I've always loved Halloween.
I miss elementary school Halloween carnivals. One of the high points of my grade-school days was the year our class at Enota hosted the haunted house. Back then there were no euphemisms. It wasn't a fall festival. It wasn't an autumn extravaganza. It was a Halloween carnival. We all wore our costumes to school and they weren't limited to story-book characters.
Game tickets were a nickel each and every classroom hosted a different game. There was the beanbag toss and the cake walk. There was the fishing game, where a line with a clothespin on the end was dropped behind a curtain. There'd be a tug and when you reeled it back in there would be a cool toy, like a Chinese finger trap or one of those BB puzzles clipped to the end.
The very best venue of all was the haunted house. The desks were pushed off to the side and covered with black garbage bags. There were spooky black lights and, as you moved through the labyrinth, scary creatures would jump out at every turn. One or two little kids always wet their pants. One year, I was one of them.
My father was the werewolf. He bought a rubber mask from a costume shop in Atlanta, tattered up some old clothes and glued fake werewolf hair all over his neck and hands. He leapt around and made scary howling noises. I was so proud of him.
Tommy West, who went on to coaching fame at Clemson and Memphis was, for that night at least, the son of Frankenstein. His dad was taller than all the other fathers and, with his blank stare, lurching walk and bolts on the sides of his neck, he gave Lon Chaney Jr. a run for his money.
Sadly, my children have never attended a Halloween carnival. Granted, they've been to corn mazes, pumpkin farms, a fall festival where the principal kissed a pig and any number of Renaissance festivals.
But somewhere along the line somebody decided to do away with the Halloween carnival.
Maybe it happened when rumors started circulating about razor blades in apples and hospitals started offering to X-ray trick-or-treat goodies. Maybe it was when costumes became more gory than imaginative and all you needed was a hockey mask, a bottle of ketchup and a machete to be fully costumed.
At least our girls got to experience trick-or-treating. Our neighborhood used to be a grand one for that activity. Each house seemed to have more elaborate decorations and better treats than the last.
One young couple underestimated the amount of candy that was required and ended up handing out wax-covered discs of gouda cheese to the last few goblins who came around.
Drew and Susan Thomas would always have some sort of surprise on their porch. One time they rigged it up so a disembodied hand would skitter across the railing whenever anyone came up the steps. But by last year all of their boys were off at college and the porch was dark.
Now 14, our youngest is a little long in the tooth for trick-or-treating. Most of the kids from our neighborhood are grown, gone and thinking of starting families of their own. Since 2006 we haven't had a single trick-or-treater.
Just as Halloween celebrations have waned, I hope they will someday wax. Perhaps by the time I'm a grandmother, there'll be a resurgence of Halloween carnivals. I'll be the first to sign up for haunted house duty. After all, I already have the werewolf mask.
Originally published in the Gainesville Times, October 31, 2008