On average, we trace our first memory back to age three. Some folks claim to recall the “peace of the womb”, which I’m sure is very comforting for them, but is as likely as Pablo Picasso’s neon underwear interrupting an episode of Mythbusters by dancing across the room.
If adolescent recklessness didn’t glitch your earliest memories with a list of Commodore 64 POKE commands, or the recipe for lasagna, then you probably remember your first trick-or-treat at age five. Let’s be generous and say that you clearly recall every Halloween since then. Running up and down leaf-littered sidewalks, thrilling to a bed sheet ghost on a pulley, smelling baked Jack-O-Lantern lids, ringing doorbells and yelling trick or treat! That was fun.
No, not just fun. It was the best fun a kid can have, and it lasted for seven more years. But by age 13 you were becoming a punk teenager, and all that kid stuff was out. Van Halen, Qbert, and jackets with lots of zippers were in. It’d take another 10 years to change your mind.
So, if the fates smiled, you got eight Halloweens from age 5 to 12. Out the door by six o-clock, and in by nine. That’s three hours per year, not that we kept track. Our treasure wasn’t measured in hours; it was poured out on the living room rug in front of the television.
Nevertheless, when you tally up all the bananas, they total 24. Twenty-four kid-hours of Halloween.
Yeah, yeah, I know that Halloween is more than trick-or-treat. But what kid wouldn’t argue that the absolute high point of it all, the moment that couldn’t arrive fast enough, was that first shivery breath of night air when we exploded out the front door wrapped in Ace bandages, or a spare sheet, or wearing a greasepaint mustache, clutching a plastic pumpkin, a paper Woolworth’s bag, and we became Halloween. Trick or treat!
We molded a kind of Halloween mythos out of those twenty-four hours, and this became the foundation that’s carried every Halloween since. A stockpile of memories, stories, and sketches that we squirreled away to be brought back out and read again and again like a favorite old library book.
Sights, colors, feelings…
Electric chills shoot down your spine as the wind plays the chimney like a church organ. Windows rattle and hum; unseen weights and chains clatter in the walls, those dark places where skeletons skulk. Witches whistle their brooms, bent on bedevilment, as cats cavort and pumpkins peek out open windows, waiting. Whew!
Mischief lurks outside. It touches you like a spider’s kiss on the back of the neck. A puff of white smoke from a snuffed candle is the aroma of a dusty crypt, an ancestral reminder to foolish mortals who venture out on All Hallow’s Eve: Watch for wandering souls.
In the book of definitions that we each carry inside, somewhere amongst “I like chicken noodle soup”, and “the best bumper car is always red”, is this notation:
Halloween; see Vol 1, years 5-12, ‘Twenty-four hours of’.*
And the * points here: “Life’s a midway; we ride a different ride every day. Sometimes the carousel, sometimes the Tilt-A-Whirl. Halloween, though, is reserved for that clattering, rickety old wooden roller coaster at the edge of town. Lit up in flashing orange and purple lights, it rackets and pounds over hills, whips around curves so fast your bones rattle. Any second the wheels could jump the track and hurl you, screaming, into the dark, so hold on and don’t close your eyes!”
“Or you might miss something.”
Happy Halloween from the middle of January.