When I was a kid and before my parents decided to upgrade us to a neighborhood where everyone pretended they were the sole survivors on an island, we lived on a street where everyone knew everyone’s name, Cheers-style. Halloween was safe. All of the kids would trick-or-treat together. We’d meet at the end of the street and travel in herds to fill our pillowcases full of sugar, with only the good stuff. There were no coins, toothbrushes or healthy snacks. And, because we knew everybody, it was safe to eat most of the candy.
My mother was still paranoid about anything that didn’t have a sealed wrapper, so Smarties and Tootsie Pops were taboo. We’d try to hide them, but she was always onto us. Still, Halloween was a neighborhood event. All of the houses were decorated and the neighborhood came alive on Halloween night. It was a family affair and our neighbors were our family. We lived there until I was nine and, after that, the Halloween spirit disappeared from around me. It became a ghost, living only in my memory.
Our parents moved us up and into a higher class of homes. During junior high and high school, I went to Halloween parties or watched horror movies to get my fix. Our wealthy neighbors would shut off their porch lights to keep the kids away. In college, the candy was replaced with beer from a keg and I dressed up just to get past the door guy.
Then, I lived in the city for 14 years, where I met my husband. Our most recent condo bordered three neighborhoods. One was full of yuppies and frat boys (new money). The other was full of sex shops, head shops, addicts and transvestites (dirty money). And, if you headed up the hill, you had the snobs (old money).
If the neighborhoods were placed on a Venn diagram, we would be at the center, where all three worlds collided and overlapped. Our neighbors were probably pot smoking, frat boys born with silver spoons in their mouths or head shop owners who made a lot of money off the frat boys and other addicts. Then, you had the floaters, like us. Somewhat normal people who just liked living smack dab in the middle of the city.
When Halloween came around, the only costumes in sight were adults headed to Halloween parties or streetwalkers whose costumes were really their uniforms. We never bothered to buy candy for kids, because no kid would ever trick-or-treat in our neighborhood. I wouldn’t blame their parents, either. I once found a used condom wrapped around a parking meter knob and I once spotted someone’s used syringe in the gutter. Halloween candies retrieved there would’ve been a crap shoot, either giving your kid a safe sugar high or sending them on an acid trip.
After we had our daughter, we moved to the suburbs. As Halloween grew close, the nostalgia of my youth flooded back into my mind. I couldn’t wait to pick out my daughter’s costume, deciding on a cute little bee. I bought bags and bags of candy. Every kind that I loved as a kid, Smarties, Sweet Tarts, Hershey’s and more. I think I bought seven bags of candy. I figured it was better to have too much, than too little.
We went to the Halloween store and bought tombs, cob webs, a skull gate, cut outs and orange and black lights. We spent two hours there, just looking for the perfect experience for our daughter and for the kids who would flood onto our porch and ring the doorbell, asking for a trick or a treat. I remembered some of the parents dressing up in scary costumes when I was a kid, so we found a creepy mask and an apron with an alien poking out of the belly for my husband. He would dress all in white. He would sit on a chair silently as kids nervously walked up to the house.
I had this anxious excitement, the entire day. I wanted our house to be the best, the one all of the kids remembered. I would relive my youth through my daughter’s eyes. As the evening entered and we dressed Babyface up, we headed out to trick-or-treat early, so we could rush back, set-up and hand out candy.
That’s when we realized our neighborhood was not filled with the Halloween spirit, but it was a ghost town. Parents left bowls of only healthy treats (bags of pretzels, Annie’s bunny gummies or even toothbrushes) on their front porches. They were nice enough to leave the light on, but not nice enough to answer the door or even say, “hi”. “Maybe they’re all out trick-or-treating,” we thought.
After our daughter collected about ten “healthy” snacks, we headed back home in hopes that everyone was waiting for the sun to go down to hit up the houses. Each hour that passed, only one or two kids stopped by. My husband never even put on his costume. The street was scary by accident. The street was scary only because it was dark and empty. We lived in a Halloween ghost town.
Now, we just drive to neighborhoods where there are fun families and do our best to let our daughter feel the Halloween spirit. We watch Halloween cartoon classics. We do crafts. We carve pumpkins. We compromise, so our daughter can feel the same magic we felt as kids.
Maybe when real estate agents sell homes, they should list “Neighborhood Halloween Spirit: yes or no” as one of the sales criteria. I may have searched elsewhere. In the meantime, we’re working with what we’ve got: safety, good schools and a strip of sole survivors living on deserted islands.