Akron Life - October 2013

Fright Night

Rodney Wilson 2013-09-24 06:30:54

A once-favorite pasttime just isn't the same. When I think back 20-something years to the Halloweens of my youth, I’m overtaken by a multi-sensory wave of memories. My skin prickles with the cool night air that blanketed suburban Northern Kentucky neighborhoods every October. My ears catch the echoing din as approaching gaggles of knee-high devils, demons and licensed cartoon characters traversed the foreshortened cul-de-sac, only eight houses deep, of my longtime address. I smell the dead and drying leaves piled in lawns, see stars twinkling against the dark night sky, taste the cloying saccharine film that coated my mouth halfway through a bag of mass-produced candy. Halloween was a special time, not just for the pillowcase I never lugged home less than three-quarters full of dime-size candy and unwanted pennies, but also for the implied taboo of the holiday: In the buckle of the Bible Belt — an area dominated by polyester-suited Baptists for whom dancing, drinking and trick-or-treating were the strict domain of wanton heathens — celebrating All Hallows Evening was a sure sign of the devil’s untested claim to a youngster’s soul. In the early days of November, a good many of my friends and relatives recounted church basement gatherings universally dubbed “harvest parties,” alternative Halloween functions where costumes and candy were welcome, but the devil’s tricks and treats were not. I half-listened to these tales of elevated merriment, my mind still buzzing from the handfuls of Jujyfruits and mini Tootsie Rolls I inoculated myself with at every available opportunity. I remember early Halloweens, decked in a sheet of unbreathable plastic printed with Batman’s costume (still blue and gray at that time), a fragile and sure-to- crack half-mask of the Dark Knight’s visage strapped to my face via a fraying, elastic band. I recall my final Halloween as a candy beggar when my friend Wayne and I, middle schoolers just toeing our teenage years, cobbled together ninja costumes from the toy rack at the corner drugstore. I presented myself as Daniel, the Karate Kid himself, but Wayne, the darker half of our pairing, accessorized in black and declared himself a student of the Cobra Kai. And I remember the following year when, shamed by the accusing stares received on my last outing, I built a casket out of spray-painted foam board and hid inside to frighten naïve youngsters, a trick abandoned 20 minutes in after still-potent fumes left me too light-headed and heavy-lidded to execute my ghoulish intentions. Many years later, my wife and I found ourselves living back in this house, the two of us ready to experience a child’s Halloween again with our young one, a then-one-year-old daughter who we dressed in an elaborate chiffon number purchased from the local Target: She was our little princess. We settled ourselves on the front door stoop, a plastic bowl overflowing with Jujyfruits and mini Tootsie Rolls at our feet, and we waited for the gaggle of bedecked children to find our house at the end of this classic cul-de-sac. But from the start, it wasn’t the same – it wasn’t even Halloween, but the Sunday before October 31. The crisp night air was hours away, the sun still high in the sky, as trick-or-treating had been moved back to the more respectable hour of 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Leaves still hung on the branches, as warmer autumns of recent years shortened fall to a two-day season, foliage dropping overnight in a mass denuding of sweet gum, oak and maple. And there were no kids at our door – we could see sporadic clumps of children pass the end of our street (easy to spot in the midday sun), but no costumed youngster broke away to wander to our house. After a half hour of waiting with a full bowl of sweets, we flipped off the porch light, locked the house and took our princess down the street to gather candy on the main drag. My family and I now live in Kent, and we’ve grown accustomed to the afternoon, not-quite-Halloween trick-or-treating. Our first child has been joined by two siblings, and my wife and I live on a more-traveled walkway than our previous side street. The devilish taboos have been replaced by, this being Kent, adult aspersions cast on corporate candy and unrefined sugar, so there are fewer Jujyfruits and mini Tootsie Rolls and more organic apples, vegan, sugar- and gluten-free candy-like products that my children toss into the reject pile. And, as Northeast Ohioans, we’ve learned to, if not love, at least tolerate trick-or-treating in the rain. It all works perfectly well, and bags of candy are adequately gathered, but I still feel like something has been lost, like these little “improvements” have robbed Halloween of its deserved delight. I understand these are the nostalgic feelings of an aging parent, and my children will feel the same way when they hoverboard on Halloween with their young ones in the summer-like October of a globally-warmed future, but once, just once, I’d like to take my costumed kids out on a cool, Halloween evening. I know the dark is scary, but isn’t that kind of the point? / Rodney Wilson is a freelance writer who can still be found, slumped over a laptop, writing a young adult novel and listening to Taylor Swift. Comments? E-mail them to managing editor Abby Cymerman at acymerman@bakermediagroup.com

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