Halloween Hiatus

lotte-lying-downOur Great Dane Lotte loved Halloween. Even before the doorbell rang, the sounds of children running toward our house would propel her toward the door where she would sit and wait. “Oooh, that’s the house with the big dog!” the children would exclaim. I’d open the door and tiny hands would reach inside to pat Lotte’s giant head and scratch her long ears before reaching into the candy basket I extended to them. And then they’d race on to the next house and Lotte would flop down on a space on the floor until the next group approached.

I’m not doing Halloween this year because Lotte died six months ago, and I just don’t have it in me to explain mortality to little children reveling in their sugar-induced excitement. I’ll turn the lights off and hide out. (Lotte’s demise is explained in the final chapter of Great Dane in the Morning on this website.)

Rather than people hiding behind the curtains in the dark, a new method for advertising whether or not you’re dispensing candy has been offered this year by someone on our neighborhood’s online Nextdoor social network. They’ve put up a map of the neighborhood showing which homes are planning to participate. I picture kids and their parents, smart phones glowing in the dark, making their way from house to house. I’ll still be hiding, however, just in case not everyone gets the message.

When we lived in New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state, crowds of trick-or-treaters would come for hours, and we tried to maintain good humor about it even into the late night when older kids came, some without even a pretense of having a costume. So one year, when friends suggested we join them in dinner out on Halloween, we were tempted. “We go after 8 o’clock,” they said, “after all the cute little kids with their cute costumes have gone home to bed. Then we turn out the lights and leave.” I was skeptical. “Don’t you worry about your windows getting soaped or toilet paper being draped in your shrubbery?” I asked. “That’s what happens on Mischief Night, the night before,” they reminded me. “We’ve never had a problem.” So we tried it once and then it became a tradition: Turn off the lights, escape to a restaurant.

But I won’t be going out this year, just staying inside as far from the front door as I can in hopes of not hearing, “Oooh, that’s the house with the big dog!”

Just too sad.

Bring on the Witches!

Witch costumeI’m sure there will be at least one witch among the trick-or-treaters at our door on Saturday night, something for which I will be grateful. It will mean that there will be one costume I’ll be able to identify among the movie, TV, video game and other current characters reaching their hands into the candy tray. “Great costumes, guys,” I say, not wanting to display my senior citizen ignorance by asking what their costumes represent and worse, who or what on earth that is.

What brought witches to mind as Halloween approaches is a new book by Stacy Schiff, The Witches: Salem, 1692, reviewed in The Atlantic by Adam Goodheart and highlighted by Schiff herself in a Sunday New York Times article last week. Headlined “First, Kill the Witches. Then, Celebrate Them,” it traced the trajectory Salem, Massachusetts experienced as it moved from a prosperous Massachusetts Bay Colony settlement to one in which a fit of hysteria brought about accusations of witchcraft and trials that resulted in 20 women and men being executed (hanged, according to Goodheart, none burned at the stake as popular mythology has it). “Then,” as Goodheart writes, “suddenly, as 1692 turned into 1693, the executions stopped, the accusers fell silent, the jails emptied…For the next 300 years and more, people were left wondering exactly what had happened.”

In those intervening years, Schiff writes in The Times, “Salem had many claims to fame. It preferred not to count the witchcraft delusions among them; no one cared to record even where the town had hanged 19 innocents. It addressed the unpleasantness the New England way: silently.” [Nineteen people were hanged; one man died pressed by heavy stones in a failed attempt to elicit a confession.] In 1952, Schiff writes, Arthur Miller visited Salem researching for his play “The Crucible” and found the subject was taboo; no one would talk to him about it.

Schiff credits “a different kind of enchantment in the form of the ABC sitcom ‘Bewitched’ bewitchedto helping Salem reconnect with its past and “transmit its secret shame into its saving grace. In 1982 it introduced ‘Haunted Happenings,’ later extending it into a four-week festival.” The Boston Globe has written “Salem owns Halloween like the North Pole owns Christmas.” In Salem’s case the ownership is considerably more commercially successful.IST-IS2176RM-00000028-001

Ed and I took our two young daughters to Salem during a trip through New England, visiting the Witch House and other attractions and buying them tiny witches for their charm bracelets. Some years later, when Ed’s sister in New Mexico said she sure would like to see New England sometime, we planned a whirlwind trip from our home in New Jersey, driving through New York and then into the six states of New England over 10 days. A stop in Salem was on that agenda was well.

Cowgirl costumeHaving two daughters four years apart in age gave our Halloween costumes a chance for double duty – and me a respite from having to make two each time. But my ploy was undermined the year the younger one declared she had no interest in being a colonial lady on Halloween. What did she want to be? “I want to be a cowgirl,” she said.

Well, there’s another costume I could identify if it shows up at our door.