Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween is for Kids

I enjoyed Halloween until I was 12, although it was never my favorite holiday. I loved fall, with its pumpkins and colored leaves and early dark. I liked the candy and especially the time spent after trick-or-treating trading candy with my siblings. We gave 2/3 of our haul to the charity bin at the elementary school, so quantity was our aim. Luckily, there were enough peanut butter taffies, Mary Janes and Tootsie Rolls to put in the charity pile that we didn't have to go into our candy bar collection. Also luckily, my sister was a fan of 3 Musketeers and not a fan of nuts, so I could build up my Snickers collection.

Park Forest, Illinois, had a haunted house when I was growing up. It was in a small, brick two-story house that was built to provide training to the fire department. A few times a year they'd set it on fire and practice navigating the narrow hallways, tricky stairways and small rooms. For the haunted house, they replaced the limited bare lightbulbs with colored or strobe bulbs. I vividly remember going through that place one year, being pushed into a hay bale that housed a monster of some sort and fleeing through the back door-- terrifying. I think I was expecting fake haunted house carnival ride monsters, not real people dressed up and hiding, reaching out and grabbing us.

Mostly I associate Halloween with discomfort. The costumes, of course, but also plunging my head into a bucket of water and apples. My sticky face and hair after struggling to bite through a layer of caramel and into an apple. Although I loved being in plays, I never liked wearing costumes for parties or Halloween. It felt like too much pressure to come up with something good, and I was never satisfied.

My favorite Halloween as an adult was the year I lived in Brooklyn. I had successfully avoided all costume parties, and came home from work to a gorgeous fall evening, stopping at Happy Pizza for a slice. I went up to my apartment over the video store, only to be roused by the sound of a parade a half hour later. In 1989-91, when I lived in Park Slope, 7th Avenue was a major parade route. Beginning the first Saturday morning after I moved in with bagpipes and a parade of all the park district baseball teams, the were almost always led by bagpipes, and they were almost always a complete surprise to me.

I came down to watch the parade, what seemed like hundreds of kids in costumes marching down the street. Adults gathered on the sidewalk and called out and applauded the kids: "Hey, superman! Hey, hi there, ninja turtle!" Some kids worked the crowd, while others seemed surprised by the attention. All the store owners (except the new Korean noodle place that was also taken off guard) had candy at the ready to hand out to the children. It was almost like a mirror version of a 4th of July parade, with the crowd throwing candy to the marchers.

I have friends in Cold Spring who go to an annual adult costume party for Halloween. They look forward to it and go to great lengths to put together costumes. Last year they won the best costume prize for Thing 1 and Thing 2, and this year the plan was to go as the sexy cable repair guy and a "Real Housewife" of Cold Spring. Their three children-- yeah, they have costumes for Halloween too.

My Facebook feed is also full of photos of adult friends at various Halloween parties. I love the gnome and vampires and superheroes and all of it. But I thank the Lord I don't have to dress up. The last costume party I attended was in 1987, if I remember correctly. I came home from work to find the law students I lived with had spent the entire day preparing costumes. I dissolved in tears, until my friend Bob took me in hand and said, "Susan, there's always the hobo!" A flannel shirt, ripped jeans, bandana bundle on a stick and some charcoal and I was good to go. But I do remember how much that charcoal itched all night and made my face break out.

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