Where have all the monsters gone?

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Nov 03, 2017

When it comes to ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, I'm a wuss, a wimp, a scaredy-cat. (Does anyone still use such a tame epithet?) I've never enjoyed the frisson of fright that makes some delight in ghost stories, haunted houses and horror movies.

But I still like Halloween.

I remember the fun of thinking up what I would be for Halloween, and putting together a costume. As a child, one year I went as a TV set, wearing a large box that covered me down to the knees into the top of which I had stuck "rabbit ears" I'd made from two sticks, carefully removing the bark with a pen knife. Must've looked funny, but I made it myself, at 9 or 10 years old. Several years later, I was a knight. I don't remember exactly how that costume came together, but I believe it involved quite a bit of aluminum foil. That year, my youngest brother was a clown, with a suit someone had sewn and red lipstick on his nose. Boy, was he cute!

I also always liked carving pumpkins. From pretty early on, we were allowed to do some of the work on our own Jack o' lanterns, scraping out the insides and drawing the face on the outside. My dad would cut the tops off the pumpkins, and I think he did most of the actual carving until we were old enough to handle knives. An old-fashioned vegetable peeler was great for boring eyes. My favorite part was the mouth, with all its orange teeth. Would they be pointy or square? Each year, I took a different approach.

Even as I got older, I continued to carve a pumpkin at Halloween. It seemed festive to put it in the window for passersby to see; I was in the spirit of the holiday, even if I no longer dressed up and haunted the streets in search of candy.

I learned from my parents to appreciate the treat-or-treaters who came to the door. My mom would always have a bowl of candy ready to offer when she or my father opened the door, and they would identify, or ask the wearer to identify, each kid's costume. Special admiration was offered for homemade getups. When I started to live on my own, I looked forward to having trick-or-treaters come to my house, and received them with the same enjoyment my folks had.

Now we live so far off the beaten track, and parents have become so wary of possible danger to youngsters out after dark, that we never see werewolves or mummies, the latest superheros or princesses, witches, goblins or leprechauns. Nary a trick-or-treater ventures down our dead-end road. I don't even bother to carve a pumpkin, since no one but us will see it.

The town library sponsors a trunk-or-treat event in its parking lot, but it's not the same. Part of the fun was walking around your familiar neighborhood, transformed into a different place by darkness, even as you were transformed by your costume, and ringing doorbells to shout "Trick or treat!" Sometimes the adult opening the door would even be in costume themselves.

I understand parents' worries. I know the world is not as benign as it seemed to us -- adults and children alike -- when I was a kid. But something is lost when you try to take all the shivers out of Halloween and make it safe.

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