Monday, October 31, 2005

The Ghost of Halloweens Past And Present

My most memorable Halloween was many years ago when I still lived in Florida. I lived in a town called Taft in Orlando, and it wasn’t the best place to live. I have no idea what it’s like now, but when I lived there it was one gigantic trailer park. It could be a violent place, but it could have been worse. The worst drug I ever saw there when I was growing up was marijuana. I tried it once, but it did nothing for me, which is probably for the better. Years later a recruiter for the Navy put me on the phone with some kind of investigator. He questioned me for almost 10 minutes about that one incident. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t a “Reefer Addict”, as he put it.

Anyway, it was Halloween, and I did my best to come up with a costume. I don’t remember now what I was supposed to be, but I remember that it required me to carry a staff, which was really a handle I unscrewed from a push-broom. Since my friends and I would have no adults with us we felt the need to carry something for protection. I wish it had just been teenage boy bravado that made it necessary to carry that, but sadly, it wasn’t. The year before we were jumped by a couple of older kids who wanted the candy we’d collected. They took our candy, and they beat us up to “teach us a lesson”. I’ve never figured out what lesson I was supposed to take away from that.

After we’d been out for a while we stopped in to the only convenience store in the area to get something to drink. I had left my staff outside and as we left I found a kid standing outside holding it. I knew exactly how to handle the situation – as I walked by him I reached out and snatched the staff right out of his hand, saying “That’s mine, thank you”. Since he wasn’t expecting it he didn’t have a chance to hold on to it. I kept walking. We didn’t know it, but he was part of another group of kids.

Later on, as we were walking down a dark dirt road, we found ourselves in the middle of an ambush. There was suddenly a lot of yelling as they came out of the darkness behind us. We were outnumbered, and we knew it. That didn’t mean we gave up. When they first started coming at us I had thrown the staff into the woods next to me to keep it from being taken and used against me. The darkness is what saved us. It was so dark that we really couldn’t see who we were fighting, and they couldn’t see us.

There was a lot of yelling and because it was Halloween there were a log of kids out. It attracted attention, and thankfully, it was the attention of kids from our part of the neighborhood. These kids were older than us, and a bit bigger. Normally, they wouldn’t care a bit about us, and might even take the candy from us themselves, but this was a chance to fight, and they wanted to take full advantage of it. Still, the dark prevented anything from happening fast. The other group of kids escaped, and we didn’t wait around to thank our “saviors”.

Tonight, here in Worcester, the kids started arriving at about 5:15. Overall, we saw about 400 kids tonight. There were very young kids being walked with their parents and older kids out having fun. The little kids seemed a little confused sometimes, not quite understanding what was happening. Some of the older kids were barely costumed, having at the last minute thrown something together. Parents were with nearly every group, the exceptions being some of the older teenagers. The parents seemed to be having as much fun as the kids, sometimes more.

I had some fun with some of the kids. One family came by and were clearly having a great night. The kids (a boy and his younger sister), once they got the candy, ran back to their parents screaming in sugar-induced glee. The boy was clearly dressed as a pirate, but I asked him if he was dressed as a ballerina. The way I asked it was clearly a joke, and the dad thought it was hilarious. The little boy played along well, shouting in mock indignation that he was not a ballerina. I had fun like that all night.

I think what I liked most about tonight was that everybody was having fun. This is the way Halloween is supposed to be, a fun night where kids can live a little fantasy, and get lots of candy to boot. A dentist’s favorite time of the year. A time where you build the kind of memories that make you nostalgic later on in life. I knew that somewhere, a Halloween like the ones I had in Florida was happening. Kids were having their candy taken, their night turning into a disaster. But it wasn’t happening here, and I suppose, for right now, that’s enough.