From about my late teens until a few years ago Halloween didn’t mean much to me, and like many people who don’t particularly enjoy suiting up, I wished this day would go away. The pressure to don a costume, my laziness or embarrassment or whatever it was that kept me from doing so, and then the dim self-hatred for not being able to participate were all external or internal discomforts I had rathered not deal with.
But like many things I didn’t fully appreciate until I had children (they weren’t apparent until I was a parent, har har), Halloween has become a treasured annual tradition in our family. It’s drawn out over weeks with us, though not intensely. First we go to a pumpkin patch with friends in mid-October to get our pumpkins — in recent years we’ve gone to Craven Farm in Snohomish, where there is a big central area with old boats and tractors and other things to play on and hot dogs and bowls of chowder to buy, plus a tractor-pulled hayride and pumpkin catapults, though years ago we went to Jubilee Farm near Carnation, a smaller farm run by a charming pair of biodynamic farming pioneers named Erick and Wendy. Mara and her buddy Gwyneth cannot remember a time before this tradition in their lives, and their little siblings Coren (Gwyn’s little brother) and Millie are jumping into it gleefully behind them. This is something I really value for my kids, the scrounging about outside in the mud of a real farm, the annual reinforcement of smells and air temperature and angle of light and community that will inform a lifelong deep-memory association of this time with the earth and good friendships — and the cultivation of both. To me it’s the perfect way to kick off what I must inevitably call our Halloween Season.
Next, there’s a day when we carve the pumpkins, which we usually do separately, Gwyn’s family tending to be on the ball earlier while we are lucky if we get carving done the afternoon of Halloween. This year our friend Hillary came over to carve with us and help Angela alter the clothes that would become Mara’s Rapunzel outfit. Angela bakes up the pumpkin seeds just right for a delicious and wholesome harvest-time snack.
And finally the great day, the hallowed e’en, comes. Although dressing up as princesses with your best friend and running around yelling and squealing is actually kind of a weekly thing for Mara and Gwyneth, the addition of being outside (after dark!!) and getting free candy at house after house turns routine fun into a sublime hoedown of candy-coated madness. But even a parent worried about tooth decay can see that it’s about more than just the candy. For Mara it’s the door opening…that moment of expectation. Will there be a scary person behind the door (always a possibility, and she has never forgotten the time when the man in our neighborhood we call the Halloween Man opened his door wearing an Edvard Munch’s “Scream”-like mask, which sent Mara and Gwynnie back down the stairs in a candyless retreat)? What kind of candy will they offer? Will they let her take two pieces? Three?
Millie was only four months old last Halloween and Angela wore her on her chest. This year, Millie had her own ladybug costume and held her own bag and stood mostly on her own feet and made her own startlingly prehensile grasps into the lowered bowls. She even said “Dant doo” quietly to each bowl-holder. One older lady actually understood this little toot of a spondee and smiled and said “Oh you’re very welcome.” What could be a more beautiful thing to experience on a cold night in autumn silvered by a crescent moon?
It occurred to me last night that while I have in the past ridiculed this annual tradition, it was only because I was seeing it from my curmudgeonly perspective. Adults held hostage to packs of roaming sugar-fiends. But what I saw tonight I saw through Mara’s and Millie’s eyes — for Mara the joy of an adventure with her friends, gathering a bounty hidden behind doors with the added titillation of potential frights, and for Millie an extension of her unspoiled worldview to the wider community. While it may be a new thing for her, it is no strangeness that we’re knocking on the doors of our neighbors. That they open, that they smile and express delight at seeing us, that they bless us with gifts.