I grew up with a mother who, on Halloween nights, occasionally made us sit in the dark basement while she prayed in tongues and the doorbell rang with trick-or-treaters who wouldn’t be getting any treats from our house. Her idea, I think, was to communicate her disapproval of Halloween by not participating in what she saw as a demonic, devil worshipping ritual. Every year I heard stories of satanic ritual human sacrifice, blood-thirsty covens, and witches casting spells in the deepest night. To combat the forces of evil at work in the world, she prayed in her otherworldly language and kept my brother and me cloaked in the darkened house, as if to protect our spirits from the evil that floated by outside the door. But other years, my mother seemed less threatened, and she adopted a proactive attitude toward the trick-or-treaters. Seeing as how Halloween was a prime opportunity for evangelism, she handed out pencils and stickers on which the words Jesus Loves You smiled up at the recipients.
I have only one memory of trick-or-treating as a child—probably about the age of five, before my mother developed her stance against the holiday. I dressed up as an angel, gold pipe-cleaner halo circled about my head. From there, the years ticked by void of trick-or-treating, and by the time I was 23 and pregnant with Oldest, I felt seriously deprived. I needed to make some magic happen—better late than never—so I dressed up as Josie (of Josie and the Pussycats) and, guitar case in hand, paraded around our neighborhood with friends who were also too old for trick-or-treating.
Aside from the ever surfacing awkwardness of being a pregnant 23-year-old dressed as a pussycat-slash-rock star who finagled free candy from elderly residents in the neighborhood, trick-or-treating was all I hoped it’d be. Candy. Lots of it. Free. Mine.
I have to admit, though, that since then I’ve become rather grinchy about Halloween. I can’t say that I’ve adored the holiday in its total Halloweeny essence (this dislike having nothing to do with the Halloween religious hysteria of my childhood). Pumpkins, yes. Dress up, okay. Candy, not so much (!) anymore since Fair Trade labeling and Food, Inc. And the elaborately designed graveyard markers in my neighbor’s front yard don’t really float my boat. Nor do the mock lynchings in the yard on Friendship Street. And the historic old barn on the Scott Blvd extension, the one that gleams rustic red in the October sun, is desecrated by a petroleum-based 8-foot-in-diameter black-and-blue spider and scarecrow bodies with sunken eye sockets and shriveled-up gray heads. Plastic skeletons are tethered to the split-rail fence and another faux corpse hangs by the head from the peak of the barn’s roof.
When Oldest was in preschool, she was scared by all the songs about witches’ brew and ghosts and boo and monsters. And I wanted to cover her eyes and her ears when we set out from the house anytime between October 1 and mid November.
I’m a bit standoffish when it comes to most commercialized and holiday-themed lawn décor, and you won’t find an inflatable reindeer/Santa/Easter bunny/leprechaun in my front lawn. Ever. You won’t even find a flag on the Fourth of July or Veteran’s Day (not that I don’t value our freedom or our veterans). However, none of those put me in a foul mood the way the sight of that beautiful barn swimming in all that deathly plastic crap does. Call me prudish, innocent, naïve, “too good” (as Jane Austen’s Lizzie calls her sister Jane). I'll take whatever label you want to dole out. I just can't get behind all that death.
"Happy Halloween!" strangers at the grocery store sing out to my children and Oldest fires right back, "We don't celebrate Halloween" in her precocious, smart, 8-year-old way. My face flushes and I duck my head away from these strangers who size me up, likely wondering how I could deprive my children of the likes of the holiday. I stutter and sometimes explain our alternate activities, what Oldest has begun calling Falloween: a kick-ass treasure hunt with clues and suspense and little gifts along the way, culminating at Grandpa's house for more (and better) gifts, apple cider, and oatmeal cookies. Sometimes we cut apart pumpkins, scooping their inner fibrous centers out onto cookie sheets and roasting the seeds. Occasionally, the girls look longingly at the trick-or-treaters, but other times they're so busy with the fun of our hunt, giggling at the clues we've rhymed and written up, that they just don't care.
Hopefully they won't ever feel deprived to the point that impending motherhood will create the need to re-enact childhood lost. If I ever see Middle or Oldest, round-bellied and wearing cat ears on Halloween night, I guess I'll have my answer.