Growing up in western Massachusetts, fall was ushered in on cool chilly breezes. When the leaves on the maples were vivid hues of auburn, copper and gold we knew we were in the thick of it. There was so much to look forward to then. Especially, the first holiday of the season which we’d pay homage to on the bay window in our living room facing passersby.
Originally bought at Woolworth’s, the coveted items we’d put up would be brought out into the light after resting in our dark attic for the previous eleven months. Excitement would build as my mom stood on a chair in the closet and would hand down a bag to me and my sister below.
Gently we’d pull out images of smiling pumpkins, black cats, a silhouetted witch, skeletons and spider webs all printed onto pre-cut card stock. Over time their colors faded and their edges frayed, but we’d greet and care for them like friends we only got to see once a year. Carefully they’d be scotch-taped to the window until the last piece was hung, the banner reading: HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
The decorations set everything in motion, but it was choosing and creating costumes, carving pumpkins, the school and neighborhood parties, then the evening of Trick or Treating that made the holiday what it was – pure sweet fun! In elementary school we’d have an all-grade parade to show off our get ups. Such creativity abounded! Over the years, I have dressed as a princess, a pencil, a tree, a cat, a ghost, even a lobster!
I still remember setting up a haunted house in a neighborhood friend’s cellar. What lay beyond the black piece of fabric at the entrance were what 10-year olds – then – considered scary and eerie. Gummy worms were intestines, small rubber balls in petroleum jelly were eyeballs, and old shirt sleeves stuffed with newspaper were severed arms. We made hands out of gloves filled with sand and the piece de resistance were the brains made from jello mixed with cooked spaghetti!
Celebrations with family and friends continued into adulthood. Those who had children experienced Halloween in ways they did as kids and some created new traditions. Still, all of us looked to Halloween with a good time in mind.
Then came the year when I saw All Hallow Saint’s Eve and the day after, differently.
November 2, 2001, Thousand Oaks, California
“I thought Halloween was chaotic..Yesterday was such long long day, it was hard to keep the kids busy…Exhausted.”
If you are a teacher, you know where I am going with this… Halloween is the holiday you always hope (and pray) falls on a Saturday. And if you are a parent, you may be glad when it doesn’t.
It was my first year teaching when I witnessed Halloween, more so, it’s aftermath, in a new way. Normally, my cheerful class of twenty-four sweet-natured darling six-year olds would be lined up like little angels in two perfect parallel lines waiting patiently outside our classroom for me to come out and bring them in. Their backpacks neatly hung on hooks. They’d beam and sing song, “Good Morning, Mrs. Braverman!”
Adorable and excited the day before in their costumes, the next morning was just not the same. Opening the door, I heard rumbling and whining, accompanied by parents hurriedly walking away waving, “Have a nice day!” not knowing if they were talking to me or their children. I noticed three kids jockeying for a spot in line. A couple of backpacks lay strewn on the ground. One child was chewing something, a wrapper balled up in her hand. Another student still had a swipe of white face paint on his cheek. A few rubbed their eyes and others were jittery, bouncing on their tippy toes. Was this my class? Was I in the right place? I checked the door number to be sure. Before me, I saw two wonky lines, no smiles and when one child wailed, “I want to go home!” I wanted to say, “Me, too!”
The day was long, but we all survived. I scrapped my regular plans and decided on independent reading, an art project and math games. An extra twenty minutes of running around outdoors helped, too.
After that first year, I knew what to expect and more so…what not to. Maybe my past teachers felt the same way. Were we like that as kids? Was I?
So the next October and every one that followed, I focused on seeing Halloween through my students’ eyes recalling the pure sweet joy that comes with that day…and remembering to simply go with the flow, the day after.