Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Thinking. Halloween.

I am at my parents' house for the evening, my childhood home. I grew up in this neighborhood, went trick-or-treating on this street in my ghostly sheets and witch's hats. (One year I was a crayon, with a pointed hat, bright yellow). It always rained, and I always wore long underwear and turtlenecks underneath my costume. Some houses were dangerous, set high over the street, and climbing to the front door meant a treacherous journey up steep, slippery steps, in the dark, lighted only by shakily held flashlights bobbing in cold hands.

Tonight is Halloween, and I am back here again, running back and forth between the kitchen and the front door, slip-sliding recklessly down the polished wood hallway that stretches in-between. Some twenty years' experience of listening for my father's step on the front stoop alerts me to the presence of wildly costumed young children, standing in awe of my four glowing pumpkins placed like sentinels on the corners of the front porch. Once I was one of these children, now I am one of the grown-ups dispensing candy and a cheery "Happy Halloween!", a terrifying realization. When did I grow up, and why didn't I see it coming?

For the neighborhood kids I have Skittles, and Reese's peanut butter cups, plain M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, and KitKat bars. I rarely buy these during the rest of the year; they belong to Halloween, one of the rare times I was allowed to eat candy when I was growing up. I remember coming home after a night out trick-or-treating, spilling my bounty across the living room floor. Fruit-flavored lollipops with their core of bubble gum, chocolatey, chewy Tootsie rolls, coconut-flavored Mounds bars, boxes of Junior Mints or malt balls, Nestlé Crunch bars, Butterfingers that melted in the mouth, Sweetarts that dissolved on the tongue. Dividing everything into piles, save for myself, give away, eat tonight. I can see myself across the years, cross-legged on the floor in my pajamas as the dog wandered around sniffing at the night's grand haul. Flash forward to tonight, piles of candy by the front door, ready for the marauding hordes. I don't live here anymore; it is a place for ghosts.

The day before yesterday I carved four pumpkins, grinning jack'o'lanterns that are now leering from the darkness outside. When I was a child we would carve pumpkins together as a family; now my family is far away and it is just me, four pumpkins, and a battalion of sharp, thin-bladed knives. The seeds from the pumpkins were washed (tiresome exercise) endlessly, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted until golden brown and crisp. As I wait for the kids to arrive I eat handfuls of them in between stirring together a pan of macaroni and cheese. (I don't recommend making anything that involves a bèchamel sauce on Halloween; I have to take the pan off the stove everytime the doorbell rings). It is strange to be alone tonight; in my later teen years we would go out on Halloween night to avoid trick-or-treaters, but now I come back to open the door to dozens of be-costumed children, from the babies dressed as pumpkins or dogs and carried by eager parents, to the teenagers who tower over me, a surreal feeling. It is Halloween, a night to look back into childhood and feel the memories flood back.

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