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What is this all about?

On Halloween, children fantasize of creepy creatures and dangerous demons hidden in every shadow.  I remember as a young boy telling stories to my friends about "dead man's ditch" or "the old willow witch".  By telling the stories I'd manage to even scare myself enough to want to dash home as fast as my legs could carry me, fearing that the old witch would catch me or something in the ditch had the power to draw me into it.  I could imagine a shadow as a cave opening, or a disfigured creature of some kind.  As a child I would avoid the grave yard and dark wooded areas of my community.  I feared what might happen if I was to stumble across a monster in the dark.

At some point I became an adult.  It happened during that long phase where I didn't really celebrate much of anything.  There were too many things going on in my life to bother with anything outside my immediate situation.  I was too old to go trick-or-treating and too young to go to Halloween parties.

Eventually I had kids of my own and Halloween turned into a chore along with all of the other holidays...  Before Halloween the kids would want to get costumes.  They would want to be a princess, or cartoon character, or cute animal.  I hated buying the pre-packaged outfits.  Wasn't Halloween supposed to be about scary things and chasing away demons or something?  At Halloween I would walk from house to house with them.  It always seemed cold.  I would get so bored.  I walk with them and talk to them and go through the routine (knock, knock... "Trick-or-treat..." "Oh, what adorable/cute/scary <said sarcastically> costumes"...  "Say thank you..."  <in chorus> "Thank you..."   ...and on to the next doorway.  So boring...


(graveyard Halloween 2002)


Every once in a while the kids would stop dead in their tracks.  They would say "No, daddy I'm not going down there..."I'd look ahead and see it.  Not really scary, but strange enough to give you pause.  Someone had gone through the trouble to do it right!  Not the cheesy 6 foot plastic ghost in the lawn or some paper skeleton taped in the window with orange holiday lights around it.  A little creepy.  Dark and dangerous looking.  You'd hear the sounds coming from near the doorway.  An owl hoot or a wolf howl in the distance.  As an adult I am not scared.  I live in a city of pavement and plaster - no wolves or owls have been seen here in decades.  But the kids are petrified.  Their little imaginations are going wild - they can hardly move.  I'm not bored now.  I want to see what else this person has done.  Are they dressed up and hiding in the bushes?  Do they have creepy spiders ready to drop from the rooftop?  The kids will not go.  I look at my wife and she gives me an affirming nod...  I head down the path.  For the first time in years I feel that old familiar scare coming on.  Will I still run like mad?  I need to feel scared again, I can't resist...

Now I have the home that no child will go near on Halloween.  They come early every year while I am working on the decorations.  They see the coffins and skeletons and bats and strange costumes.  They ask questions and point out flaws in the plans that will keep them from being scared this year.  Only it doesn't really work.  On Halloween those very same kids stand out on the street.  They hold their parent's hands and refuse to go near.  They hear the howls and growls of the mental monsters.  They hear the occasional scream from the groups of older children that dared to go even part way up the driveway.  They hear the stories from the older kids as they walk by - daring each other to go farther this time.   I see the fathers, asking for permission and slowly, cautiously walking toward the front door.  They too will go in groups, making their way past the graveyard after jumping back a bit from something unexpected.  They stop and look at the ghost in the window or the skeleton in the coffin, sometimes for several minutes, trying to figure out how it works.  I listen to their stories as they explain the magic to each other in such inventive ways.   Finally they knock on the door. They leave their sons & daughters behind and come all the way to the door to say something to us - the people that scare the children... They all say the same thing.  They all say "Thank you".


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