Holidays are the exclamation points that emphasize the otherwise routine days of our lives. There are holidays like New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that mark old endings and new beginnings. And, of course, Christmas, when our children share their joy and wonder with us, and in that sharing recharge the spirit of the child that still lives within us. Holidays can be marvelous memory makers. And then there’s Halloween.
You just can’t make an eloquent statement about the nobility of man at Halloween. It doesn’t inspire people to do charitable acts or to bestow blessings on anyone. Quite the contrary! Halloween is for pranksters and tricksters and for scaring the bejeepers out of any unfortunate soul who happens to let his guard down. And, despite numerous protests and murderous threats from my wife, that’s the tradition I’ve always tried to uphold in my family.
Now, in order to effect a truly notable Halloween memory, you need a few very basic ingredients:
(1) dark night (preferably with a spooky moon)
(1) imaginative child (add more as desired)
(1) shameless and sadistic father
It’s long been the tradition in my family that Dad and the kids go hunting for “The Perfect Pumpkin.” Come to think of it, my wife never does this stuff. Makes you wonder who thinks up these traditions, doesn’t it? What the heck does she do with all that free time while I have the kids out scouring the markets for pumpkins and such? To be fair, though my wife certainly enjoyed those periods of temporary peace and quiet, the kids and I always had a great time and, while Mom’s acquisitions would be affected by budget constraints, Dad’s purchases never had a limit. Where Halloween was concerned, there was no price too high for the perfect pumpkin! This was a tradition that I used for virtually every holiday, by the way. Hence, the perfect valentine, the perfect Christmas tree, etc. But I digress.
So the kids and I would set out in search of the “Perfect Pumpkin.” This was always a description and title that was subject to some interpretation. Each of the kids would find what they felt constituted “perfect” and there’d be an impromptu judging contest. We’d oh-so-seriously examine the characteristics of each gourd, trying to visualize how the poor thing was going to look after we hacked out its insides and carved some ferocious countenance on it. Eventually we’d reach a consensus and hightail it back to the house with our prized, and soon to be butchered, “Perfect Pumpkin” in hand.
The autumn sun was sinking rapidly behind the hills beyond our home as the kids and I set about drawing pumpkin faces on scraps of paper. After several attempts at a number of designs, we agreed upon the face that would scowl down from our living room window at the hapless trick-or-treaters who dared come to our front door. We copied the features from our drawing to the pumpkin and I selected the largest butcher knife from the kitchen to do the deed. With my eyes bulging as best I could, I gave my best impression of Boris Karloff and, screaming for just the right effect, plunged the knife into the gourd! This was, of course, met with a round of applause from the kids and a smile and shake of the head from my wife. After completing the incision for the unfortunate pumpkin’s craniotomy, we’d commence scooping its “brains” out. (Always good for a yechhh or two.). Finally, all that remained was to put the candle inside the head and place our jack-o’-lantern in the front window. By this time, the “traditional’ side of me was in full swing and I suggested that Richard go out front to make sure the pumpkin could be seen from the road.
Now, I’m really not a bad father, usually.
But it was Halloween and tradition demanded a sacrifice. This year, Richard drew the short straw, so to speak. Richard, of course, was ignorant of my adolescent adherence to arcane family rituals. He was only six, going on seven. By now he knew there was no Santa Claus, but chose to believe anyway, just in case. And at this moment, he knew there was nothing outside that could hurt him, (but what if he’s wrong?). His sister (the shark) smelled blood in the water and insisted she’d watch him through the window to make sure he’s okay, and he reluctantly agreed to go. This was as much a testimony to his gullibility as to her cold-bloodedness.
By now, the sun had long since left the horizon and it was pitch-black outside. Timing is everything with traditions, you know. And Richard, fearful but trusting Richard, made his way slowly, step-by-cautious-step, down the back stairs and around the corner of the house (where the shrubs and trees take on monstrous shapes and it’s really dark), and finally to the front curb to gaze upon the pumpkin as his wonderful, loving father, whom Richard adores, suggested.
My son was no sooner out the door and cautiously heading down the stairs, when I made a bee-line for the drawer where I kept It!
It was a full head, rubber mask that looked, at its best, like a demented old man. At its worst, It was a demented old man that lived to eat the flesh off the bones of six-year-old boys. It had craggy brows over dark, deep set eyes and a shock of platinum white hair that rose like a scream from the fringe of its balding top. And It was going to meet Richard on the path back to the house. Realizing the benefits of special effects and good lighting, I grabbed a flashlight on my way out the door.
By now, Richard had made it to the curb, given a cursory glance to the front window, just to say he did it, and confirmed that, yes, the pumpkin is visible from the road. And now he was headed back to the safety and security that waited for him inside his well-lit house, just past the trees and beyond the dark and forbidding back yard. And there, in the backyard, It waited. Richard, either sensing the danger or anxious to be back inside, was moving much faster now. Gone was all caution as he rounded the corner of the house. Running at full clip, he broke into the clearing at the back of the house and headed toward the stairs.
Suddenly, It jumped out of the bushes. Aaarrrgggghhhh!
And Richard screamed…aaaaaiiiieeeeeeeee!
To get the proper effect, I held the lit flashlight under my chin so as to cast shadows across the mask and make it more menacing. I needn’t have bothered, really.
Completely frozen in place, Richard was still screaming…
By then, I was behaving like a merciless mirthful ass, virtually collapsing with laughter, and then I realized…
Richard was still screaming, and I was about to be in serious trouble!
Quickly, I removed the mask and shone the flashlight on my face so Richard could clearly see me, but he kept screaming! And I heard his mother coming…
Hearing his terror, my wife had become a she-bear, bursting through the backdoor to save her cub…
Downstairs, the grandparents have heard the commotion and come running…
His sister, sensing a change in the atmosphere, is no longer the shark and is now only concerned for her brother’s welfare… (The little traitor!)
Guardedly, I looked into his mother’s eyes, and suddenly, I knew what real fear was…
With his mother’s appearance, Richard’s screams have finally subsided into an incoherent muddle of sobs and gibberish, as his mother attempted to keep him from going into shock or something worse.
Meanwhile, there I was, holding a flashlight and a scary mask, trying to look innocent and not doing a very good job of it.
Eventually, Richard calmed down, and being extremely goodhearted, he forgave me.
His mother however, was not quite so goodhearted, and certainly not as forgiving.
But by the time the Halloween had passed and that rotten smelly pumpkin had been disposed of, we were once again a happy, reasonably well-adjusted family.
Finally, October was just a memory, Thanksgiving came and went.
And then the kids and I set out to find “The Perfect Christmas Tree.”