I rode through the dark halls of our house on the shoulders of my father, not knowing what to expect. At age 7, my mind was swirling with imagined terrors that might wait around the next turn. It didn't help that my father kept reassuring me this would be a night filled with fun; I was still a little frightened by every dark corner, by every shadow that played off the candle-lit walls. Then, as we approached my older brother's room, I heard chains rattling and a soft moan from behind the door.
As my father tapped on the wooden panel, I imagined demons from my dreams jumping out to grab me. The creaking door slowly swung into the darkened room. "Trick or Treat, Denny! You're supposed to say 'Trick or Treat." Then my father told me to hold out my hand, and my brother dropped two Mary Janes into the brown bag.
Dad was stationed in France at the time, and my parents wanted me to have a real American Halloween. We lived in a French village on the outskirts of Paris, so they had to use some creativity. My mother bought materials locally, used a sewing pattern from Vogue, and made me a Lone Ranger costume. My Dad and brothers spent the day preparing for my walk through the "neighborhood," and our French maid and her husband prepared the "treats." The family slowly turned our three-story house into a make-believe American neighborhood. It was my first experience with the magical night of Halloween, and one I will never forget.
It is strange that my adult mind can perceive what, as a child, I ignored completely. That Halloween, and all others which followed, centered around the family involvement as much as they did the decorations, costumes and candy. The costumes changed through the years to represent the Lone Ranger, Bionic Man, GI Joe, or whoever the latest television hero was. The candy was devoured with adolescent glee until we became ill. The decorations were wadded up and thrown out each year.
But the one element of Halloween that never seemed to disappear was the camaraderie shared by my brothers and me as we prepared for mom's wizardry of creating costumes. And, to this day, I am amazed at the illusions my dad created with a carving knife and a couple of pumpkins. These recollections are all a part of that collage of memories which constitute my own family album.
I look forward every year to this holiday as my daughter prepares. Why? Because I have an acceptable justification in letting my own imagination run rampant as I decorate the house, fill up candy bowls and help her choose a costume. Likewise, my wife Lisa revels in the chance to enter her daughter's world of enchantment.
As I reflect on this, I conclude that perhaps that is why Halloween never seems to fade away but further evolves to meet the changing ages. Aside from the candy we enjoy, and the costumes and decorations which reflect the extent of our imaginations, perhaps it is because this holiday opens the gate for those wondrous nights to follow. Charli, my daughter, brought this to light for me recently. After attending a costume party with her friends at school, she asked me when we would be getting the Christmas tree. In her mind, Halloween was the event that heralded what I refer to as the "Season of the Family."
The "Season of the Family" encompasses this holiday, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The one aspect of life these three holidays hold in common is the manner in which all three bring families together in cool, starry nights created out of love, peace, and shared dreams. The soft-glowing Jack O' Lanterns decorating the yards of my neighbors will soon transform into glowing candles on the Thanksgiving table. The small witches, ghosts, and spidermen prowling our neighborhoods will only pave the way for Santa's elves, fairies, and reindeer.
There is nothing as wonderful as the imagination of a child during this season. With only a few scraps of colored paper, some ribbon, and a heavy dose of fantasy any child can create a magical world of ghosts, witches, elves, and fairies. And their visions only serve to fire the imaginations of their parents. So, with my newly gained insight, this parent will delightfully prepare on Halloween night for a winter devoted to family, and steered by my child's imagination.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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