A Night for Opening Doors And Taking Off Masks

BRINGING home the most candy, having the best costume, staying out the latest - these were important. But in our neighborhood, the real glory on Halloween went to whomever got out trick-or-treating first.Like Paul Revere, the first trick-or-treater raced down the street spreading the word to costumed compatriots. The reports caused a stampede for Mrs. Parker's full-size chocolate bars lined like dominoes on a silver tray and created so little demand for a neighboring dentist's peanut butter crackers that he was seen periodically checking his doorbell. My sisters and I shared that glory only once. By 6:30 p.m. we had traversed the upper section of Irving Road and were headed down the street into the relative unknown. We rang the doorbell of a dark house and waited, listening to the evening news blaring in the distance. A light came on and a man in his undershirt, eating from a box of raw cranberries, answered the door. Our chorus of "trick or treat" hit him like a bucket of ice water. "Oh my gosh! Is it Halloween?" For the longest moment we looked at e ach other in mutual shock. Then he quickly recovered, "Here kids, have some cranberries," he said, as he dropped handfulls in our pillowcases. The door shut quickly. Just outside the range of the light we stopped in stunned silence. I'm not sure if we were more taken aback that someone wouldn't know it was Halloween or that someone actually ate cranberries. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I tried a couple. Halloween ended abruptly for me that night when the cranberries met the candy corn in the other cheek. As I ran home, I could hear my sister's alarm carried throughout the neighborhood, "Look out! They're giving out cranberries at the brown and green house." YEARS later, as a working, childless adult new to the suburbs, I could well understand the man's oversight. But future generations took no chances. The children in this neighborhood weren't about to let an adult forget. A week before Halloween, Karen and her younger brother, Mark, rang the doorbell. Ostensibly they wanted to play with our dog, but it didn't take long before their true mission emerged. "Halloween's next week, you know." I hadn't given it a thought. The blank look on my face confirmed her deepest suspicions about the new neighbors. "Mom says candy is getting so expensive." Long silence. "Since you don't have kids, you may need some help picking what kinds to buy. You don't want to waste your money you know." On cue, Mark sat down and recited the well-rehearsed neighborhood top 10 candy bars. How accurate a poll it represented was never apparent. But on Halloween night, as I presented ou r bowl full of candy, a witch gave a pirate a nod of gloating success. There's little chance we'll forget Halloween in the next few years. Parenthood has launched us into the inner orbit of the festivities. The countdown started weeks ago. Every day we get the latest pronouncement of what our daughter has decided to be for Halloween, delivered with such solemnity and importance it sounds like a career choice. For the past three years, my husband has tried to sell her on being a robot with dryer hose for arms and legs. I suspect he'll be disappointed again this year. Halloween costumes are a window on the generation, and robots and astronauts belong more to our childhood than hers. Last year we had so many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come to the door it was like a reenactment of the second plague in Exodus. Whatever costume I end up making, I'm looking forward to Halloween. It's a night when children cannot be ignored. You either have to go away, hide in the back of the house with the lights out, or join in. On Halloween the worlds of adults and children, which seem so separate and insular at times, connect. It is the one night of the year when an entire neighborhood opens its doors to children. What they see is much more than a brief glimpse into front halls. It's a moment of shared childlikeness, love of surprise, and interest in each other's worlds. It's a night for putting on masks. But what I've come to appreciate is the way it takes them off.

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