All week the TV airwaves have been rife with slasher movies. This genre is not my favorite in spite of my own tendency to write thriller fiction. I can read it, I can write it, but I can't watch it. The reason every movie channel seemed to be all about murder and mayhem this week was, of course, because of Halloween.
I'm a big fan of Halloween, have been since my own trick-or-treating days. There's something about glowing Jack-o-lanterns and kids in costume roaming the village streets that makes my silly heart sing. While begging door to door for food and money on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages, I was surprised to learn that trick-or-treating as we know it really took hold in the U.S. in the late '40s and early '50s. My personal experience back in the 1960s was pastoral. Unlike in the new millennium, kids then were set loose and allowed to wander unattended until sacks were full of candy and popcorn balls and apples. There were no predators, then, or at least none we heard about. My costumes were classic and (I like to think) charming: ghost, witch, cowgirl, princess. Masks were inflexible plastic and pretty basic, with ill-fitting eyeholes that caused plenty of fencepost bumping. Home-cooked treats were not uncommon, and I don't remember a time when I wasn't allowed to consume what I collected. There were no slasher movies on TV back then. Only excited kids ringing doorbells on a chilly night in October, shouting trick-or-treat and getting compliments on a costume well done.
Here I go again, right? Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses?
So yesterday was Halloween. I spent much of the day busying myself with All Hallows' Eve tasks. I carved four Jack-o-lanterns and set them up on the front porch, one in a chair with full jacket and slacks attire. I took out all the bright porch bulbs and replaced them with one 40-watter, so as to keep the light on as the trick-or-treat come-on-over signal, but still dim enough to create a spooky mood. I hung rubber bats and cobwebs. Then I got dressed in a long black flowing cape and wild-eyed mask. I pinned my hair into crazy flyaway swirls and got the big bowl of candy ready. Then I hoped. Hoped there wouldn't be shaving cream and eggs, and that teenagers wouldn't be racing through the streets smashing pumpkins and vandalizing. I hoped that I'd see a ghost or a princess out there, figuring my rose-colored glasses would be busted out one more time because hey, it's new world, right? With slasher movies and angry citizens and economic decline? How delightful, once in awhile, not to be disappointed.
There were moments last night, peeking out through my front door, when I thought the stained glass view had somehow transported me back to childhood. The streets were positively flooded with little kids and smiling parents. I lost count of how many feet approached my spooky threshold, tiny voices chirping "Trick-or-treat!" and holding bags politely. I had friends here, and we took turns answering the door, delighted at the skeletons and aliens, jumping back in "fright" and heaping compliments on costumes, some home-made, some fresh from the store. Occasionally I'd sit next to my Jack-o-lantern man, very still, and reach out to an unsuspecting child. One boy pointed and said "Watch out! That's one's real! She's going to move, you'll see!" (which of course I did to delighted laughter). After one mad dash to the store for more candy, we finally gave up and shut off the porch light, so many were those who prowled the neighborhood just having good old-fashioned fun. With millions of people out of work and political candidates sniping and headlines shouting bad news, how nice it was to have a few hours when the world was as it should be.
I'm taking my Jack-o-lanterns off the porch today, will throw a couple in the garden and maybe make a pie from the others, their orange smiles now just holes in autumn gourds. I'll replace the bulbs and take down the rubber bats, and later will tuck the mask and vampire teeth and cape back into the Halloween trunk and put it in the basement until next year. What won't be tucked away, though, is hope: that, while life has gotten somehow harder and meaner in these strange times, there's still sweetness in the world, a sweetness in the simple joy of seeing a kid in a princess costume come knocking at my door on Halloween.