My first Halloween night in upstate New York was spent hiding from angry children.
The holiday was never one I really followed when I was growing up, coming as I did from an ultra-religious family where to speak of ghosts was tantamount to swearing. Indeed, even the classic cartoons giving homage to All Hallow’s Eve were banned from our home. The night itself was rife with little hoodlums scattering near and far in search of candy (the treats), or ways to deface houses and property (the tricks).
In our house we were always in well before nightfall, and the night was treated like just another night, with family games, wholesome television shows, and an early bedtime. The next day was always interesting, though, because some of the kids at school would have plastic baggies chock full of candy, and they would taunt those of us who had nothing. It made me a bit jealous to see them lord it up over us but my mother always told me all candy did was rot the teeth, and did I want rotten teeth? I most decidedly did not.
As the years went by the jealousy passed into the ether for the most part, but on occasion I would still see those kids wandering from door to door and wish I were them. But my mother was unrelenting so I stopped asking and decided it was my lot in life. Eventually, though, when 11th grade rolled around I guess Joy and I were old enough to make our own decision. Of course the irony of it all was that by then the novelty of the experience had mostly worn off for other adolescents. Teenagers were buying their own candy, or just trashing yards and egging houses instead of lugging baskets from door to door.
But we decided to go for it anyway — me, Joy, and our friend Karen — rather spontaneous that year. You see, we were supposed to be heading to the church basketball game at our old elementary school. Rather than going straight there, though, we had our other friend drop us off 10 blocks away, and we followed the kids around Mt. Airy begging for candy. First, though, we had to make ourselves legit, and we all happened to be wearing ballcaps, so we called ourselves the Hat Squad. Then, at the first house we “hit,” the nice lady gave us all plastic shopping bags. And we were in business.
That remains the only time I ever went trick-or-treating in my life, at least for myself, and the memories of it were totally worth the wait, and the subsequent absence of it. Perhaps that’s all I needed, to know how it looked from the other side, just that once, and it was enough. Besides, going as an 11th grader was kind of hip in a weird way, but going as a 12th grader would have just been creepy. All I know is that the candy we got that filled up our plastic bags tasted better than any other candy I’d had before or that I’ve had since.
Fast forward to that dark, cold night in October back in 2002, when I was still just beginning to acclimate myself to the weather here. It had been so many moons since that one-off trick or treating experience that it was just the echo of the shadow of a memory in my mind. Heidi was working late that night, past her usual 5 o’clock, so as the shadows began to fall across the house I switched on the porch light to help her navigate when she finally arrived. Then I went to fix myself some dinner and forgot all about it… until the banging on the door.
Of course it was the first wave of kids in Batman regalia, dressed as witches and warlocks, wearing what some might call scandalous costumes as well, and I had completely forgotten that it was even Halloween. But it was too late to just turn off my light and ignore them. So I rifled quickly through our kitchen cupboards and came up with a few candy bars (that I was going to eat myself later) to give to those persistent children who thanked me and went on their way. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to making my dinner, wondering why they had even stopped at our house. Then the next wave of banging began.
“Sheesh!” I thought as I peeked out the window and saw more goblins, princesses, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (Raphael, I think) waiting outside the door for candy. By this time I began to think that the kids just stopped at every house in the village, and I just hadn’t been informed. I grabbed the last of our candy, gave it to them, shut the door, shook my head, and began eating my dinner while watching an episode of Friends. BANG BANG BANG. Sigh.
My problem became evident that time, though, because I was all out of candy. After all, I hadn’t expected any kids to come seeking it, and I hadn’t even know it was Halloween, so I did what any other self-respecting person would do. I went quickly through the house closing the shades and turning off the lights. I snaked my hand around the corner and turned off the porch light as well, hoping that the kids would think it was on automatic timer. They kept banging. I kept hiding. And eating. Eventually they left, but I’m almost certain they’re the ones who came back later and egged our front door. I didn’t blame them.
Later on, when Heidi returned, I told her the story, miffed that so many kids had stopped by without being invited, when she told me that I had indeed invited them. Of course she was laughing at me the entire time as well. I finally understood after a few minutes of explanation that leaving that porch light on was the international symbol for “Stop at this house.” I haven’t done that since, but I still chuckle every time I think of that first Halloween. Those kids are grown ups themselves now, but they are probably still not very fond of me to this day. I wouldn’t be either, considering. But hey, that’s how we learn.
Now I’m heading out with Heidi and my own children to look for those porch lights, and I hope no one’s hiding from us.