When I was little my favorite time of year was always Halloween. The relatively mild central Pennsylvania climate is usually at the apex of perfection in late October and the leaves are at their most beautiful — that wonderful shade of orange and red, the definition of perfection that only lasts for three or four days before they finally succumb to the winds of change and fall, blanketing the front yards until raked into piles that kids jump into and parents rake all over again until you have a big enough pile to burn. And you do burn it, and the wonderful smell of burning leaves pervades the air in the entire neighborhood as you ride your tricycle at first barely old enough and big enough to reach the pedals until you’re in the autumn of your 18th year driving around town one last time with your windows down and you see the piles of leaves and smell the familiar smell you know so well and you realize you’re going to be gone in just a few short weeks at college and just a few short weeks after that your first Halloween on your own.
By far my favorite part of Halloween is the costumes. I love seeing the hundreds of kids coming to our door, begging for candy, dressed up in elaborate costumes, either store-bought or self-assembled, recognizable Disney characters or ironic high schoolers thinking they’re being original (one guy came as “that guy” one time). Nobody could hold a candle to my dad’s costumes, though.
My dad took Halloween very seriously. He went all out on the costumes, working for days, weeks, crafting an outfit fit for a king. Every neighborhood has one — that one house that goes all out making a scary haunted house, that one family that dons themed costumes that embarrass everybody equally, and, like my dad, that one parent who slaves over the costumes, working by hand, creating memories that last a lifetime.
For example, one year (I forget how old I was, the pictures suggest five or six) my dad made a T-Rex costume entirely from scratch. He took my measurements, bought the fabric and got to sewing. Sounds pretty cool, but also a bit tame, right? Lots of people’s parents make their costumes from scratch, so what, right?
Just wait. He put a pressure pad in the foot so that whenever I stomped on the ground it activated a circuit board he put in the costume that would make the eyes glow red and a voice box would activate and let out a tremendous dinosaur roar. I would go to a house, say trick or treat, people would remark how cute my costume was, hand me some candy, and I would stomp my foot, roar, strike a pose and run away to the next house, leaving them in my dust, gaping, marveling at what just happened, talking about the best costume they’ve ever seen.
This went on for years. One year he made a mummy costume out thousands of sheets of toilet paper – I don’t think the photo does it enough justice. When I was very little, maybe even my first or second birthday, he made an adorable little clown costume. One of my personal favorites was the headless horseman costume he made in fifth grade — he built this sort of outer body suit made out of foam and covered it with a ratty old coat that I put my arms through and I covered my head with another little piece of foam (painted red) to be morbid chunk of neck left over after the beheading. It was grotesque, and sick, and great.
What am I doing for Halloween this year, you ask? Hell if I know. I have an old Chicago Bears hat that looks like a legitimate decapitated bears head, I could probably make something out of that. Maybe see what I have in the dorm room, see what’s in that Halloween shop in Evanston, throw something together. It’s a lot less organized now that I’m on my own. A lot less meaningful.
I remember trick or treating was a neighborhood event when I was little. My dad would put weeks of effort into creating the perfect costume; then I would meet up with my best friend Alex Chung and compare outfits; then we would begin the arduous trek up hill, starting with the houses at the top of the neighborhood and systematically making our way down, having gravity help us along the way (being the smart boys we were.) The Nelsons always turned their home into a haunted house, inviting trick-or-treaters inside to close their eyes and feel a bowl of intestines or eyeballs. The Sullivans would always have a full-fledged kiosk set up in their cul-de-sac, offering Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut holes and homemade apple cider to weary travelers. We would always return back to my house after a hard night of work and dump our pillowcases onto the floor, sort our candy, and dig in.
It was the same every year, it never changed. From my first Halloween to my 17th, the experience was always the same. It was always great. The costumes were always amazing, the decorations were always just the right mix of terrifying and fun, the candy was always delicious. It was the best day of the year.
I’m a busy guy. I perpetually have hundreds of pages of a novel to get caught up on or a poem to revise for class. It’s possible I might not make it out this weekend for Halloween festivities. That doesn’t mean I won’t be celebrating, though. You can take the kid out of Halloween but you can’t take the Halloween out of the kid. I’ll be wearing a makeshift costume on October 31, even if it’s just my zebra snuggie and my bear head. And I’m confident that back home my parents will be breaking out the gigantic cardboard box of decorations from the attic, the 20-year old sharpie that says “HALLOWEEN” on the side still clear as day.