The last of the Trick-or-treaters have retreated, though we were still handing out Ron’s shitty sour patch candy not long ago, at 9:30. By 9:00, I had exhausted four giant bags of candy, so Ron dashed to his car for an over-sized bag of Sour Patch Kids. Gross. Who wants Sour Patch Kids? I gave him shit about it.
Ever since a monster and his princess sister showed up around 5:30, we’d been tossing candy into orange, plastic pumpkins, pillow cases, and flimsy, crinkled bags.
We cheered on their costumes, howled with fear when appropriate, and expressed deep shock and awe when two Incredible Hulks (possibly twin brothers) lumbered up the front steps. On the short breaks between ‘treaters, Ron and I lazed on my couch telling Halloween tales which morphed into stories of stupid things we did as kids.
Each doorbell buzz made us jump and grab a fistful of chocolate. Over the evening, we handed out hundreds and hundreds of candy bars.
Best moment: Ron would sometimes put on the gorilla claw and while I handed out candy, make clawing motions at the kids. A young Superman shouted, “YOU DON’T SCARE ME.” While I handed out candy to his brother and two sisters, Ron turned around and put on the gorilla mask and jumped back toward Superman, prompting the man of steel to scream like a 10-year-old girl. Then he composed himself and yelled at Ron, “I’M NOT SCARED.”
Some didn’t participate much, older kids who looked at us with a surly expression, demanding in a bored voice, “Trick or Treat.” But most kids were amazing, bashful and stumbling, terrified to say the catch phrase, but once the goal was accomplished, they looked back in awe that this worked, these magic words, and only then they shouted with glee, “HAPPY HALLOWEEN.”
I love the Spidermans with puffy chests, Batmans who struggle to see out their mask eyeholes, and shy vampires. We got several variations on the Scream movie ghoul, including one with blood that dripped down the face. I yelled, “Holy crap that is scary!” and our temporary guest giggled and squeezed the bulb that made the fake blood spill out. I yelped again and he giggled again, delighted to be able to scare someone bigger than him.
It was a good night.
Like most people, I love Halloween.
The orange and black, the chill in the air, the mysterious other worldliness, and simply being scared. I mean, a little scared, not cancer scared. Blair Witch scared.
There’s enough to seriously terrify me these days, politics and the economy alone, forgetting momentarily about environmental disaster, crazy-spreading diseases, and the fact that CSI can have two or three spinoffs. Can there really be that many serial killers out there? I sometimes lie in bed wondering, ‘What will the world be like in a year? Will I even survive it?’
The enormity of this future overwhelms me quite frankly, so it’s fun to be a little scared of ridiculous things like zombies and ghosts. They’re easier to take these days.
Last weekend, I baked Halloween gingerbread cookies and delivered them frosted and decorated to my Illinois family. They loved the giant leaves and ghost cookies, but my sister pointed at the star-shaped cookies and asked, “Why stars?” Rather than admit the simple truth that I don’t own many Halloween cookie cutters, I shrugged it off by saying, “They’re haunted stars.”
We spent a delightful October weekend together. I mean, delightful. Yes, we do not share the same values on many issues. But we genuinely love each other. The more of us family gathered in one room, the more love we feel.
It’s harder to generate that happy glow with one of our key founders missing. Some days, thinking about my dad is like stepping on a tack, which means I don’t burst into tears in Target and curl up in a shopping cart, but rather, I say, Ow, dammit, ow. Fucking hurts. And after a minute of feeling sorry for myself, I drift into some better memory of him, and it’s okay again.
Saturday afternoon, Mom, Eileen, and I changed the over-sized storm window, the big pain-in-the-ass window we have been changing every Spring and Fall my entire life. As a kid, I watched Dad stride across the steeply-pitched roof tiles with billy goat agility, carrying a damn heavy glass window, while simultaneously yelling at me to go meet him on the other side, reminding me to take a screw driver.
He impressed the hell out of me.
But he’s not around; we had to change that window. Ow, dammit, ow.
The three of us managed to launch me up to the steeply-pitched roof and with a Phillips I unscrewed the little wood blocks my dad invented to secure this ancient pane. From this vantage point, the rich afternoon sunlight hit the thick, yellow leaves everywhere, making me feel golden inside, loved and happy and free. The world is messed up, but we are creatures of love. We will figure this out.
While screwing in the storm, I couldn’t help but notice that all the roof gutters were crammed full of leaf sludge, black walnut water and cold, greasy mush.
Completely and utterly revolting.
I absently started pulling out a few clumps with my bare hands. Each handful felt like tearing eggshells, rotten green beans, and tangled wet hair from the kitchen drain. I don’t even have long hair.
After the storm window chore, I had planned to go for a perfect-October-Saturday-afternoon walk around my home town but the sun was already threatening to crash in an hour and these gutters weren’t going to clean themselves. I argued with myself, claiming it was ridiculous to clean them, as clearly they’d been packed with squirrel vomit for months without incident. Why not wait for another weekend?
But in the middle of each new argument, I would reach in and pull out more sludge. I kept thinking about how much damage these packed gutters could do to the roof. I feel like I could see the ghost of my dad standing on the lawn grinning up at me, yelling, “View’s not so much fun from up there, is it?”
I am my father’s son, so I spent the next hour cleaning out the gutters by hand, then swept/raked up the black goo with a wet broom. Filled up a giant garbage bag. From the ground, Mom and Eileen figured out an ingenious way for me drop the goop without the bag bursting like a balloon.
The gutters got cleaned.
But I missed my October sunset walk.
Some days, I do not care for adulthood. (The more adolescent me would have used the phrase ‘fucking adulthood’ but see, I’m more grown up than that.)
I don’t want to retake Algebra and endure pimples again, but I want to spend quality time focused on obtaining free candy and obsessing over my costume details to make sure I am super tough-looking, or the perfect sour and scary.
Later that Saturday night, I did take my walk through my hometown, down the dimly lit street lights in Huntley. Each time I visit, I love this town more, cherishing the charming, dark streets where I have so much history.
I walked to Bernice Heinemann’s house and marveled at the force she was in my childhood. I’ve never met anyone kinder, not ever, and she had no good reason to be filled with such grace. Bernice lived a hard life. Both of her sons died in the same plane crash. And yet when she spoke to us kids, her eyes sparkled with joy. We loved her so much that we made her an honorary grandmother and we loved explaining this to her, repeatedly. She seemed to like it. She made Rice Krispie treats layered with a perfect chocolate. They were exquisite.
None of you will ever meet her. You may appreciate her story, but I’m telling you, she glowed with love. Glowed. Every time I seriously doubt the existence of God or the Sparkling Spirit or whatever, I think, ‘Well then how do you explain Bernice?’
Continuing around town, I ended up in front of Grandma Hemmer’s home and studied its contour, recalling a few dozen of our hundreds of visits. Grandma Hemmer’s cookies arrived weekly with her Monday’s laundry. We’d endure the pecan sandies week, love the frosted molasses raisin week, but lived for the far-too-infrequent chocolate chip week. The cookies, her stories, the treasures we found in her purse. Her scary attic with dolls whose eyes opened. She watched us whenever we were sick and listened to our moaning without complaint. That woman loved the shit out of us.
It’s Halloween night and I sure hope the world is full of ghosts.
I wouldn’t mind if they drifted into my living room sometimes and let me see the worn, soft eyes I miss so much. I want to see my Dad’s irritated scowl and hear his easy laugh that made other people laugh. I want to hear Bernice’s high, crisp voice telling a pinochle story, how someone overbid their spades. I want the ghostly apparition of Grandma’s knuckles rapping on the kitchen table like they did when you were taking too long, in her opinion, to play a card.
So, you know, ghost me up, Pops.
Now that we’re both adults, Bernice, I’d really like to talk to you again. I’d really to understand how you radiated joy after all the hurts you lived through.
I should admit that I do fear these ghosts. I sometimes fear they might be disappointed in me, that I am not living up to the examples they established. In my defense, these people set the bar pretty damn high. Other days, I am confident they adore me still and instead I fear forgetting some small nuance of personality or gesture erased in me due to years of absence. I try to remember Grandma’s under-her-breath humming. Bernice’s crooked gait.
But I will do my best to face those fears. Like Superman himself, I will screech out, “I’M NOT AFRAID” even when I am. And perhaps in that moment, the costume becomes real, and I will not be quite so afraid.
Thank you, little Superman.