A hallowing

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.

Millie teeters off toward Coren, Mara and Gwyneth (far right).

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.

A barrow full of smiles.

Let the carving begin. Mara hunkers down at Hillary's elbow to wait out the sharp part.

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?

Two Rapunzels, a lion and a ladybug. Here we are. You know the drill.

Mara, Gwyneth and Coren on somebody's porch. Mara immediately reports every item of candy, how many pulls alotted, and any other data she can think of. The CNN of candy traffic.

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?

Millie wasn't really keen on her ladybug costume, either, but she got into it, literally, when she saw the big kids donning theirs.

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.

It didn't take Emilia long to get the hang of the bowl. She even said thank you.

She doesn't mind if she does.

And why not?

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15 Responses to “A hallowing”


  1. 1 Jeni November 1, 2011 at 10:41

    Now that Randy and I are mostly empty-nesters and dog-less we are really enjoying Halloween for many of the same reasons you mention: neighbors, little people in cute costumes, their excitement, adding to it by the way you open the door! It’s so much fun :)
    It was a different story with Charlie attacking the door and announcing his territory at full voice. It was just a battle all night long. This is much more fun :)

    • 2 Matt November 1, 2011 at 21:50

      Having a dog the size of a Dodge Ram and with twice the accelerating capability heck-bent on protecting the house from Trick-or-Treaters doesn’t sound fun, no. No indeed.

  2. 3 Louis November 1, 2011 at 10:59

    Emilia is cute as a bug! Thanks for taking me around the neighborhood, Matt! You conjured up many sweet (literally and figuratively) memories of Hallowe’en past. For a couple of years in Vancouver I lived in a house with a few other folks, and we just loved Halloween. Giving out candy to all the costumed kids. My favorite trick-or-treater was usually the 13-14 year old kid who felt too old to be putting on a costume but still wanted in on all that loot. I always got a kick out of the body english, that said, “This is so stupid”, while wearing a Freddy Kruger outfit.

    • 4 Matt November 1, 2011 at 21:57

      Ha, well said, that last bit. I think I remember being that kid once, maybe at 11 or 12, but yeah, maybe even 13, 14. Lame costume, mainly involving torn clothes or paint, nothing actually crafted. My body english said “Ooooh, Butterfinger!!” and “I’m not even aware of my own age.”

      • 5 Louis November 3, 2011 at 08:17

        I was that kid as well. 13-14. I recall my friends and I being so gung-ho for another Halloween “feast”. But about halfway into the journey we noticed we were greatly outnumbered by little kids, and it triggered in each of us the realization that perhaps we were too old for this kind of thing and that this would be our last Halloween as participants.

  3. 7 leatherhead109 November 1, 2011 at 17:18

    Brother, I join you in caving in on curmudgeonlyness (not a legal word according to wordpress). I just about died laughing last night as my son and daughter, “Luke Skywalker and a Wee BumbleBee” leaped off the porch as the old gentleman with the crazy hair and bedraggled beard opened the door. I believe the lightsaber was splaying the air wildly during flight and the poor man standing there holding a bowl of Snickers wondering what all the fuss was about. But in the midst of it, the Bumble spins around and looks at me with a sheepish grin, returns to the porch to get a handful and her brother keeps running full spate. I have to admit, it was more fun then I late on when we returned and my wife met us at the door with a “How’d it go?”. I grumbled a few curmudgeonly statements and let it go at that, but the wife knows her curmudgeon and I believe she saw through my feeble devices.

    • 8 Matt November 1, 2011 at 22:02

      I take it this was no costume, just an old sourdough opening the door? Sounds like a riot. I should like to hear the young Skywalker tell this tale, or get the Bumble’s rendition.

  4. 9 Mom November 1, 2011 at 22:28

    Awesome as usual and the pictures are priceless. I wish I could see to drive at night so I coulod join you all and be a part of it.

  5. 11 marni November 2, 2011 at 00:44

    Okay, so once your kids get to the “all we can eat for a year” candy mode? Bring ‘em to the east Capital Hill neighborhood (just east of Volunteer Park where all of the old fab Victorians are). I drove a co-worker home w/o knowing what I was getting into….unbelievable. Took 15 minutes to drive 4 fricking blocks. Insane, but if I had been on foot…I would have exploded from all of the cuteness on display. This neighborhood takes All Hallows Eve very very seriously. Cavities times 1,000 in all of their futures.

    • 12 Matt November 2, 2011 at 09:24

      Wow, I have not witnessed this, but it explains why no one trickortreats in our neighborhood. They’re all up there. And our neighborhood really is dark and spooky at night (more authentic). I guess it’s like the Candy Cane Lane of All Hallows?

  6. 14 Jana November 4, 2011 at 14:26

    Very sweet post (yes – of course I mean that both ways). Your family photo is perfect – beautiful.

    Loved this, “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.”

    My almost-four-year old niece was Rapunzel as well (her baby brother was Pascal the chameleon).

    • 15 Matt November 4, 2011 at 15:51

      Jana,
      I don’t know how the word gets out, especially to a kid who watches no television, but they know. They somehow know that this year Rapunzel is big. Last year, I think Dorothy of Oz was the It Girl.

      Baby siblings always have to be some kind of cute animal, huh?


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