Halloween is my favorite holiday.
You don't have to buy a bunch of presents for people. You don't have to cook. And your mother doesn't call you and ask, with that familiar tone in her voice, "Well, are you coming home for Halloween this year?"
I have the fondest memories of Halloween from my childhood. My father would carve the pumpkin on Halloween night, scooping great gobs of pumpkin glop onto newspaper. Seems like I was a "bum" every year. My dad's old baggy clothes, candle black from the foil-covered pumpkin lid all over my face.
My sisters and I would just run wild in the dark, safe streets of our suburban cul-de-sac. Squealing with both fear and delight when we ran into friends hiding inside a costume. We felt so unshackled, so free of the constraints of homework, bath and bedtime. It was late and it was dark and we were loose!
My favorite treats were Clark Bars and Nestle Crunch. I saved those and gave the rest to my sisters. My school lunches were worth waiting for during all of November.
My clearest memory is of one family in the neighborhood who would always invite us in, so we saved their house for last. There would be a fire roaring in the fireplace, hot cider and powdered-sugar doughnuts. My mother would stay awhile and talk, and it was really late when we got home to bed. Like maybe 10 o'clock.
These days I do Halloween from a different angle, that of a parent.
We have gone to the same pumpkin farm every year since my oldest was born. Joe is not even a year old in the photo we have of him sitting in a pile of pumpkins there. Each child gets to choose a pumpkin. A tall, skinny one, a short, fat one. And then they pick a baby pumpkin for themselves. I buy the last of the season's tomatoes and some apple butter that grows old in my fridge. And my husband makes some wisecrack about the cornstalks that I want.
"Excuse me," Gary says. "You mean this stuff is sitting dead in a field somewhere and we are buying it? How are we supposed to get it home?"
Be glad I don't want to decorate with an old, rusty tractor, I tell him.
I make cupcakes for my children's classroom parties, and I take pictures of the costume parade at their school. (Their former principal would always wear a referee's uniform, complete with a whistle, and the parents would just howl with laughter.)
I am one of the lucky mothers. My husband does the costumes. (And the science fair and the dioramas and the classroom projects. Like the one of the amoeba that he and Joe did with bathroom caulk. Gary is the creative one. I'm the one who gets them where they need to be on time.)
He has made cardboard wings for Jessie the Angel and a cardboard suit of armor for Joe the Knight. He even made a whip for "Indiana Joe" one Halloween.
But the year that I labored into the night to put "jewels" around the neckline of Jessie's Indian princess costume, I was the hero. She was so happy she couldn't speak, she just hugged my legs. This year, of course, she has declared that she doesn't want to be a "dumb Indian princess."
Gary carves the pumpkin in the garage on Halloween night, scooping big globs of "pumpkin guts," as Joe calls it, onto newspaper. He makes the same joke every year: "Honey, do you want to save this for those homemade pies you make?" He sets himself up in the garage with a cup of coffee, talk radio, dim lights, a glowing pumpkin and a basket of candy.
I make my children eat something that resembles dinner. And I make them wait until it is officially dark. I go with them every step of their trick-or-treating way. I restrain the wild one and I hold the hand of the shy one. I want to put fluorescent tape on their costumes, but they howl their objections. I never let them go to a house if I don't know who lives there.
And when they finally go to sleep, I sort through their candy -- or in Jessie's case, her candy wrappers -- and try to squirrel some of it away to tuck into their lunches as a surprise. I only eat the Clark Bars or the Nestle Crunch.
On Halloween night, our house is everybody's last stop. We have a fire roaring in the fireplace. And while the parents sip hot cider and talk, the kids run wild and unrestrained through the nearby streets and back yards. It is late when everyone leaves. Maybe 10 p.m. And the powdered doughnuts are all gone.