I was just six years old the year my brother took me trick-or-treating on Halloween. I had just uncovered the true meaning of the holiday (haul in as much candy as possible). Previous years I had been happy to dress up and attend one of the neighborhood parties and afterwards trick-or-treat at perhaps three or four houses on the block. This year, however, I had heard all about the value of widespread trick-or-treating from my fellow first graders and I wanted in.
I hadn’t realized what I’d been missing.
A few days before Halloween, I approached my parents, indignant. “I don’t want to go to any stupid party on Halloween,” I told them. “I want to trick-or-treat all night long and get lots and lots of candy!”
My parents looked at each other, tired from their long work days, and sighed. They were already getting older then, my father well past 50.
“Ok,” my mother said, “but I can’t take you because I have to be home to hand out candy and your Dad’s working the midnight shift.”
She glanced around. Unfortunately for my 14-year-old brother happened to be in the room and was promptly assigned the duty. He was to take me trick-or-treating on Halloween night for an hour… somewhat limiting my take of goodies but not unreasonably so, I figured.
I wore my Halloween costume to school the next day and when I got home, I stared at myself in the mirror, trying my best to look scary. I thought my witch costume was beautiful: all black and shiny and fierce. When you’re six years old you think that handmade costumes are absolutely the best. For my first Halloween my mother had sewn a spotted puppy outfit, complete with long, floppy ears. I swear I could remember wearing that costume, chewing on the ears, but I was only ten months old at the time so it must have been later. When I was three I came across the puppy costume stuffed in the back of my closet and my mother gave it to me as a stand-in for the dog I requested daily. I dragged that gutless puppy around with me for months and named him Snoopy. A few years later when I was eight or so I discovered that you no longer want to wear costumes sewn by your mother. What you really want – no need — are the plastic, store-bought kind with the suffocating masks that all your friends have. You will probably be quite mean to your mother to get such a costume.
But not this year. This year with my fancy black pointed hat and satiny cape, I thought no one in the world had a better costume.
By the time it was 5:00 on Halloween evening, I could barely sit still, so impatient to start my hunting and gathering of candy. My brother finally came out of his room around 6:00 dressed as a hobo. He had found some ratty old clothes in the shed, and he wore one of my mother’s filthy gardening hats on his head. There was dirt smeared on his face and he carried a long stick with some kind of knapsack attached. He took one look at me and turned to the linen closet.
“Put that stupid plastic pumpkin down,” he said. “Here, take this.”
He tossed a pillow case at me, and I looked at him perplexed.
“If you want to get a bunch of candy, you need something big to carry it all,” he explained.
I opened the case and looked greedily inside at the vast amount of space available for chocolate bars and caramels. No stupid raisins, please!
“Let’s go,” he said and we were off.
As we left I glanced at the jack-o-lantern we had carved earlier that day, its face reflecting a sinister smile from our porch. My father had lit the candle only minutes before – as dusk had settled into night – and the pumpkin’s face glowed creepily back at me.
At first it was kind of scary approaching houses that were not familiar to me, but my brother was always just a step or two behind and soon I became bold. Halfway through our trek I decided I wanted him to wait on the sidewalk while I sang out my “trick-or-treats” alone. I was rewarded with many, many chocolate bars and was so pleased that I didn’t even frown when Mrs. Harper slipped the bag of raisins into my bag. I would offer those to my brother for helping out!
“Come on,” he said. “It’s been an hour and that’s all you get. I want to get home and go to the party at Doug’s.”
Doug was my brother’s best friend and lived just a block over from us. Sometimes I thought he was actually part of our family, he was at our house that much. I knew his dinner preferences as clearly as I knew my brother’s – hot dogs, spaghetti, chili. I knew the TV shows they liked to watch – Dark Shadows was a favorite. They both had the shaggy hair popular in the mid-sixties, but both seemed to veer away from the true craziness of the time. In fact, my brother would be married in less than five years.
The hour of trick-or-treating flew by and although I really wanted to keep going, I was actually pretty tired and knew the second best thing next to trick-or-treating was getting home, dividing the candy into piles – all the Milky Ways here, all the suckers there – and then eating one from each.
We turned and headed home.
The sky was very dark now and I could hear the shuffling of feet through the leaves. It was both spooky and fun – a perfect autumn night illuminated by the splendid yellow moon overhead. We walked down our block and waved to some of the older neighbor kids who were still heading out, some to trick-or-treat, others to Doug’s party. Tommy Green was dressed as a soldier and he fake stabbed me as he walked by.
Up ahead was our house and I noticed a big kid dressed as a baseball player trick-or-treating there. I could see my mother fill his bag and close the door. The baseball player turned to leave but then paused and turned back towards the door, considering something. Suddenly he pulled out his baseball bat and started to smash our jack-o-lantern, stringy orange bits of pumpkin flying everywhere. My brother stopped in his tracks, unsure what to do. The baseball player was big and definitely older than my brother and he was giving our pumpkin a good thrashing.
“Oh no!” I cried dramatically, tears quickly spreading down my checks. “He’s killing our pumpkin!”
My brother looked down at me, his dirty face strained. I had stuffed my fist in my mouth, whimpering, my perfect Halloween suddenly turning into a horror show right in front of me, ruined. He looked back at our house and made up his mind.
He sprinted towards the pumpkin murderer.
“Hey!” he yelled. “Hey, stop!!”
He was almost upon the guy and I stared in horror. My brother was going to get smashed in the head by the baseball player just like our pumpkin, I was sure. Splat. Instead the kid picked up the pulpy mess of the pumpkin, ran towards my brother and shoved it hard into his stomach. My brother gave a weird “Ouf” sound and fell to the ground. The pumpkin killer ran into the darkness, and I ran to my brother. He got up slowly, stooping over to catch his breath and then began to pick up the remains of our pumpkin. Surprisingly after all that pumpkin abuse, it still had one good eye and most of his mouth.
We walked to our porch together and he carefully placed it back where it belonged. I had to admit, it looked even scarier now all mashed up, and I grinned up at my brother.
“Well, there you go, kid,” he said, “a real-live trick on Halloween.”
He looked down at his ruined hobo costume sadly. I think he later realized that you can’t really ruin a hobo costume; the added pumpkin stains only made it look more real. I grabbed him around the legs and hugged hard. He looked surprised but squeezed me back. As a six-year-old I wasn’t sure if I was hugging him because I was scared or because I was glad he wasn’t splat like the pumpkin or because he took me trick-or-treating. Mostly I think I hugged him because he saved my pumpkin.
The next day when I got home from school there was a small, stuffed pumpkin sitting on my bed. My brother would not admit that it came from him – he told me the Great Pumpkin brought it for me while I was at school.
I believed that for a long time.