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  • The Lonely Skeleton

    October 31, 2008

    When I was growing up I loved and looked forward to Halloween. My brothers and I and the forty or so kids who lived in the neighborhood would start talking about what we would be for Halloween shortly after school started in September.

    The years that Halloween fell on a Saturday or Sunday, we would spend the entire day scavenging for and cobbling together a costume. The ghosts in our neighborhood wore sheets with paint splotches the color of their living room. No one had a “store boughten” costume. Unthinkable.

    Long before the sun would set, four or five kids would crowd around the mirror in our tiny bathroom, elbowing for space. We painted our faces with left over craft paint, the gouged out remains of an old spot of blue or green eyeshadow or one of my mom’s old tubes of blood red lipstick. We’d rat up our hair and drench it in hairspray and practice scary faces holding up our hands Dracula-style.

    Then, just as the sun began to set, 10 or 15 kids at a time would set off screaming down the street with brown grocery bags, going from house to house, descending like a horde of locusts hollering TRICKORTREATSMELLMYFEETGIVEMESOMETHINGGOODTOEAT! And hooboy! Wasn’t that funny?!

    Amid the safety net of 20 kids, we’d roam a two-mile radius around the house for three or more hours. Our bags would be so full of candy we could hardly carry them and occasionally you’d see someone whose bag had broken, on their knees on the sidewalk, crying over their lost booty.

    Last year, Antique Daddy took Sean out trick-or-treating in the neighborhood while I stayed home and ate miniature Snickers waiting for the goblins to arrive at the door. Kids trickled up the sidewalk two and three at a time, escorted by their parents who were in the background hissing, Say trick-or-treat! Say Happy Halloween! Say thank you! Did you say thank you!?”

    Halloween seems so much more lonely an event these days, at least in my neighborhood. The singular Ariel or Ninja that comes to my door makes me nostalgic for the gangs of ghosts splattered with Sherwin William’s Burlap Beige and hobos wearing their dad’s work pants cinched up around their armpits.

    As I stood at the door watching a tiny princess and her daddy make their way to the next house, a skeleton emerged out of the darkness and made his way up the steps. He was an apt skeleton weighing no more than a bucket of green beans. “Trick or treat!” he called to me cheerfully. I estimated him to be about 10-years-old. I looked beyond him into the darkness, but there was no one. I looked into the eyeholes of his mask at his bright brown eyes. I could tell he was smiling at me. I dropped a handful of candy into his bag. “Thank you ma’am!” he said looking me in the eye. Then he turned and started down the steps. “Wait a minute!” I called him back. “Here!” I said, dropping two more handfuls of candy into his bag. “Happy Halloween to you Mr. Skeleton!” “Wow! Thanks!” he called as he disappeared into the darkness. All alone.

    I watched him until there was nothing but darkness beyond the bright porch light. I heaved a heavy sigh. Something about the slightness of his form, his cheer, his courtesy that made me think of my little goblin, who will never be one of a roving gang of paint-splattered ghosts, but a polite, lonely skeleton. And that sort of makes me sad.

    Originally published November, 2006


    1. veereg says:

      Ooow that was soo shweet!!!

      October 31st, 2008 at 2:47 am

    2. edj says:

      Signs of the times.

      Although last year, when we lived in a Portland suburb, there were definitely hoards of kids. They didn’t come down our little cul-de-sac though.

      October 31st, 2008 at 3:16 am

    3. Brigitte says:

      And scientific research has proven that there really were only two definite cases of candy poisoning ever, and they were perpetrated by evil demented relatives or step-relatives of the victims. But now we ALL have to live with no more home-made cookies, popcorn balls, toasted pumpkin seeds, etc. Phooey.

      October 31st, 2008 at 5:15 am

    4. JanMary, N Ireland says:

      The kids from our street, with parents hovering but not too close, will “do the rounds” of our neighbours – our kids love it, and it is a near to freedom as we can manage!

      October 31st, 2008 at 5:38 am

    5. Wendy says:

      We used to wander with the neighboring kids, too. I’m kind of sad that my kids won’t have that experience as well. We also live out in the country, so my kids don’t get to trick or treat unless we drive them into town.

      October 31st, 2008 at 6:12 am

    6. Heidi says:

      I’m sorry you were sad about your solo goblin. My sister and I were just talking about the “If only…” of wishing for another child.

      I too miss the carefree days of our Halloweens in the 70’s. We normally went around our tiny “Mayberry-like” town without parents. My great grandmother made hundreds of popcorn balls for the town children.

      We were lucky; my aunt often sewed beautiful costumes for her kids and we always knew we got them “next year.” But we were never frustrated for having to come up with a thrown together costume from the “goodwill bag.” We never once had a storebought costume either.
      And the class parties? Soooo much simpler than they are today, but that’s another post.

      Tonight my daughter and her friend will be passing out candy on our porch. They are dressing as a two-headed princess – squeezing side by side into a huge shirt and wearing matching tiaras. How cute is that? And the whole outfit cost me $9.00.

      Another sweet sweet post.

      October 31st, 2008 at 7:34 am

    7. ~*~ Jennifer ~*~ says:

      Same here Wendy… I live in the boonies… so my children didn’t even realize there was a “beggers night” until recent years. We have fun laughing last night about what we would dress up as “impromptu like” if we should suddenly drive to town to beg for candy. Our ideas sounded like your ideas of long ago. Too funny… but we didn’t spend the money on gas to get some free candy. The scene has changed… one more memory fading away.

      October 31st, 2008 at 7:35 am

    8. Donna W says:

      I wasn’t very inventive with my costumes. Usually I’d buy any sort of scary mask that suited my fancy and put on a pair of my dad’s overalls. I’d stick a pillow inside them to give me a fat belly, and that was the extent of it.

      October 31st, 2008 at 8:14 am

    9. Margie says:

      Aawww, I know. It is sad that our children/grandchildren can’t have the freedom and fun of times ago. There is a little village outside of the town I live in that draws many trick or treaters tho. In hordes you decribed. Anyway, Sean will love his memories as you do yours. You and AD are wonderful parents.

      October 31st, 2008 at 8:40 am

    10. Tara says:

      Aww, what a nice candy toting lady you are!

      My kids don’t get purchased costumes either. Even if it was on clearance or a really good sale or “ONLY” $20. They have an entire hamper full of dress up clothes. They can wear something from that!

      And sadly, they don’t get to go running from door to door either. Church party for us. Yup, there goes another childhood tradition down the drain of overprotecting our children. Pass the helmets.

      October 31st, 2008 at 9:11 am

    11. Luke Holzmann says:

      That makes me sad too. I’m tearing up here.

      Of course, that reminds me of a line from the movie Simon: “Viktor, do you realize you’re nostalgic for an era you weren’t even born in?”


      October 31st, 2008 at 9:12 am

    12. Nelson's Mama says:

      I remember trick or treating like that too – Halloween is my favorite holiday.

      We live in a small town and our subdivision has only one entrance; plus we have sidewalks. So we get alot of people from outside of the community who drop their kids off and let them hit every house. Depending on the night of the week and the weather we’ll have around 200-250 kids and it is a ball!

      October 31st, 2008 at 9:21 am

    13. Iota says:

      This post was beautiful – a comment on a changing society, a reflection on childhood today, and a wistful thought on your own family. It literally gave me goosebumps. I love your writing.

      October 31st, 2008 at 9:23 am

    14. Heather says:

      There are 3 things missing today that we benefited from as kids:
      1. freedom to roam as a kid
      2. handmade goodies
      3. imagination and preparation of a costume

      While the loss of the first 2 are sad and necessary, the loss of imagination and valuing a costume made rather than something we bought is our own fault. It’s one more quality moment and memory that has been lost to busyness and overscheduling. And that is the saddest thing of all.

      October 31st, 2008 at 10:17 am

    15. Barb says:

      Sean doesn’t have to be a lonely skeleton.

      By the time he’s that age, he will probably part of the neighborhood gang of kids who will trick-or-treat together.

      At least that’s the way it’s starting to work out around here.

      October 31st, 2008 at 11:41 am

    16. Sue says:

      I l-o-v-e-d trick-or-treating on our own, too. The children whose parents didn’t care enough to help them make one were the ones who had store-bought costumes. Interesting memory–One time an older boy w/ his jacket pulled up over his face told my friend and me to lie down on the ground (we followed orders, never thinking of the horrible thing that could have happened), and he then took my sack of candy. Wasn’t that fortunate, as I look back, that what he wanted was that sack of candy! We were only around the corner from my house, but he took off that way, so we ran the 3 blocks the other way to her house. Mostly because a certain older boy in our neighborhood had been in some trouble and had a reputation of being a “hood” (shame on me,) I thought it was he. My mother made us accompany her to his house, though I protested I wasn’t sure who it was. He wasn’t home, but his mother was, and I felt she told him. Still to this day, 45 yrs later, I am rather afraid when I see that man because I totally had no idea who took our candy. I just assumed it was he. I have not apologized and don’t know if I should talk with his mother or let it rest. I know I don’t have the nerve to talk with him and don’t want to get something started there. There’s a chance it was he, but it might well not have been. This memory coming back makes me think I should talk with his mother, and she could tell him I’m sorry I probably falsely accused him.
      It didn’t stop us from trick-or-treating, tho, and I have many, many fond memories of the brown grocery sack days.

      October 31st, 2008 at 11:58 am

    17. Nett says:

      I’m sorry A.M. I know what you mean.
      That makes me kinda sad too.

      October 31st, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    18. Julie at Elisharose says:

      We know too much. We’ve seen too much. I don’t know if anyone can ever recapture the innocence of our youth. Those days are gone forever. And, yes, it is very sad.

      October 31st, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    19. Dee/reddirtramblings says:

      So true. I miss the Halloweens of my youth too for my children. People just don’t trick or treat much anymore. However, at school, I was pleased to see a lot of costumes which were cobbled together like my daughter’s. She wanted to be a detective this year. We found an old fedora, a pint sized trenchcoat from Target and a magnifying glass. She thinks it’s splendid.~~Dee

      October 31st, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    20. GrannyConnie says:

      As a grandmother in her 60s, halloween in the 1950s was wonderful. We dressed as you described and each home was a neighbor that invited the “horde” in to see everyone’s homemade costume and enjoy ice cream from Granny Gill, a big Hershey bar at the Speens, a beautiful piece of fruit from Dr.and Mrs. Sanderland, a small bag of candy from my mom who ran the corner store. It was a wonderful night that everyone looked forward to for months. So sad we have lost this beautiful experience. My grandchildren will never know playing in yards without fences and going trick or treating with the whole neighborhood.

      November 1st, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    21. Katy says:

      You said it so well! Don’t you miss Halloween like Charlie Brown saw it…even if all he got were some rocks in his bag?

      November 1st, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    22. HarryJacksMom says:

      Oh, I agree about the sadness of the changed holiday – we went all out the first two years and only found a few open houses. We’ve hosted a pre-Trick-or-treat party the last two years to try and recapture some of that hoarde-ness….so far, so good! Thanx for the nostalgia 🙂

      November 3rd, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    23. Robbin says:

      I was incredibly pleased to have about 66 or so little trick-or-treaters. And I know this because I handed out play-doh (a big hit, by the way), and it comes in easily countable packages.

      And they were all incredibly polite, and virtually all of them had costumes (a couple of older kids were sans, but I refrained from growling because they all had younger sibs in tow).

      There’s hope yet.

      November 5th, 2008 at 4:14 pm

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