My best friend from childhood loves Halloween. A decade ago, Nake (his real name is Dave, but when I was 4 years old, I gave him a nickname for life, since it’s tattooed on his fingers) decided to get married in Las Vegas on All Hallows’ Eve.
Nake asked me to be his best man. However, I love Halloween and my children so much that I had to pass on the honor since I always go out with my boys and girls when the sun sets on Oct. 31. Traditions can’t be broken.
“Can’t your kids come out and trick-or-treat on the Strip?,” Nake asked.
I had to explain to my childless friend that wouldn’t work. Sin City and kids are mutually exclusive for me. Halloween night is one of the most magical nights of the year.
I love it so much that I gave friends my World Series tickets for Game 3, Phillies versus Yankees, in 2009 since it fell on Halloween. The joy of walking my kids around the neighborhood trumped a rare World Series game in Philadelphia sitting a few rows behind the Phillies dugout.
However, as fate would have it, the game was delayed two hours that night due to rain. After I saw the forecast, I was able to pick up additional tickets at the last minute, so I had my candy and ate it, too, 11 years ago.
Thanks to the spread of my four children, I’ve been trick-or-treating every year since 1999. Twenty years of walking door to door, chatting with neighbors in the dark and experiencing some inventive scary porches was a blast.
That all comes to an end this year. My eldest, Jillian, 21, and Eddie, 18, have been out at Halloween parties for years. Milo, 15, has declared that he’s too old for trick-or-treating. Jane, 11, believes she’s mature enough to go out with her friends sans parents.
But even if I could go out with one of my children this year, it’s obviously different courtesy of the novel coronavirus. Halloween is still on in Spokane, but much has changed due to the pandemic.
Traditional trick-or-treating is strongly discouraged and considered high-risk, in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Washington Department of Health.
Health officials are suggesting that if households want to hand out candy that they not do so by hand. Health officials suggest setting candy out on a table or other place for trick-or-treaters to grab and go. Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz suggests trick-or-treaters stay 6 feet apart.
“Dr. Lutz is not going to take away Halloween, but he is going to recommend that you do it safely,” Lutz told reporters this month. Halloween is changing, but the precious memories are flooding back as I stare at photos from costumes past.
I’m not one for repeat performances, but Jillian was especially cute as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.” Each of their costumes prompts a trip down memory lane. A few minutes before my wife and I were about to take Jillian out during her Dorothy days, my camera went crazy with a 10-minute shoot in our living room.
When we walked out the door, I discovered that our entire bowl of candy was stolen. “I guess you better hurry off to the store for more candy,” my wife said.
“No, I don’t think I need to do that,” I said as I started walking up the street. The sun had just set, and there were few trick-or-treaters out. A half block away, a pair of kids, who were about 12 or 13, were strolling. I jogged over to them and did some profiling.
“You stole my candy,” I said to the corpulent kid. “No, I didn’t,” he insisted. “Look at you,” I said. “Of course you did.” I pointed to the kid’s bag, which was on the heavy side. “That’s a lot of candy considering it’s only 6 o’clock,” I said.
All of a sudden, Jack Sparrow started crying. He proceeded to pour his bag of candy into the bowl I forgot that I was carrying. I felt like Michael Myers and said, “C’mon, pirates don’t cry.”
I was fumbling for words since the last thing I wanted was a child weeping on Halloween. “Look, kid, pirates steal. It’s in their DNA. I get it, you’re in character. It’s all right. I think an overabundance of sugar is what you need when you have scurvy. You couldn’t help it.”
Out of nowhere, the kid chuckled and said he was sorry, and then I apologized. I was out of control, and it was only my third Halloween as a parent, plus I was hopped up on 100 Grand bars. I love them.
Sugar was coursing through my veins. It was time to give both of us a break, and that’s not a reference to a Kit Kat commercial from a generation ago. I told the kid not to pilfer the contents of another bowl of candy and that I was going to give him some bars, but he politely declined.
He forgave me and I forgave him, and we went on our way. Who knows whatever happened to the kid who is about 31 now? After I told my wife the story, she said I should be ashamed, and as silly as it sounded, I said, “I will never take candy that was stolen from me again.”
I wished I had simply driven to the supermarket for more sweet stuff, but I learned a lesson and was never edgy during Halloween again. We let go of that episode and moved on.
The joys of Halloween increased with additional children. For three Halloweens, each of my four kids went door to door with me. I didn’t realize how much I miss those days visiting Mr. Pritz, who gave out cans of soda of all things. Then there were the neighbors who dropped full-size candy bars into my children’s pillowcases. And then there was the guy who offered dollar bills instead of candy to the first set of trick-or-treaters.
Nothing topped a walk in our Philadelphia borough, Jenkintown, which was dubbed the last Mayberry by National Geographic a half decade ago, to Mather Road. Kids were driven from various points of Philadelphia to experience a street that felt like a Hollywood sound stage.
There were haunted backyards and porches and neighbors offering parents like myself and the Don Drapers of the world a refreshingly warm and loaded libation that helped take the edge off from one too many scares.
My kids laugh whenever I remind them of our Halloween competition. We would weigh each bag of candy at night. Whoever had the heaviest bag was the winner and would be allowed to grab half of their sibling’s take is what I joked to neighbors.
Some people took me seriously and believed my kids were competitive even during Halloween, but the reality was that nobody needed any more candy. I was just curious to see how much the sacks weighed. Within days, the candy would be donated.
What was fortunate about our neighborhood was that it wasn’t strange for high schoolers to trick-or-treat. One of my regrets from freshman year of high school, and there were many, was that I decided I was too old to go out for Halloween. I’ll never forget looking out my bedroom window and watching all of the kids having fun while I was studying for a cultural analysis test.
So I always encouraged my children to go out and have fun getting dressed up. I look back at some of my favorite costumes. Jillian routinely surprised me with her creativity. I can’t help but look back at photos of her dressed as Tippi Hedren’s character Melanie Daniels from “The Birds” and Margot Tenenbaum from “The Royal Tenenbaums,” perfectly played by Gwyneth Paltrow.
Last year, Jillian paid tribute to her beloved sketch show “Portlandia” by portraying Toni, and her brother Eddie made like Candace.
“For some reason, people like it when I dress like a girl,” Eddie said. “I don’t get it.”
Well, some of my favorite Eddie costumes were when he was Taylor Swift and a cheerleader. The latter disguise was so good that Eddie fooled my mother-in-law who mistook him for his older sister. I also loved it when he went out as Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Other favorites over the years: Jane as Wonder Woman, Eddie and Milo as Thing 1 and Thing 2 and Milo as a kangaroo. Too cute!
I’m going to miss the costumes and trick-or-treating this year. I just hope for those with children going door to door there is some semblance of normalcy since there is no other holiday like Halloween. Enjoy making your child’s costumes and every little thing that goes with it such as indulging on chocolate, hot apple cider and good cheer.
When I was very young, I remember how parents were concerned about razor blades in candy. Today, we have to worry about an invisible invader. Try to stay positive and look at this as a special All Hallows Eve. Be safe and have fun since there is no night like Halloween for children and adults.
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