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Commentary Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 27, 2005

The poison of distrust

By Nicole Fay Barr

Monday is Halloween, my favorite holiday, but I’m afraid it’s not the same as it used to be.

For the past couple of years, I’ve heard about these events, at social halls or in parking lots, where costumed children play games and do arts and crafts. Then they’re given candy by people they know, trusted churchgoers or firemen.

This is because, according to our modern paranoid mindset, it is dangerous to send your kid to a stranger’s house where neighbors will either kidnap them or give them candy with rusty pins inside.

Our news office gets press releases this time of year that highlights the dangers of door-to-door trick-or-treating. The releases say it’s irresponsible to send your kid door-to-door, even if you’re with them, because they may be poisoned or attacked.

I say, without trick-or-treating, there is no Halloween. Why are people trying to kill my favorite holiday" Why is everyone so suspicious of their neighbors, whom they should already know"

My first child is due in March. So, by next Halloween, he or she will be about seven months old. I guarantee my husband and I are going to put that kid in a funny suit and beg strangers to give us candy. There’s no rule that says you have to know how to walk, talk, or eat solid foods to trick-or-treat.

I’m only worried that we’ll have to travel for miles to find a town where people still allow trick-or-treating. But we certainly won’t be afraid or deprive our kid of the fun we used to have.

As a reporter looking for information, I sometimes have to randomly knock on people’s doors. It’s always surprising to have people slam the door in my face before I can get past my introduction or, worse, yell through their windows for me to get off of their properties.

This summer, my editor’s daughter, racing to develop pictures she took at the Altamont Fair, had a flat tire. The lug nuts were too rusty for her to turn them herself, so she went on foot to seek help.

She walked to the nearest housing development and, as it was dark, was careful to knock only at houses with lights on. At four houses she got no help. At the fifth, a woman handed her a phone through a chained door.

Halloween is the one night where you’re actually welcomed into your neighbors’ homes. At least it was when I was a child. You got to meet all different kinds of people, who were glad to invite you into their homes. Can you say the same is true at one of these safety social functions"

I think I love Halloween so much because of my parents. They always took it very seriously. They made sure I had the best costume and, when I was young enough to need a trick-or-treating escort, my mom would dress up with me.

For one of my first Halloweens, I dressed as Raggedy Ann. I wore a dress that matched my doll’s and a red wig made out of yarn. My face was painted white with red cheeks and a red nose. I felt superior when I saw other kids wearing cheap pieces of plastic over their bodies with half-masks.

Another year, I was a scarecrow. I wore my dad’s flannel shirt and old sweatpants that my mother stuffed with hay. She had tied a burlap sack over my head and shoved hay under my straw hat and between the rope and my neck. Yes, this was uncomfortable and I couldn’t see because my glasses kept fogging up, but the reaction on the street was worth it.

I was also a bee, a hippie, an angel, the statue of liberty, an Indian, and a cowgirl and the more typical vampire and witch. I was never a ghost; that seemed much too easy. And, I was never the same thing twice.

Today, many kids insist on being Disney or television characters. Where’s the imagination in that" I hope my kid isn’t the conforming type.

I talk to people my age who say they quit trick-or-treating in second grade or they don’t remember their costumes; they think they were a monster or something.

Then there are the kids that think they can get the candy for free. When I used to go trick-or-treating, the strangers forced me to sing or tell a joke first.

My jokes were never good — they were about someone leaving a Whopper at Burger King or carnivorous clowns thinking people taste funny — but I was always prepared. I didn’t just hold out my plastic pumpkin and wait for them to throw something in.

And, while the candy was good, that wasn’t why Halloween was my favorite. When I was 12 and the candy became meaningless, the holiday wasn’t soured.

I dressed as a rock star that year and I was sick on Halloween. But, I insisted on trick-or-treating. I marched on, door-to-door, collecting candy that I couldn’t stomach. I was sicker the next day and my parents took me to the hospital. We found out then that I had diabetes.

But, I don’t see this Halloween as my 14th anniversary of having this unpleasant disease. I see it as another chance for me to watch scary movies or carve pumpkins or, with my baby next year, dress up and trick-or-treat again.

I know there’s not much I can do about paranoid people losing the Halloween spirit. But, for my own child, I can be the fun, creative parent that mine were. My kid can dress up as whatever he or she wants that day and, not worrying what people think, pretend to be someone else.

My child will be allowed to knock on strangers’ doors and go inside. He or she won’t live in fear that every unknown person is a maniac. Besides, how many local Halloween poison stories have you read about lately"

I look forward to the day when my child comes to me with an idea for an elaborate blood-and-guts-splattered costume or when he or she has the urge to hang fake spiderwebs, bob for apples, or run through a corn maze.

Until then, I’ll leave my porch light on and wait by the door with a bowl of candy, hoping that not everyone has lost the Halloween spirit.

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