My husband and I are busy people with no time to decorate, but we take pleasure every year in our neighbors' display. It has become part of our holiday tradition. And this year it has caused me to think about how traditions change.
Carved or painted pumpkins were state-of-the-art decorations when I was growing up on Long Island, although some households went all out and taped cardboard skeletons and spooky cats to their living-room windows. We children of the baby boom (how many of us there were!) roamed freely and far without supervision, ringing doorbells and filling pillow cases and brown grocery bags with goodies. Necco wafers, candy corn, small printed sacks that bored mothers had spent hours filling with carefully chosen treats--so much candy! For a day or two we rifled through it, searching out our favorites, and then, at least at my house, it quietly disappeared.
My trick-or-treating partner of choice was my friend Kathy. Our costumes were simple and thrown together. She favored the old-man look--a pillow stuffed under her grandfather's flannel shirt. One year I was a pirate, in a pair of black boots and a big, white top. Our clothes hardly mattered to us, though. They were something we needed if we were to go out and have fun. And, really, then as now, children in Halloween costumes look like children in Halloween costumes, regardless of the effort expended.
In 1962 Kathy and I were apart on Halloween, thanks to the Cuban missile crisis. My terrified mother had stuffed us kids in the car and driven us to Buffalo, having decided that we would all be safer at my grandparents' house. My brother and I had packed our costumes and went house to house in a foreign neighborhood that year. When I returned to school after this adventure, my teacher asked me why I had been absent so long. I told him, and he shook his head in disbelief. Finally, he had heard everything.
Kathy and I vowed that we never would stop trick-or-treating together, that we would keep on dressing up and collecting candy well after everyone else our age had given it all up. But of course we did stop. We left childhood, too. We raised our own children and saw traditions change. Now, when I answer Halloween knocks at my door, I see chaperoning parents standing back on the sidewalk, because we perceive greater danger in the immediate world. I won't say Halloween was better in my youth--it just was different. The way we celebrate reflects our time.
So, shine on, you crazy pumpkins!