The duck, the ghost and the cowboy

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Joanna walked excitedly down the rural lane with her older brother and younger sister. She kicked the leaves that were brittle and fragrant. The two flashlights they brought lit circles ahead of them. Wearing an old duck costume of a popular cartoon character, she had license to hunt for candy from the neighbors. Josh wore a cowboy hat and brown suede jacket that were family Halloween favorites. A sheet with two holes joined the pack. Underneath that bed-like garb was younger sister Josy.

It took a sibling on each side to keep Josy going forward and not stumble. With holes shifting as the sheet twisted, it was hard to keep a good sight. There was a big, pointy witch’s hat in the back of the attic closet, but Josy hadn’t picked it. There wasn’t time to invest in the face paint needed for a clever disguise. No, a sheet was efficient, cheap and available.

The smell of the air from the decaying leaves, the crispness in the air, the blackness of the sky and the naked trees set the Halloween mood. Running up to familiar doors each year and shouting “trick or treat” never got old. Carved, lit pumpkins illuminated some sidewalks. Broken and littering pieces of jack ‘o lanterns smelled ripe under the abandoned train trestle. Was it really fun to steal someone’s pretty pumpkin and do such violence to it? One had to be careful not to lose footing on the slick matter that oozed out of the assaulted orbs.

Josy turned to Josh and asked, “Have you ever seen any goblins?” The blackness of the night was spooking the youngest sister just a bit.

“Don’t worry, Josy,” he said. “Joanna and I know the safe places to go.”

Unlike a suburban prowl, trick or treating in the country is a long walk yielding less “loot.” “How cute,” was frequently heard, although the costumes didn’t change much from year to year. The sleeves and legs just got a little shorter, or longer, depending on who wore it. Next year, the ghost would be the cowboy and the duck might be a witch. It was a game of musical costumes.

When did Halloween become so much more about what you wear than how you feel? The frantic search to get the scariest, most unique costume is almost an obsession. How much candy you can grab in a pillowcase is the prize to catch!

Looking back at childhood, Joanna felt some regret that more effort and play didn’t yield a more exciting costume. The garb was a bit of an afterthought instead of an activity for creative family play. Growing up in a practical home, how much effort could be expended on something worn a couple of hours each year? Art and theatrical experience weren’t mainstream conversation. And joyful play with abandon was a solo art. On special days, it was a sibling production.

When we got home, we counted the 10 or 12 candy bars or packs of gum we each had. It seemed we had hit the jackpot! “Josh,” said Joanna, “were you surprised that Mrs. Martin didn’t come to the door tonight?”

“I think that when you get older,” Josh reflected, “that Halloween must not matter anymore to some people.”

Josy quipped, “It’s more fun to get candy than give it, I guess!”

We both laughed at Josy’s thoughts back then. Now I remember my part in helping children build good memories they will reflect on over their lifetime when I take the time to greet them on Halloween. What remains for Joanna is an appreciation for all that her senses gathered. The rich memories of star-studded nights and “magic” shared with siblings are in a long-term memory vault. The duck, the cowboy and the ghost remember those nights.

Where does your mind take you to feel the warmth of a flannel blanket around your shoulders? What’s the pumpkin that delights you?

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