Sunday, October 16, 2011
My first yard decorations were made from the Styrofoam packing material from my new stereo system and a couple of pieces of cast-off plywood. This I managed to construct into three reasonable facsimiles of head stones, which I planted at the end of a hole made by removing a few pieces of turf from the front lawn and raking up the earth underneath to look like a new grave. The addition of the shovel and an old (lit) kerosene railroad lamp made it more realistic. I cut bats out of black construction paper, tied strings to them, then hung them from a low branch of the huge maple. A dry cleaning bag made a terrific ghost after dark. I stuffed some old clothes and added on an old Jack-O-Lantern candy bucket for a head and had a scarecrow...and of course there was a real Jack-O-Lantern carved from a pumpkin and carefully lined with aluminum foil to boost the illumination and keep the pumpkin from burning. I learned early on that if you put the candle you were going to use in a drinking glass, the wind couldn't blow it out. A few years later I added a blow-up skeleton which I hung on fishing line so it looked like it was running through the yard.
My best ally was imagination. We lived on a corner lot, so the yard was visible from two sides and lit by a couple of street lamps on poles. The maple tree shaded most of the decorated area, so the light danced across the open grave and the flame from the kerosene lamp- kept low- danced in the breeze and gave a spooky illumination to the area. I used to hang the speaker from the stereo up so they were in front of the windows, and played A Thrilling, Chilling Halloween from Hallmark on the cassette player so the place had the right atmosphere. The display grew year by year, and one year my Grandfather decided to cook hot dogs on a grill in the front yard to hand out to the kids with a cup of hot chocolate ( it was pretty cold in our part of the North by October 31st!) The neighborhood kids learned that our house was one of the safe ones. I think we had one of the best displays in the neighborhood because it wasn't too scary for the little kids...and we had a lot of kids, usually around 250. They returned each year, and there were whole families that came to pose together and take photos over the course of a decade. It was a wonderful way for the neighborhood to come together. One little tyke ran back up the side walk to me and setting down his goody sack to dig through it,"This place is the bestest tricky-treating ever!"he said, dropping a miniature Baby Ruth into my hand before running back to his mother who waited at the end of the side walk.
I always made sure I had Halloween off from work. A couple of times I sacrificed two days of vacation just to be off on that day so I could take my time decorating the yard. The year I worked on Halloween day I regretted it. My relief was late and I had to work three hours longer than scheduled. The buses were off schedule, too that night. It was getting dark and the kids were already on the street when I got home. The yard wasn't decorated: I remember throwing a single string of purple lights onto the branches of a sapling in the front yard and plugging in a plastic blow-mold pumpkin because there wasn't time to carve a Jack-O-Lantern. The kids came-but they were disappointed there were no real yard decorations. I pretended that I had planned to go 'minimalist' that year in anticipation of returning with a bigger and better display the next year. Deep inside I felt an emptiness. This was Halloween? It was the night I looked forward to all year, and it was nearly over before I got home from work. After the kids went in for the night I turned off the lights, took the plastic JOL inside and called a friend to go out to dinner with me. It was a solemn evening even in good company. That night I dreamed of being unable to get home in time for Halloween and missing the day altogether. In my dream I would get off the bus and run the entire length of the neighborhood to get home...and there were no trick or treaters. It was too late. I was too late and had missed Halloween. The dream had a foreboding feel to it, and the worst part of it was that it kept repeating, just like in the Bill Murray movie Ground Hog Day. I would get off the bus and run the length of the neighborhood, and couldn't find the house, or I'd get lost on a side street, and it would get dark before I could get home. I still occasionally have this dream; it's the only repeating nightmare I've ever had, and every time I have it, it's the same: I awake feeling cheated out of the one thing that gives me joy during the year.