When I was a girl, I kept a running list. Each item on the list started with the words: “When I’m an adult I will …”
Today I only remember how a handful of those sentences ended. One was “… buy nice toilet paper like Charmin.” This was because my mother used the five-finger discount at the bars where she worked, filling her saddlebag-sized purse with, among other things, POM industrial toilet paper. It was as soft as a cat’s tongue.
Also on the list was “… buy fantastic candy for trick-or-treaters.” I am happy to honor this promise made by my child self to my adult self. However, for eight years we lived on Oakdale Avenue in a neighborhood with few children. On the Saturday before Halloween, Akron’s official Beggar’s Night, the houses on our street were mostly dark. As a result, for years the boys and I returned to Ohio City, where we had lived in Cleveland, to trick-or-treat with friends.
Then, in summer of 2011, we moved to a home in the heart of West Akron. That October I excitedly bought dozens of full-sized Kit Kats, Butterfingers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Claude and Hugo were still in high school and agreed to hand out the candy so Max and I could both take Jules and Leif trick-or-treating (Lyra was born the following summer). The boys conspired to have Hugo pass out the treats while Claude, made up as a monster and cleverly hidden in a pile of leaves, would jump out and scare the kiddies.
Their plan was a bust, as not a single costumed kiddo came a-begging at our door. After an hour of waiting for the doorbell that never rang, the big boys instead watched horror films and ate a good way through the stash of candy bars. (Claude and I hid from each other, found and re-hid the remaining Butterfingers, our favorite candy bars, for several days.)
Perhaps our street is too busy or the houses too far apart for trick-or-treating. More likely,however, is something else Max and I learned that night: The residents on the cross streets a stone’s throw from our house so overwhelmingly participate in Beggar’s Night, it feels like a festival.
And by participate, I don’t mean they just hand out candy.
The first house we stop at each year is haunted. Walk in the front door and follow a pathway that winds through the living room, over to an inky-dark enclosed porch and out the back door. Along the way animatronic ghosts, ghouls, spiders and skeletons greet each visitor. The bowls of candy are equally active. Uncle Fester’s head chats away in one, while a hand, presumably Thing, tries grabbing the hands of treat takers in another.
Further down the street is a pirate who is more than a little intimidating when trick-or-treaters first approach him. For those who are brave, he not only hands over candy, he’ll sing a rollicking pirate song.
Around the corner is a house in which the entire front yard is repurposed into an elaborate graveyard full of skeletons, vampires, werewolves and other creepy creatures. The first week of each October, the grave keeper starts building his cemetery, first erecting a faux wrought iron fence, then tombstones start popping out of the ground and so on until the entire piece de resistance comes together on Beggar’s Night.
In more houses than not, groups of adults sit in driveways around a fire, many drinking beer, all enjoying the evening. They ask the kids about their costumes and are overwhelmingly generous with their treats.
My child self dreamed of a neighborhood like this.
So do children today, which is why many people come from other neighborhoods to trick-or-treat in ours. And the neighbors welcome everyone. Being generous with Halloween candy, big bags of which are only a few bucks at any grocery store, is an easy way to spread sweet joy.
After three blocks of dense trick-or-treating, Leif begs to stop. He wants to return to the first house, the one that is haunted, before we head home. This has become our ritual.
This year, Leif started anticipating Halloween as soon as school resumed in late August. All this month, he has asked us to slow down when we drive past the house that will be haunted. He wants to see if the owners have started putting it together.
“You know, except for the presents, I think Leif likes Halloween as much as Christmas,”
said Max on a recent drive-by of the haunted house. Leif’s not alone. Not only in West Akron but also across the country, Halloween has vaulted beyond jack-o-lanterns and candy to a big-time holiday.
Sure, much of this has to do with retailers getting us to buy more things we don’t really need. I have two large storage tubs of Halloween décor, one with tabletop ghosts, skulls, ravens, candles and more for indoors and the other filled with things to spooky up our yard. All of which 7-year-old Leif adores arranging and attending, each night turning on anything that lights up or moves.
The job of a parent is multifactorial. We are tasked with the health of children’s bodies, minds and spirits. But one more responsibility, which I did not recognize until my first two boys were old enough to reminisce, is this: Parents are the curators of their children’s memories.
No matter which ones you celebrate, holidays are excellent fodder for memory-making. I have no doubt that one day Leif and Lyra will look back with fondness at the Beggar’s Nights of their childhoods in Akron.
And as for my childhood promise to hand out fantastic candy, I have a plan.
When Leif and Lyra no longer need us to marshal them to the door of each house, Max and I will dress as medieval peasants. One of us will pull a wagon laden with full-sized candy bars, followed by the other who will shout, “Bring out your dead!” and ring a bell.
And in our neighborhood of Halloween fanatics, this treat caravan (a riff on Monty Python and the Holy Grail) will fit right in.
This essay was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on October 22, 2017