October 31, 2009

Bernadette decorated for Halloween on Sept. 14 — six weeks before the holiday. I arrived home from work that particular Monday and discovered plastic tarantulas dangling menacingly from cotton cobwebs in the archway leading to the family room. Banners with ghosts and the word “BOO!” festooned the walls. Ceramic jack-o’-lantern candle holders grinned from atop the dining room table.

A delirious Penelope greets me at the door and throws her arms around my kneecaps. She prances over to a pair of lighted scarecrows, points and giggles. “Ooooooookeeeeeyyyyyy!” She proceeds to give me a guided tour of the house, pointing out each decoration. As we dance through the kitchen, Bernadette is admiring a package of Halloween clothes her mother, sister and niece mailed from Buffalo. Lots of browns, oranges and blacks. Creepy cats, wide-eyed ghosts and happy skulls plastered across T-shirts.
“I see you taught our daughter a new word today,” I say. “Lots of spooookeeey stuff around here.”

“I hope you don’t mind that I decorated for Halloween a little early,” she replies.

Of course I don’t. This is the first year we’ve ever decorated for Halloween. In the past, we celebrated Oct. 31 with the same relish we reserve for Arbor Day, Bluebeard’s Wedding Anniversary and National Indian Pudding Day (Nov. 13 in case you’re wondering). We stopped buying Halloween candy a decade ago when we realized trick-or-treating in farm country is a losing proposition for kids. The acne, cavities and additional five pounds dumped onto my paunch the first week in November served as an additional incentive to shun the holiday. Unfortunately, several years ago two trick-or-treaters appeared like specters at my front door. I greeted them with a puzzled expression on my face, which I promptly passed along to them when I reached into the food pantry and dropped boxes of fettuccine into their eagerly outstretched pillowcases.

This year we’re celebrating Halloween with the enthusiasm of the Munsters hyped up on Monster Energy Drink. Besides putting on our best spooky for the house, we are driving to Buffalo so Penelope can enjoy her first Halloween. We’re traveling there not because we think Buffalo’s particularly scary, or because they give out chicken wings and beef on weck instead of candy, but because we want Penelope to trick-or-treat with her young cousins and to develop an appreciation for spending holidays with family.

Penelope dressed as a butterfly for her first Halloween. One of the souvenirs we brought home from China for her is a jacket and pants set with a butterfly stitched on the front and antenna on the hood. We completed the costume with a pair of butterfly wings from Toys- ‘R-US.

We arrived in Buffalo in the wee hours of Oct. 31. and collapse into bed. The next afternoon we attempt the closest thing to herding cats: Trying to get four children under the age of five to pose for a studio portrait, all barefoot and wearing cute little silk Chinese outfits that we brought back from Guangzhou. Eventually, after several adults dance, jump around and sing Christmas carols, the photographer captures enough shots.

Later, we head to Jennifer and John’s home (Bern’s niece and her husband) for a pizza and wings party before trick-or-treating. Two tiny Batmen vie for potato chips, a leprechaun and Spiderman toss a football in the driveway, and the adults congregate over a heater or the beer cooler to ward off a stiff breeze. Penelope rambles up and down the driveway trying to play football with the older boys.

Darkness falls and porchlights glow like beacons offering the promise of candy. Penelope is frightened by her werewolf cousin Joey, so he voluntarily removes his furry and fanged mask. She’s still scared so he removes his furry and clawed gloves. Now, Joey’s just an eight-year-old boy with a big heart and a torn flannel T-shirt, holding a toddler’s hand as he leads her up a driveway.

Joey helping his new cousin.

Joey shows his cousin the ropes: ring the bell, yell “trick-or-treat” and open the bag for some candy. Pretty soon Penelope is leading the charge. I suspect the idea of knocking on doors and getting food handed to her appeals to her greatly. I hope she realizes this is a once-a-year event. I’d hate to think she’ll yell trick-or-treat every time we visit friends or neighbors. (She also says “trick-or-treat” 15 times a day hoping we’ll give her a piece of candy each time. It doesn’t work. )

Within an hour, the Buffalo wind chills everyones’ bones, and we head home. Penelope is fast asleep in the car before we drive off the block. I start inspecting Penelope’s candy. (Wouldn’t want her to have anything dangerous like — oh, I don’t know — Reese’s peanut butter cups.)

Penelope may have loved her first Halloween, but there’s one small problem. The other day, Bern and Penelope wandered into a department store decked out for Christmas. Penelope pointed to a Christmas tree, widened her eyes and gasped, “Ooooooookeeeeeey!” I guess we need to teach her a new word soon.


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