I’ve been doing this for fourteen years or so, and the time is drawing nigh when I will no longer have the privilege.
I’m talking, of course, about going out in a quiet neighborhood, in the dark of a fall night, with a small child or children in tow, walking through the rustling first fallen leaves of the season and up to the doors of the relative strangers in my neighborhood and watching as my children ask for candy.
It goes in an arc, this time. First, there was my 17-year-old. I took him out as soon as he could toddle on his own, at three or so.
I used to race home from work to our neighborhood, which was already crowded with little witches and ghosts and Star Wars Storm Troopers as I pulled in. I remember one such occasion in particular, when my son was determined to be a dragon and his mother worked for what seemed like weeks to make him the perfect dragon costume. And another year, the perfect panther costume. He greeted me excited and ready to go.
But we could only go in one direction, because the year before, some neighbors had set up the perfect Halloween display, complete with a demon emerging from a trapdoor in the ground. And my son was so frightened, he wouldn’t let me lead him toward that house, no matter how often I explained to him that it was make believe.
And then my oldest and I were joined by an irrepressible presence, the human whirlwind who is my daughter. She seemed to know everyone in the neighborhood. She greeted them by name. She possessed the night and the turf like a queen collecting her tributes.
I remember one particular Halloween, we approached a house tucked back in a small stand of woods. The lady who lived there clearly had the spirit of Halloween. We approached her front door on wooden ramps across ravines. The woman had decorated her front door with cobwebs and a cauldron, and was costumed herself as a witch. “You’re a beautiful witch,” my daughter told her.
Somewhere in those years, my eldest dropped out, replaced by my youngest. My eldest decided he wanted to wander with his friends instead of his old man, embracing the freedom of wandering at night, the first taste of which comes on Halloween for so many of us.
And I noticed something about my little town. So many people seemed to pile in cars and troll the neighborhoods, driving from house to house instead of walking the streets, covering as much ground as they could and collecting as much candy as they could. Call me a purist or a conservative, but that never appealed to me.
But in any case, I continued to take my brood-minus-one. And then my daughter dropped out, alternating between years when she thought she was too old, and times when she went to other neighborhoods herself with her own friends.
Now, it’s down to me and my nine-year-old. We went out and wandered the streets, leaves and acorns crunching underfoot. We were out less than an hour and he was ready to come home. His legs were hurting. His mask hurt his face. Next year, he'll be ten and I can feel the magic fading.
I’ll get maybe another year of trick-or-treating out of him, maybe none, and then he’ll be on to other things. This phase will be over. Fourteen years. It doesn't seem so long. It seems like yesterday.