Thursday, October 23, 2014

Happy Halloween

Yes, it’s decorative gourd season again.

Halloween is nearly upon us. But you wouldn’t know it from our house. Outside, no pumpkins, no mums, just baskets of impatiens still hanging on with some periwinkle petals. The front door does not boast a bundle of dried corncobs. Inside, the same empty ceramic bowl has sat in the middle of the dining room table since the poinsettias were retired in January. No cornucopia overflows with fall’s bounty. I won’t even be here the evening of October 31 (although Jon may have to dole out some treats). Without kids in the house, Halloween has become a non-event.

But when the kids were young, Halloween definitely was an event. In fact, the event that heralded the beginning of the holiday season. At the first chilly night, the family went into seasonal overdrive. Off to Linvilla Orchards for piles of pumpkins, pots of yellow and orange mums, and a bale of straw to be turned into stuffing for our “fall tableau”: we each would contribute a worn shirt and pair of pants to be stuffed. The straw-stuffed bodies would be propped up on a bench in the yard and topped with pumpkins for heads. Voila! Mom and Dad and Jay and Annie in scarecrow form.

The heart of Halloween, though, was costume-planning. Well before the nights turned cold, sometimes at the first sign of summer's fading, husband Jon and daughter Annie would go into caucus over their costumes. Jon was not a big fan of trick-or-treating, but he joined in Annie’s planning with good-hearted gusto (and also with the hope that he might get a couple Oh Henry candy bars out of it for his trouble).  These costumes weren’t purchased at a Halloween pop-up store at the mall. These costumes were made by hand by Annie and Jon (mostly Jon) and were eagerly anticipated each year by the households they visited on their rounds. One year Annie was a maiden from Camelot who traveled with her own Merlin, she in flowing medieval wear and he majestic in long cape and outsized wizard’s hat. Another year, Annie was a Southern belle and Jon her charming beau.

As Annie got older, the costumes evolved from cute to clever, like the time they went as “Coke with a Straw.” Annie wore a silver cylinder of poster board with accurate Coke graphics, and Jon made a flexible tube by basting a series of hula-hoops into sheets painted with red stripes. This contraption was then worn in such a way that he could make it bow at just the right place for a bendy straw. And there was the time they went as “Partly Sunny.” Annie wore grey sweat-pants and -shirt with bunches of white balloons somehow attached to the sweatshirt so that she looked like a walking cumulus cloud. Jon fashioned a mask of yellow rays flaring from around his head, like the pictures of Old Sol in children’s books. Strapped around his head beamed a kind of miner’s lamp. As they walked through the neighborhood, there was no doubt that the day was sunny with some clouds. They always came home with bags bulging with sugared booty – and if Annie was happy and there was an Oh Henry in one of those bags, it was all worth it to Jon.

Many harvest moons have passed. Both kids are out of college and out of the house. Less than two months ago we were all together for Labor Day weekend, just about the time that Jon and Annie used to get down to serious Halloween costume business. Sitting out on the deck, Jon smiled and said to Annie, “So, what should we go as for Halloween this year?” Annie turned a pitying eye on her father and replied, “Oh, Pops. I never liked doing all that Halloween costume stuff. I only did it because it was so important to you.”

Now, there’s a taste of O. Henry for Jon.