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.