Trick or Treat

Used to, my wife and I would keep our porch lights on for trick-or-treaters each Halloween night. We gave them homemade popcorn balls. At one time we were famous because of these popcorn confections, which were the size of regulation softballs, covered in sticky, ooey-gooey goodness.

Over the years I have seen children get into bitter arguments over these popcorn balls.

This year, however, we’re only doing pandemic-friendly plastic-wrapped candy. But then, it really wouldn’t matter what I’m handing out because there are no trick-or-treaters in sight.

Even so, I still remember when kids would climb our stoop wearing costumes purchased from department stores, or sewn by their creative mothers. You’d toss popcorn balls into their open pillowcases and they would get so excited.

After which you’d hear the voices of unseen dads in the dark saying, “Say thank you, dang it!”

Then, five or six kids would suddenly remember their manners. “Thank you!”

Oh, we would get all kinds of monsters. We’d get werewolves, vampires, swamp monsters, zombies, the undead, the extreme undead, ski-mask killers, Texas chainsaw massacrists, and miniature congresspersons.

One time a kid came to our porch dressed as Kermit the Frog. I gave that kid a carton of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream from our freezer because his was the only costume I actually recognized among all the Jedis and licensed Disney characters. He deserved WAY more than a mere popcorn ball for that.

My yearly custom has always been to answer the door in costume. I do it for the kids. Most years I dress up as an out-of-work writer plagued by crippling self-doubt and introversion.

Sometimes we would get one or two kids whose costumes wore nothing more than glorified bedsheets with holes in them. And I would give these children extra popcorn balls because not everyone’s mom had time for costumes.

We also had a stand-offish religious family in our neighborhood who dressed their kids like Biblical characters. The kids came to our porch looking like tiny Charleton Hestons.

Instead of saying “Trick or treat!” these kids handed out gospel tracts and invited us to repent or perish. And I would always give them several popcorn balls. Because there are some miseries which only we grown-up fundamentalist children can understand.

But this year, there are no happy faces. No costumes. The street is dark. No porch lights—except for mine. And there are no happy voices in the night.

The pandemic took these things from us. And it hurts, not just for the kids. It’s sad for everyone because Halloween was one of those activities that was a community deal.

We’ve lost other important things, too, of course. One third of churchgoing Americans, for example, have quit going.

Which might not sound like a huge deal, until you consider that this ALSO means nobody is doing covered-dish suppers anymore. Which means: no more deviled eggs and cheesy potato casseroles.

Thanksgiving probably won’t be the same, either. Many elderly grandparents will have to keep their distance from family members. And those struggling with autoimmune disorders, diabetes, or other issues, will be stuck home, isolated, eating microwaved fare.

Christmas might be a real slog this year, too. I hope not, but let’s be realistic. It’s going to be a little weird. There aren’t going to be the same kinds of rip-snorting Yuletide festivities in 2020.

I predict that department-store Santas will be the first to go. Fruitcakes will go next. Holiday choir concerts; nixed. Say goodbye to those Christmas parties your neighbor used to throw with the live music, the delicious cheese logs, and bobbing for Budweisers.

The reason I bring up all this is not because I’m complaining about our COVID era. I’m not. I mention these things because I sincerely hope we don’t lose them when this thing is finally over.

I daydream of a future when we won’t be hyper-aware about touching doorknobs, standing too close to others, or listening for hacking coughs in the distance. We’re not there yet, but someday we will be.

And I hope we re-become the easygoing people we used to be. People who believed in handshakes, potluck socials, and smiling a lot.

I don’t want to lose the small church meetings where Miss Lynette still plays organ—even after all these years. And I really don’t want to lose the old songs she played for a chapel of white-haired people.

I miss hugs, packed baseball stadiums, crowded parades, and the kind of socialization that requires no technology.

Tonight I sat on a porch in a quiet residential area. I wore no costume, only a bandana around my face like a member of Butch Cassidy’s gang. I sat beneath the glow of our porch light just in case we had visitors. But it wasn’t meant to be.

After an hour, I eventually gave up. I turned off our light and started inside. Then I heard footsteps shuffling down our driveway.

“Hello?” yelled someone’s dad’s voice. “Are you still open for trick-or-treaters?”

Out of the pitch darkness came a small kid dressed in a black costume and surgical mask, with his dad nearby. He wore the happy eyes of a boy who cannot be daunted, no matter what the world does to him. Nothing could bring this child down. I couldn’t help but marvel.

He held out his sack. “Were you the house with popcorn balls last year?”

“Yep,” I said. “But I don’t have any this year, buddy. I’m sorry. It’s been one of those years.”

He shrugged, then smiled with his eyes. “It’s okay.”

And do you know what? I believe the child is right.


  1. oldlibrariansshelf - November 1, 2020 6:36 am

    I’m one of those high-risk seniors who has stopped attending church. It is hard. Thank you for writing about how much we are missing AND how much we have to look forward to. Every cloud runs out of rain . . . .

  2. Gary - November 1, 2020 8:45 am

    Things will get back to normal. They always have.

  3. Sandi. - November 1, 2020 8:50 am

    I didn’t have any trick-or-treaters this year at all, so am left with a bundle of lollipops and Halloween pencils with black cats, pumpkins and candy corn designs on them. Ususally the kids come in droves on our street and by 8:00 PM I’ve completely run out of candy to give away. Next year, surely things will be back to normal. Hope is not yet in the Dead Sea.

  4. Leigh Amiot - November 1, 2020 10:03 am

    I miss hugs, too.

  5. Julia Matson - November 1, 2020 10:08 am

    Thanks Sean. Your article made me feel better. I believed the neighbors’ kids would come out but no. I’ve got lots of good candy bagged and ready to over eat or maybe break the law and put in mailboxes.

  6. Ann - November 1, 2020 10:50 am

    Roller coaster emotions in this one… are really pretty smart…
    We have to keep praying 🙏🏻❤️

  7. Donna - November 1, 2020 11:04 am

    We live in a 55+ community in Florida so Trick or Treat night is different in so many ways this year. I miss those porch-sitting days of handing out candy to little monsters and princesses. However, our community had a Doggy Parade and we all gave dog treats to our fur babies. Not quite normal but a reminder that everything eventually WILL be OK.

  8. Leslie in NC - November 1, 2020 11:33 am

    Well, Sean, I usually cry in my coffee after reading one of your tug at the heartstring stories, but alas, for the first time I can remember, I forgot to turn my clocks back. Thinking it was almost 7 am when I got up a bit ago, my phone laughingly reminded me it was instead only 6. So, my coffee hasn’t finished perking yet and after reading this story, my eyes leaked before my first cuppa. It’s okay.

  9. Martha Black - November 1, 2020 11:36 am

    Lord I hope he is! This seperation & griping & complaining & fighting each other & political crap has just about broken my heart and spirit. I’m down, just way downhearted. I try to keep hoping and have a good attitude and hope for hope sake, but I don’t know how much more of this I can endure. If it ain’t gonna get much better than this, I just wish the Lord would come on get us. Lord I’m getting mighty tired

  10. Stacy Morley - November 1, 2020 11:53 am

    I just found you this week. I cannot remember where I first read your column-maybe Facebook, but doubtful, as I cannot take all the ugly on FB these days. No matter, as I just want to THANK YOU for sharing your gift of story telling. I look forward to my in box every morning(for a change). Take good care!

  11. Beryl Varno - November 1, 2020 12:36 pm

    Hello Martha. I understand your downheartedness. It’s easy to think that we are “enduring” until change occurs for the “better”. What helps me is to change my focus. Sean illustrates this often in his writing. Look beyond your television, newspaper, and computer. The world is a magnificent place to see. You don’t have to go very far. Open your front door and open your mind to the beauty of Nature. Look up at the night sky and be awed by the vastness of our Universe. Take a walk and feel the air moving across your cheek. Think of how amazing it is that your body can convert oxygen for you to LIVE! Notice the smallest creatures moving just beyond your feet. If you have pets they are wonderful reminders of what living in this moment is all about. Here is a quote and I don’t remember the authors name. “If you aren’t amazed most of the time, you aren’t paying attention.” Be amazed and your Spirit will be lifted because YOU are amazing too.

  12. Steve - November 1, 2020 12:54 pm

    We live in a small circle of about 20 some homes. My wife tends to deliver plates of cookies around Christmas or Easter to them. Trust me, the looks of surprise are worth it!
    Yesterday, she did it, and one home’s children saw her and said gleefully, it’s the cookie lady! We saw zero door- knockers, but when you got lemons, you make lemon cookies! God Bless America….

  13. MR - November 1, 2020 1:00 pm

    Thank you, Beryl, you are so right. I love that Sean stays away from the negative. . .or at least takes the negative and flips it over to see the positive in life. We all need ‘new eyes’ to see the good things in life that you mentioned. Good things like Sean’s blog and how wonderful it is to have a positive read every morning.

  14. Jim Owen - November 1, 2020 1:15 pm

    Hey Sean….Did I see you in an Alfa Insurance commercial yesterday ?

  15. Connie - November 1, 2020 1:22 pm

    I’m right there with you. Last year I ran out of candy. This year I made up 50 sealed bags of treats and had 10 kids show up. It was sad. I know that there have been many things we’ve lost this year, but Halloween is just fun. For all of us. I miss that sense of joy. Still praying we get it back some day.

  16. Kathie - November 1, 2020 1:40 pm

    It wasn’t until I read your thoughts this morning that I realized COVID was the reason there were so few kids out last night. I echo Martha Black’s feelings in her comment. Will this ever end? Maybe not. So sad.

  17. Heidi - November 1, 2020 2:04 pm

    Well….Our son & his family went out cuz they’ve already had covid and are probably immune! Our youngest daughter and her family went around their neighborhood in TX, lots of trick or treaters and one house had a loooong tube set up (all decorated) that they shot candy down to the kiddos!!! Social distancing trick or treating style. Ha! We might not be done with covid yet but it can’t beat the American spirit!❤️

  18. Jan - November 1, 2020 2:13 pm

    This is one for the ages! We have to keep hope alive because its all some of us have. 2020 has been a tough year but this too shall pass and we have to hold on to our treasured relationships, activities and beliefs. Without them, who are we? We will be back!

  19. Dick Brannan - November 1, 2020 2:46 pm

    My wife and I live in a larger older senior, gated community. In the seven years here we have never had a trick or treater. I can’t say I miss the interuptions to the football games or movies but hope there will be some. Real downer is that I gain weight from eating the bag of candy. Yes I miss the normal but sharing the last several months of togetherness, it has rekindeled our marriage. Making the best lemonade out of lemons.

  20. Chasity Davis Ritter - November 1, 2020 2:51 pm

    Believe it or not I was thinking about you last night. I wondered what you would have to say about Halloween this year or if you’d mention it at all and what it was like there or other places. My friends in San Antonio, TX had a table set at the end of the drive with individual wrapped candies placed feet apart so the kids could approach and take one. Also hand sanitizer Incase they needed a squirt I don’t know how it went. My moms house is in a busy neighborhood that always gets lots of kids. It started so very slow I thought yep this year sucks they’re not coming but eventually they came. Some social distanced. Three wished us a merry Christmas and one sang jingle bells. One Spider-Man wore the surgical paper mask. Kids will always be kids and they hopefully don’t have a lot of fear in their hearts. They had lots of things taken from them this year. I know many places where it’s bad they didn’t get to do Halloween and other places we just adapted it found other ways to do it this year. I’m glad the one little kiddo made it by your house Sean. It will be OK!!

  21. E. A. Padgett - November 1, 2020 2:51 pm

    You are so right, Sean. It is going to be okay. It isn’t okay right now, but we can remember when life came closer to being the American Dream. If enough of us hold on, that level of life can come again — possibly one parent and a kid at a time. A more gentle version of our civilization can return and become even better than before — if we can learn the best lessons from all that is happening now. It won’t be able to happen while there are too many people screaming bad names at each other, or demanding that only their extreme way is the right one and the rest of us must buckle under or be expunged. Polarization is as much danger to us as is this pandemic which kills while fueling the flames of hatred. Your essay is beautiful. Thank you.

  22. E. A. - November 1, 2020 3:36 pm

    Hello Beryl. I wrote my comments to Sean about his essay before I read the other comments. After reading your wonderful note to Martha, I now regret writing my more dour comments. Your approach is much better, especially for those of us like Martha who may sometimes forget that you wrote is true. And yes, that is why we all enjoy reading Sean’s essays too.

  23. Jean Hovey - November 1, 2020 3:39 pm

    I am the eternal Pollyanna. I believe when this over, we will be better. We will hug longer, sing louder, and linger longer at the table over the turkey carcass longer. We will look forward to church more and be glad to go to the grocery store instead of dreading it. I accepted two months ago that Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same. I decided I would make finger food and pies and invite people over in piecemeal to visit on my front porch. To that end, I decided I would decorate my porch really special. Since I wouldn’t be preparing a very expensive meal, I spent $100 on pumpkins. Every single one, save one, rotted. I just had to laugh. I am a good cook. They won’t care about the lone pumpkin as long as they can eat. Now is the weather will just cooperate. But this is North Alabama, so who knows? Maybe 70 degrees, maybe snow. Roll Tide.

  24. Juliette - November 1, 2020 4:07 pm

    Our neighborhood at Halloween normally looks like a ABC Family Sitcom – nonstop kids, adults in costumes, decorated houses, lots of laughter and lots of love. This year, we decorated and sat at a table in our yard – we had about 20% of the traffic we’d expect on a gorgeous Saturday night. It was bittersweet but by golly, the kids that did venture out got loaded up with candy! My little one came home staggering under the weight of a fully loaded up, embarrassingly large Halloween bag. The entire night, my non-stop soundtrack wasn’t Monster Mash – it was kids, lots of kids, laughing from backyard parties on the surrounding streets. As long as the kids keep laughing, we can make it through just about anything.

  25. Jenny Young - November 1, 2020 4:09 pm

    Oh I love this story!

    We live at the end of a dead end gravel road with the lights of a power plant in the background…so it would be pretty scary to come to our house on Halloween. But this is our third year that our little grandson comes. We gave him a ziploc bag with some of Papa’s chocolate chips….because Papa sneaks them to him when he comes to visit.

    Our family is riding out covid together. We still see our son & his family almost every day & our grandson stays with us while they work. My husband has juvenile diabetes & he’s still going to work most days, working from home some. We know people who’ve had covid & recovered, some who didn’t.

    We decided to keep living as safely as we can. We wear masks, do grocery pick ups, walk a lot outside & we do go to each others’ houses. I’ve met some of my friends for picnic lunches at local trails & we take social distance walks. We wash our hands a lot & try to never touch our face without washing our hands first. I do so hope it will be enough to keep us healthy but we’ve decided life is too short to be away from those you love the most.

  26. Mickey delaup - November 1, 2020 4:10 pm

    So true and we will be ok😊

  27. Sandi. - November 1, 2020 4:20 pm

    I’ve seen three delightful Alfa Insurance commercials featuring Sean, and one even has Jamie in it. Click this link to see it in You Tube:

  28. M. J. Clinton - November 1, 2020 4:22 pm

    I hope everyone who reads Sean’s column will also read the wisdom in Beryl’s comment above. I used to wonder about where our younger generation is headed, but it may be that they’ll be the ones whose youthful exuberance will prevail and right the ship. God only knows…or rather only God knows.

  29. Susan - November 1, 2020 4:24 pm

    I hope you gave him all the candy🎃

  30. Patricia Gibson - November 1, 2020 5:24 pm

    We had Halloween just like always where I live. Going on with life. Covid not going to magically disappear. Some masks some not. God bless us all❤️

  31. James Sadowski - November 1, 2020 5:35 pm

    We had more trick-or-treaters this year than last year, but we had good weather. Last year it snowed. The kids were happy and in good spirits (no pun intended) which made us feel good.

  32. Linda Moon - November 1, 2020 6:18 pm

    The pandemic has introduced too many “used tos” to all of us. My creative mom used to sew Halloween costumes for me. My favorite Vampire is Nosferatu, and I’d have given him popcorn balls if I’d been lucky enough to encounter him on a pre-pandemic Halloween night. Your inner-introvert, Sean, crafts words that no one else can do. And for that I am grateful while still being hopeful that my favorite Vampire will Trick or Treat on my front porch next Halloween, post-pandemic!

  33. Joe Patterson - November 1, 2020 6:59 pm

    Thanks for sharing we had a few kids last night and I enjoyed them all especially in this year where so many things that bring us joy ha e been stripped from our lives This to shall pass and we will come back stronger than ever after surviving the year of the year of the virus.We have learned to appreciate all the little things we have taken for granted.

  34. Robert M Brenner - November 1, 2020 8:15 pm

    Great 🎃 story! Things will return to normal when we defeat the COVID-19 virus! ♥️🎃 🦃 🎄 🐣

  35. Cynthia Russell - November 1, 2020 9:43 pm

    I hope you gave this child all your candy.. & gave him something else.. a full candy future to remember!! I pray good times will return to us..

  36. Paula - November 1, 2020 11:26 pm

    You brought tears to my eyes!the sound of shuffling feet, dad calling out.. You got me. I love your writing! So what did you give the dear chap? Hagan Daz? A dollar?
    Thanks , Sean.

  37. Joy Taylor-Lane - November 4, 2020 8:15 pm

    Santa Rosa county had Halloween. Some candy was distributed using quite creative means, but, it was distributed. There was a candy slide, it reminded me of the closed tunnel style water slides. (That in summer’s past my kids played on at Big Kahunas) Candy was distributed via fishing pole and wooden laundry pins. I’m thankful for our community who went out of their way to make this holiday extra special for the kids. We were outside, most wore masks, and a good time and a load of candy was had by all.


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