Friday, October 29, 2010

Still Life With Robin: Whoooo Loves Halloween?

by Peggy Robin

I would say that Halloween is my favorite holiday -- and believe I mean it -- except for the vague memory I have of myself last summer declaring that the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday, and last spring telling the guests around the Seder table that Passover is the best. At least let me stake the claim that it's my favorite October holiday. (I can't even swear that it's the best fall holiday, because I may want to make the case for Thanksgiving later in the season.) But just take me at my word: I really love Halloween.

Now for the reasons:  Number one, guilt-free candy. Normally, I try to limit my intake. I have my dentist to nag me on this score, and my own negative reinforcement that comes from owning a mouthful of fillings, the result of a childhood that included a daily walk home from school past a candy store, always with a stopover to make a purchase and consume it before I reached my front door. Eventually I learned from all my experiences of the drill to give up my daily sugar fix. Except for this one day a year when I hand out Kitkats and Almond Joys to trick-or-treaters and make sure to save a precious few for myself. (This year any leftovers once I've had my fill are going to neighbors Judy and Gary Kopff, who are collecting for our active duty forces abroad, and invite you to drop off goodies at their front porch at  2939 Newark Street, NW.)

Number two: Scary house decorations. People in Cleveland Park are so inventive in this vein (much more so than they are with their Christmas lights)! I've seen a witch rigged up on a front-yard swing so that when the wind blows, she seems to fly back and forth on her broomstick. I've seen a ghoulish face on a tree, and as you pass by it on your way to the front door, you hear a low voice coming from its mouth that greets you and comments on your child's costume. (It's an intercom wired so that the person looking at you through the sidelight of the house can address you sight unseen -- and it really does mystify a young child as to how this "tree person" knows who you are.) Here are the two best ones ever: There's a house on Macomb Street between Reno and Wisconsin that for many years running was completely covered in a painted canvas so that the entire house looked like a goblin face (one year) or Harry Potter's face (another year) or the whole house appeared to be a giant ghostly blob.  I have no idea how long it must have taken the homeowners to create the house-cover and then hoist it in place and secure it over the facade of their house -- but I understand completely why they give up the effort once their children had grown up and no longer lived at home. Still, each time I pass by that house as the last week of October arrives, I feel a twinge of regret that those days are gone. However, that isn't even the best Halloween display I've ever seen. That honor goes to the house on Highland Place, which as you came up the walkway, had the usual tombstones and whoo-ing noises, but that was not all: As you approached the front door, you passed a bench on the porch with a display of life-sized Halloween dummies, including a witch, a scarecrow, and a skeleton. Just as you would cross the porch in front of the bench, the scarecrow would suddenly jump up from his seat as if to grab you!  He was alive! (It was actually the teenage son who lived there, who was able to sit motionless, lifeless, seemingly made of harmless straw, until it was exactly the right moment to pounce. But he was subtle, careful in his choice of victims, understanding that his trick had to be reserved for trick-or-treaters of a suitable age to handle it -- that is, about age 10 and up.)

And now saving the best for last:  I love to see all the kids in their costumes.  I have no ideological objection to store-bought ones (some parents are just not cut out to be costume designers) but all the same, I love above all the homemade creations I see at my door each year.  Some of the best I remember from years past:  The boy who was a bunch of grapes, the effect created by covering himself completely in deep purple balloons, with crepe paper leaves around his neck and a top-stem for a hat. The two-year-old twin girls who were both playing cards -- a pair of two's, of course.  The entire family who went as a Wizard of Oz ensemble: Dorothy, the Wizard, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion (their large dog wearing some kind of fake mane on its head) and Toto (their small dog, who needed no disguise).

I'm proud to say that my own kids are no slouches when it comes to creative Halloween apparel.  For lack of space I'll forgo the 18 year list of their various spooky/kooky characters and just describe one memorable example for each of our two daughters. Our older daughter's scariest costume by far was the year that she dressed up as an IRS agent. She wore an uber-professional-looking business suit, with a government ID on a lanyard around her neck, and she carried a clipboard with an audit form in one hand, a briefcase in the other.When she showed up at people's doorsteps, it was tax-or-treat; that was one year that she came away with a most impressive surplus of candy. Our younger daughter's most creative costume was not scary -- it was literally brilliant: She was a standing floor lamp, with a lampshade hat that concealed an array of glowsticks underneath so that she actually lit up the night.  The rest of her body was all in black, like the pole of a lamp, but with a real lamp cord emerging from the on-off switch on her shirt pocket running down her side and ending in a plug that was plugged into a real outlet on her pants leg. No one ever had to ask her, "What are you?" because she was so clearly and completely a lamp. (That was a costume any safety-obsessed parent would love, as her lampshade head gave off enough light for anyone to spot her at a distance; no worry that she could not be seen in the dark.)

I'm eager to see what imaginative beings will show up at my door Sunday night.  And I'll be waiting for them with enough treats to be sure to have leftovers to enjoy (and then give away). Come and get it!

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