I can remember being a small girl staring at all the boxed costumes in the store, looking through their clear cellophaned fronts to glimpse the colorful contents inside. It might be a mask or crown, plus a cape or other fun garment. As I inspected the rows of merchandise options, I would ponder whether to be a princess, a goblin or a comic book hero.
I could skip the boxed creations, avoiding the certainty of running into many others looking just like me, and instead finagle a white sheet from my mother, cut out some eyes and a mouth and be a ghost. Or I could drag my mother into the creative process and make something more original and elaborate. I was so jealous the year my friend Cynthia made an “I Dream of Jeannie” costume, wishing I had one myself.
Once Halloween night arrived, my brother and I would grab our pillowcases and head out with our neighborhood friends like a pack of dogs and visit every single house on our street. In exchange for the codeword, adults would deposit tasty tiny versions of our favorite candies, plus popcorn balls and candy apples (the latter which might be discarded lest there be razor blades buried in them — one of the more ridiculous fears bought into by our parents) into our giant receptacles.
Our cotton bags weighty in our hands, we’d come home a couple of hours later, exhilarated — or maybe that was simply the anticipated sugar rush. We’d dump our loot on the living room carpet, segment it into categories and begin trading like we were on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Then we’d gorge on chocolates, hard candies and taffies. Bliss.
As I got older, I traded trick-or-treating for Halloween parties. My friends and I would sometimes create elaborate costumes, parading around proudly while we partied the night away. Those were some memorable times.
Party invitations dwindled as I got older. Halloween became lost, left to be celebrated by younger generations. It certainly wasn’t even visible for urban apartment dwellers such as myself aside from the odd decoration.
But then I had my own family, and everything reversed 180 degrees. The man I married was a Halloween enthusiast. He came from a family who didn’t just give candy to little kids, but put on a show, and made trick-or-treaters think twice about landing their sugary prize too easily. Those kids had to work for their booty, and conquer their fear of the spooky adults who were providing it.
I embraced Halloween from an entirely new perspective and ever since, our home has often been referred to as “The Halloween House.”
We put on a show at the Cobb hacienda most years. Trick-or-treaters and their accompanying adults are all game to be scared, and the men of the house have a “no mercy” rule. They are equal opportunity frighteners.
I particularly enjoy seeing the kids every year — the babies, the toddlers, the new faces and the assortment of children I’ve witnessed growing up over time. I love to see the inventive costumes.
Some years our set-ups are more elaborate than others. We’ve had haunted houses with various rooms in which a visitor might confront a madman, a guillotine scene, screaming heads detached from bodies, frightful hillbillies, or a Scottish knife-wielding clansman.
For a couple of years, we had an electric chair scenario where a German doctor and her hunchback assistant tried to find volunteers among the wide-eyed trick-or-treaters huddled around. Another year, we split a child in two with a chainsaw and sold the “fresh meat” of their remains. That certainly got the neighbors talking.
Once trick-or-treaters make it through our horrors, they might have to reach in a coffin for their candy prize, or the pocket of a scary “statue,” who may or may not be alive.
Most years, there is a renowned evil scarecrow from our crew who preys upon the unsuspecting in the vicinity. People try and avoid him every year, but to no avail. He is a scare artist at Halloween.
We typically have tombstones littering the front yard that we’ve created over time, plus blazing fire baskets, haunted music and an assortment of carved jack-o-lanterns. It’s all a bit daunting.
Some kids smartly avoid our house, although you’d be amazed at how many parents prod, tug or even drag their kids to go through the spectacle.
I now realize one reason why I embrace the tradition of Halloween. It feels timeless. Unlike so many other things, it hasn’t really changed much from when I was a kid. And that’s more satisfying than any candy bar.
This column was originally published in The Journal on October 12, 2014.