Copyright 2004 by W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
Everyone has a Halloween dream: A frightening fantasy of goblins and ghouls or a fond recollection of jack-o-lanterns, scarecrows, and crepe paper cats. No matter the dream, each one stems from a tale handed down... or a childhood memory, long past and fading.
My dream is of a perfect place at a perfect time. It is a half hour before dark. My sister, Annette, and I are sitting together in the backyard grass, watching the windows of our house, and beyond that the red orange sun easing behind the woods beyond the road.
There is a nip in the air, and the bats begin squeaking and flitting about the ash blue sky.
The autumn reflections are fading from the windows, revealing inside the lighted kitchen, the den, the fireplace and an old dime-store witch perched upon the mantelpiece. From our spot in the yard, I can see Mom in the house, passing behind the windows from the kitchen to the den and back again.
She’s putting candy in bowls, cooking supper, and straightening up the den before Dad gets home from work. And he’ll be home soon. In the fall, when days grow short, he always returns home just as the light is fading.
The sun continues sinking... sinking... behind the trees across the road. It is gone now, leaving only a red wash in the western sky.
Behind us, in the east, darkness approaches bringing stars, and when they come in full, so will the roving packs of costumed trick-or-treaters that we will join.
But not yet…
There is always this perfect time first: When - except for the tiny bats dive-bombing the treetops - all becomes hushed and gray.
Around us, the dry, fallen leaves begin rattling in the breeze, stirring in bunches as the wind shifts, resting as it stills, suddenly lifting in whirling gusts and then scattering across the grass toward the house and the road beyond. A single leaf pitches and cartwheels toward my outstretched legs, stopping at my knee. Another rush of wind and it’s gone.
I skim the palms of my hands across the soft, cool blades of grass on either side of me.
"It’ll be real dark in just a little while," I say to Annette.
"Then it will be Halloween NIGHT!" she exclaims.
"Yeah, it sure will!"
And I want Halloween to come, but I don’t want this time to end. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to leave this place in the yard: A part of my boy-soul that knows this time is fleeting. That it is pure. That I will never forget it, and that one day when I am old I might realize it is gone and wish it back.
Leaning back on my elbows and cocking my head over my right shoulder, I spy the white moon through the trees. I secretly wonder if tonight - of all nights - witches might actually fly on broomsticks. Of course, I know better. But a part of me wants to believe it. Perhaps, ghosts might sit in nearby oak and pine branches and howl each time the wind blows. And goblins might lurk around the crossroads somewhere way out in the country where Dad grew up.
Shaking with anticipation and the sudden drop in temperature, I make a simple declaration, which says everything about our place in time and what’s to come - "Well, it’s dark."
Indeed, a blue-black sky above us, it’s time to prepare for that grand autumnal ritual. Soon, we, and millions of children like us, will play the greatest of all pretend games. We will dress like our heroes, a cartoon or storybook character, or the evil things we fear most.
Then, as if part of some unrehearsed production, we will perform like Shakespearean actors. With loot bags, we will roam our little corners of the earth, skipping along dark streets, running across lawns lit only by porch-lights and pumpkins, scrambling up short brick steps, laughing, shouting, breathing hard, sticking tongues through slits cut in plastic masks, and wondering who’s who.
When no one is looking, we will push our masks back on the tops of our heads, relish the chilly night air on our warm, damp faces, and then pull the masks back down when other kids approach. Without inhibition we will ring the doorbells of strange grown-ups and demand treats. Those strangers will smile at our foolishness, express interest in our chosen characters, and drop candy in our bags.
"It sure is dark," Annette says. "I’m gonna go in now and put on my costume."
W. Thomas Smith Jr. has written four books, edited
two, and penned hundreds of pieces for a variety of national and
international publications, including USA TODAY, George,
BusinessWeek, and U.S. News & World Report. He is a frequent
contributor to National Review Online.
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