candy secured, no harm done, no threats made.
Certainly there were problems: I remember rainy Halloweens, when my paper sack dissolved, the bottom falling out, me on my hands and knees, scrambling. Big kids came by and grabbed some candy and took off, shouting. I stuffed what I could into my child-sized pockets. The nasty stuff--peanut butter kisses wrapped in waxed paper, Bit-o-Honeys--got left behind on the ground in the rain.
One of my brothers was robbed of his treat sack once, by older boys, and came home crying. But mostly I remember the quiet, powerful thrill of walking the streets of our neighborhood in the dark, no adults anywhere, hardly any cars, feeling perfectly safe in my disguise, the condensation from my mouth moist on my face, my breathing adenoidal and loud inside the mask. There were always large groups of other children doing the same thing, and it felt, for that one night, that children ruled the world. We walked fearlessly, pounded on doors, made threats, demanded rewards. And the adults, from the bright warm safety of their houses, handed over the loot. And on we went to the next house.
Parents were to serve us. Parents certainly did not go with us, nor did they dress up. This was our night. The candy was great, but Halloween was really about power, and independence, about a world ruled for one night by children.
We told each other the best places to trick-or-treat, and the worst. Don't go to that quiet dark house down Third Street because the crabby woman gives music lessons and won't answer the door. If you ring the bell, she'll holler at you. Do stop by the yellow brick mansion on Second Street. The bishop lives there, with (we thought) his harem of nuns. Draped in black, their hair hidden under the white wimple and long veil, the quiet women handed out plastic sacks of Brachs party mix, tied up with curly ribbons.
We always talked of going there twice, and getting two bags of party mix, but the idea of ripping off the bishop seemed to be tempting God, and we never dared.
And when the streets grew quiet and the other packs of children vanished, we knew it was time to head home. There, in the privacy of our overheated bedrooms, we would dump out our bags and sort out the nasty stuff (those peanut butter kisses again! so many of them!), and marvel at the riches of the good stuff (anything chocolate), make piles, make plans to dole it out through November, and then, plan abandoned, just sail in, eating our fill and falling asleep amidst the crinkling wrappers, sticky and happy and safe.