By Ron Gawel
Halloween is upon us. Each autumn, a feeling of change slowly starts to come over me. I can’t fully explain it, but my moods, beliefs and attitudes change during the season of the witch. Cemeteries, for instance, take on a new haunting eeriness as I pass or visit them. Shadows lurk as never before, and the dead silently cry out to me from their ancient graves.
It is when legends like that of Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman somehow become more believable, and those haggard-looking scarecrows suddenly become threateningly lifelike in guarding the dying cornfields or pumpkin patches to which they were assigned over the summer.
I indulge myself in the guilty pleasure of reading ghost stories and horror fiction. I enjoy the masterpieces of the macabre by literary geniuses like Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King.
Even at 66 years of age, I still look forward to Halloween. The fun and folly of celebrating the holiday isn’t just for kids anymore, as I discovered last year. I attended a “masked ball” of sorts and re-entered a fantasy world of make believe.
Like nearly everyone else there, I rented a rather exotic and elaborate costume. Mine was comprised of rubber, feathers, sequins, beads and other things I know not the origin of, all of which concocted a very bizarre creation that was topped off by a beak for a mask. I looked totally ridiculous. I don’t have a clue as to who or what I was supposed to be, but I most certainly got noticed. I hadn’t had that much fun at a party in a very long time. I even bobbed for an apple for the first time in my life, though it felt like I might drown in doing so.
I remember what it was like celebrating that colorful, macabre day as a child, once referred to as Beggars’ Night. It comes with a host of wonderful memories, dating back to grade school. Once each year, you were allowed to take on the guise of some favorite mischievous character, superhero or notorious villain and show off proudly who you could be for a day.
After eating lunch at home, we’d return to school wearing, and tripping over, one of those boxed, embarrassingly tacky costume creations purchased from the store – the embodiment and likes of every conceivable TV or movie persona come to life.
We paraded around the block, showing off and waving and acting as if we’d already had too much sugar, acknowledging parents and other onlookers who came to see us as never before.
After the school day drew to a close, we anxiously awaited the 5 o’clock hour. Then we would go house to house “begging.” There were always a few odd folks who answered their doors insisting on a “trick” first in return for a “treat.” We ran in the other direction from those who did, finding them just a little too strange for comfort.
I saw 15 Halloweens come and go at home, which I joyously took part in and which I considered to be a huge part of growing up. On the front porch steps, we would always have two hollowed-out pumpkins, each one bearing its own individual identity. With great anticipation, as dusk appeared we would light the candles within so they could glow with pride as true jack-o’-lanterns do, revealing their facades in the darkening of the night.
Sadly, by week’s end our two Halloween creations were ready to end their reign of holiday glory. Slowly they began to show signs of deteriorating, dying like two beloved friends I’d helped bring to life and now needed to say goodbye to. It was always tough for me as a kid to have to bid adieu as they were regretfully trashed and ready to ascend to that great pumpkin patch in the sky.