October 26, 2009

Maybe It's Me: Trick-or-Treat, or, The Most Bittersweet Halloween

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays.

Which can be chalked up to either my secret fascination and childlike adoration of chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting or, on a much more profound level, the idea of dressing up and pretending to be absolutely anything I want to be without social repercussions for one night of the year.

Perhaps it’s because it suggests the end of autumn. While autumn stretches deep into December, visually and emotionally it seems to come to a quiet end around Halloween. The trees are no longer bursting with vivid colors; they’ve become skeletons – all limbs and no foliage. Meanwhile, people seem to subconsciously switch gears as they let go of corn mazes and apple picking and refocus their attention on the holiday stretch that the last two months of the year have come to embody.

Perhaps my love of Halloween also stems from the significance of another closing chapter, from another change that is as inevitable as the seasons. Halloween also signifies the end of another year of life for me, and the beginning of another. While my birthday falls two days after the holiday, my parents always made sure that celebrations for it were a three-day affair, starting on Halloween, coursing through the first of November, and ending triumphantly on my actual November second birthday.

This year Halloween is a particularly bittersweet event as it not only indicates the end of a quarter-century of my life in this world; but, it also is the end of a lifelong bet with my mom.

I have never not loved trick-or-treating. My Mom used to pick up my sister and I from school and we’d rush home to put on our costumes before visiting all the aunts and uncles who lived in town to do some trick-or-treating, and for me, birthday gift collecting as well.

We’d save my grandparents for last. My mom’s parents always made sure that whatever our favorite candy was at that moment, they had for us in abundance. Meanwhile, my dad’s parents always made all the grandkids (and there were a lot of us) brown paper bags filled with a juice box (a tradition started by my great grandmother, or “Grammie” as we called her), popcorn balls, gum, peanut butter filled crackers and other really random not-particularly-Halloween related food items. She’d line up the brown paper bags and write our individual names on them.

Windows rolled down, a pillowcase full of candy from my family sitting at my feet; I used to revel in this final day of October as we drove home for supper before my dad would take us around the neighborhood for more candy begging. I always joked on these drives home that I would go trick-or-treating forever (as little kids are prone to making such grandiose declarations)! My mom’s response was that if I could go trick-or-treating until I was thirty, she’d give me fifty bucks. I’m sure she was joking when she first said it, since thirty, when you’re a kid, seems like a hundred years away, but it stuck somewhere deep in the recesses of my then young brain.

As I entered high school, still trick-or-treating despite how lame my friends thought it was, my mom told me kindly that maybe I should go to a Halloween party instead, or, maybe even have some friends over to watch horror movies and eat pizza with – something like that. “But, you said,” a wide-eyed teenage me would begin, “that you would give me thirty bucks if I could go trick-or-treating until I was thirty.”

My mom had no response. She had, after all, made that claim. So, I continued to trick-or-treat through high school, always starting at my grandparent’s houses before conning some friend to come with me around my neighborhood. They, I know, were secretly exploding with excitement that they had an excuse to be a kid again for the night as their parents had long ago stopped allowing them to go as it was seen as “childish.”

As I was leaving the house to go trick-or-treating in college (and then out to the bars, of course, so I could partake in drunken Halloween revelry), my mom blocked the door frame, her eyes burning with impatience. “Give it up, child of mine,” she demanded.

I glared at her. “Never. You said fifty bucks. And as long as I still look like a teenager, I’m going trick-or-treating. Deal with it.”

My sister became my cohort in these Halloween adventures, as my friends absolutely refused to go trick-or-treating anymore, but encouraged me as everyone then knew about the bet my mom had made with me. And so we’d hit up the grandparents, who would roll their eyes at us. We’d visit my dad and stepmom, who would roll their eyes at us. And then we’d visit our old neighborhood, and (after rolling their eyes at us) would ask, “Don’t you think you’re a little old to be trick-or-treating?”

Yet, still, they’d hand us over candy.

A couple years ago, my sister and I showed up at my mom’s house. “Trick or treat!” We yelled, holding out our pillowcases (with our favorite candy from our mom’s mom; and our brown paper bags of goodies from our dad’s mom – our grandfather’s having passed on).

“I will give you thirty bucks right now in cash if you stop.” My exasperated mother said as she dropped more of our favorite candy into our bags.

“You told her fifty bucks,” my sister chipped in.

“THIS ISN’T YOUR BATTLE!” My mom exploded at her before calmly turning back to me. “Thirty bucks, Loin Fruit. Take it now.”

“Never,” and off we went, a twenty-two year old an eighteen year old to embarrass ourselves in our old neighborhood once more.

The following year, sans my sister for some reason, I showed up at my mom’s house, and when she opened the door she grabbed me violently by the shoulder and yanked me into the house. “GET IN HERE. You listen to me, the economy sucks and your fifty bucks is depreciating. By the time you’re thirty, it’s only really gonna be worth like twelve dollars.”

“YOU OFFERED ME THIRTY LAST YEAR!!! YOU CAN’T GO FROM THIRTY TO TWELVE IN ONE YEAR”

My mom shrugged. “I don’t have control over the economy.”

“You listen hear, Mother . . . as long as I keep dressing up, saying the words ‘trick-or-treat,’ and getting candy, you’re giving me that fifty bucks in a couple years!”

“YOU KEEP DRESSING LIKE A HOOKER, THOUGH! What kind of costume is that even?!?”

“OHMYGODMOM! I’m a pirate!” I yelled at her before heading to my dad’s house for candy. “Why’re you dressed like a prostitute? I thought you were going as a pirate?” He asked when I walked in before turning around and immediately walking out.

Last year after work I headed to my grandmother’s house to get my bag of goodies, but I realized there were only two brown paper bags waiting on the table. “Why are their only two bags here?” I asked, looking at the names. There had always been dozens. Had I not noticed the number dwindling down over the course of the years?

“ ‘Cause you’re all grown up. All of you,” she said. “You and your sister are the only ones I still make bags for, because everyone knows you would freak out if I didn’t.”

I headed to my mom’s feeling a little guilty for continuing to expect and demand candy from my clearly exhausted grandmother, and when my mom opened the door, instead of threatening me with the economy, she simply wrapped me in a giant bear hug. “This is it, my love. Next year we’re calling it quits on this whole thing. You’re gonna be twenty-five. It’s time to stop. So, I’m gonna give you thirty bucks next year (don’t fight me on the thirty bucks, the dollar has depreciated in value since you were a little kid), and you’re not going trick-or-treating anymore. Ever again. Deal?”

I breathed in my mom’s scent, cuddled close to her neck and whimpered, “Deal.”

I picked my sister up and as we drove around town she said softly, “No one trick-or-treats anymore, have you noticed that? Look around . . . there’re no houses with lights on, there’re barely any kids walking around . . . do you remember, when we were little, the streets were swarming with kids and parents. And now, it’s like, the idea of letting their kids wander to strangers houses for candy anymore is unfathomable. Is it really that dark of a world we live in now?”

“Times have certainly changed, my friend.”

Times have certainly changed.

In a few days, my reign of Trick-or-Treating Queen will end. I imagine in the not-so-distant future, I’ll go trick-or-treating again, this time with an armful of child, my child, to my mom’s – her grandmothers – house. Perhaps she’ll have a brown paper bag of goodies waiting for her. Or at least an abundance of her then favored treat. And while I’ll pout my mom will wrap me up in her wonderful bear hug (my favorite place in the world, I’ve realized after these many, many moons) and slip me my favorite candy.

In a few days autumn will end. I’ll crunch leaves under my feet for the last time until next year, climb my last apple tree and eat my last apple dumpling of the season. Instinctually, my inner self will refocus its attention on the impending holidays, and I’ll lose the sights and smells of my favorite season for yet another year.

In a few days another year of my life will come to a close. Only this year, an entire quarter-century of life lived is coming to an end as I start the next (hopefully) healthy and successful and happy quarter-century of life – ages twenty-five to fifty.

It is going to be a very a bittersweet Halloween this year.

Maybe it’s me, but this year’s chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting are going to taste a little sweeter as I reminisce on these past twenty-four years that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had dressing up as a dinosaur, a pumpkin, an angel, a troll, a baseball player, a cat (for many, many years in a row), a witch, a hippie, a chef, a pirate (not a hooker), and this year, my swan song costume: a pop princess from the 1980’s.

Since, after all, we’re all princesses and princes in our own kingdoms, mine of which I’ve proudly belonged to since 1984.