Pfau Family Halloween by
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Prompted By Trick or Treat?

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Costumes and candy, trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving and leaves rustling under foot, parades at school. All made up happy times when my kids were young and Halloween rolled around. Autumn in New England is so beautiful with the brightly colored leaves on display. We always hoped it wouldn’t be too cold or too wet when we’d head out to gather candy. Scary decorations already adorned the door, we’d hustle out and make the rounds in the dark neighborhood.

Sometimes we’d be lucky and Dan’s parents would come to visit. Erv was a pumpkin carving expert. The kids sat up on the window sill above the sink and watched their grandfather scoop out the center and carve some spooky face into their desired pumpkin.

1991

Eventually that tradition passed on and I was left with carving duty. We’d go out to a farm and buy the biggest pumpkin I could carry, along with a kit, though I could never follow a pattern. I learned tools were not all that useful. I had to really dig in and get my hands dirty, scooping great hand-fulls of seeds out of the center, doing the best I could to carve a face with jagged teeth on the grinning Jack O’Lantern. I did this for years, hoping that it didn’t rot or get smashed before the big night, so I could light the candle in the center and my children could admire the full effect. We’d place other pumpkins and gourds around. The house was ready for the season.

Kids ready to Trick or Treat, 1996

As we marched from door to door, so did all the other ghosts, goblins, Ninja Turtles, or whatever was the costume du jour. We also live one block from Boston College, so, as the crush of younger kids passed, college students would come begging for candy. One year we actually ran out. I ran to the drug store to restock, and pulled into the driveway as Dan held them at bay at the front door.

Another year, poor little Jeffrey came down with chicken pocks. He only had one or two spots, but I knew what was coming. I called ahead to a few neighbors to see if we could at least come to their homes. He had to stand back, while I went up to the door to retrieve candy for him. He weathered his bout fairly well. David came down with them on Veteran’s Day and was so much worse, down his throat and everywhere. He was miserable, missed days of school and I sat up with him for three nights, unwrapping the new Rocky & Bullwinkle tapes I had purchased to amuse the kids when we went to see the grandparents over Thanksgiving; the tapes were put to good use.

Children grow up, traditions fade, neighborhoods change. We don’t have little monsters come a’calling any longer. I don’t carve a pumpkin or buy gourds. If we are home, I might put up a decoration or two, just so the house looks approachable, but the last several years, not a soul has come trick-or-treating on Halloween, not even the college students.

Now I don’t even put up decorations. I try NOT to buy candy because I will wind up eating it. We see on the news that some schools have cancelled their Halloween parade…they don’t want the kids to feel pressure about what to wear or how to dress up. Traditions fade, times change. Of course with the pandemic, no one went out in our neighborhood last year, but still, the kids have grown and moved away; all is quiet now.

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: costumes, carving pumpkins, trick or treating, chicken pocks
Characterizations: been there, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    As always, you have the perfect picture! Your kids look adorable! Love your description of marching from door to door. But Ninja Turtles were more than a “costume du jour,” they have shown real staying power. When my older kids were little, I predicted that Ninja Turtles would become a permanent fixture, like Mickey Mouse. My husband bet that they wouldn’t. He has long since conceded that I won that bet!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I remember one of my kids really being into Ninja Turtles, then they seemed to fade from the scene. They have had a pop culture resurgence, and now seem bigger than ever. But I think there was a time when they lapsed. Now your prediction seems to be true, Suzy, so hats off to you!

  2. Kit says:

    You really capture the passage of time. We too have moved from taking excited toddlers door-to-door to barely registering that Halloween has come and gone. At least you make your house look inviting!

  3. capfau says:

    Love this story! I remember carving a pumpkin or two with the kids! Good times! Halloween isn’t like it used to be. Rarely, do you see homemade costumes. Very sad.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      For us, of course, the kids are grown and the neighborhood has changed. But I think parents are more concerned about taking their kids out too and instead, organize neighborhood parties on the weekend before Oct 31. I saw a lot of photos posted on social media last Saturday (though many on the actual night as well). No more UNICEF boxes either. Just a lot more caution about everything.

  4. John Zussman says:

    And here I thought the lack of trick-or-treaters just reflected the changing neighborhood with few young kids around. But it’s true, everyone is cautious these days, and few parents will condone all that candy. Based on the local media, I think schools are picking up the slack with parties and parades. Still, I’m grateful for an independent childhood when I could go door-to-door with my friends—and without my parents.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I agree, John. Halloween seemed more fun when we were kids and lived in lively neighborhoods filled with kids. I know it’s not “kosher”, but I also miss the smell of bonfires that resulted from the pile of leaves we had raked to the foot of the driveway. That really made it feel like fall.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    What a wonderful, evocative story, Betsy! I think your great descriptions of those Halloweens with our kids (or when we were kids) resonate with a lot of us. (Also, unfortunately, does the story of Jeffrey coming down with something on Halloween, as you will see from my own story.)

    And, as always, terrific pictures with your story. Not just the kids, but your father-in-law, the pumpkin carver. And, by the way, you describe the trevails of pumpkin carving perfectly. I am instantly reminded of washing my gross hands of all those seeds and that pulp post-scooping.

    Will you be getting ready for any post -COVID trick or treaters this year? We are actually expecting a good number of little ones in our community — with posted signs made by a neighbor to encourage them. But it still won’t be like the good old days, I’m sure.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, John. We haven’t had any trick-or-treaters in years (long before COVID shut things down last year), so I didn’t even bother to buy candy this year. I got a text from Vicki yesterday – her movers are coming with her stuff tomorrow (she has made the move to a suburb of Seattle). I made a joke that it will be Halloween, so BOO! She thanked me for reminding her and said she will post a sign to dissuade little goblins from stopping. She will be busy unpacking.

  6. Yes Betsy, times do change or is it just that with no young kids in our lives anymore we don’t notice how the current generation of young families are celebrating?

    Of course Covid put a dampener on everything last year, but yesterday I did see lots of costumed kids on the city streets and Halloween decorations around town.

    But truthfully I haven’t carved a pumpkin or set up a spooky tableau for years, but I hope I get a lot of kids at my door – or I’ll have to eat all that chocolate myself!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Not sure if it’s the times in general, or just that our kids have grown up, Dana. I just know that the kids in my neighborhood have grown up and there hasn’t been turnover to replace them, so no one trick-or-treating around here these days.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    Your pictures are wonderful. Before we moved, aside from a few little ones who came with their parents, most of our candy went to older kids until I turned out the porch light. The pandemic and moving to a condo ended Halloween for us, although I do love to see my grandkids’ costumes.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    Your description of carving the pumpkin sure hit home. Somehow, I am the designated carver, and it’s not that much fun, even if it looks nice (until the poor pumpkin rots and collapses into itself). I have one sitting on the counter upstairs, not sure if this will be the year I give up the tradition.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    I love that there was a kid who was Spock in 1996, like I was in (probably) 1966. Live long, and prosper, young man!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      That young man is now 36 years old, Dave. His name is also David! He got a PhD is Computational Neuroscience from Columbia, works for DeepMind in London and will become a father in about 6 or 7 weeks. You’ll see and read more about him next month.

  10. Marian says:

    Empathy from a sister terrible pumpkin carver, Betsy. That’s something I could never manage. While I’m glad to give up some of the mania of today’s Halloween, I do miss seeing cute kids like yours come to our door for candy.

  11. Risa Nye says:

    What a fun prompt! So many great memories of Halloweens and pumpkins past. Living across the street from a K-8 school, I love to see what’s trending in costumes. It always amazes me when kids dress up like Indiana Jones or ghost busters or other things that were popular before their parents were born! Someday, if there is a prompt that allows me to write about my bout with chicken pox at age 30…I will share my tale of woe. Thanks for sharing these memories!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It was fun to reminisce about times long past, Risa. All quiet in this neighborhood tonight.

      Speaking of adult chicken pocks, I got it as a two year old, but shared it with my brother and mother, who would have been 41 years old at the time! I think my father had to care for the whole family.

    • John Zussman says:

      Risa, we live across from a middle school and on Friday the kids came to school in costume. There were ninja turtles and Squid Game outfits (not that I’ve watched it). But the winner: a 12-year-old fully decked out as Marie Antoinette.

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