Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Plea from Halloweens Past: Don't Scare the Kids

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Plea from Halloweens Past: Don't Scare the Kids

Article excerpt

It was October 1970, a time when the parents in our neighborhood were careful to shield their very young children from the horrors of a televised war. Eager for a diversion of their own, the parents giddily turned their focus toward a more innocent, homespun kind of terror.

It all began with whispers of a monster on the loose. The week before Halloween, the mothers in our neighborhood huddled over coffee cups in my mom's kitchen, weighing the risks of trick-or- treating. We played at their feet, churning Matchboxes over cookie- crumb gravel, racing along the linoleum roadway.

But our ears pricked when they spoke of the monster, our playful shrieks squelched in our throats. The drumbeat of our young hearts skipped in unison as we listened to snatches of their hushed conversation: escaped from the mental hospital; spotted behind the Finns' house; a giant creature with sallow green skin and knotty bolts jutting from his neck; enormous, black boots. My mother, afraid to let us venture into the uncertain darkness, offered to host Halloween at our house.

The night of All Hallows Eve, she outdid herself. Colored lights drizzled the handrail leading down to the basement. Cutouts of cheery skeletons, ghosts, and witches floated along drab cement walls. A record player swirled in a corner next to a stack of albums, pumping life into the dank corners. Across the room, a wooden tub held a pool of water brimming with glistening apples, some with quarters peeking through rosy skins. Best of all, a clothesline was strung between crepe-papered support poles, dangling doughnuts within easy reach of tippy-toes. Our dreary basement had been transformed into a Halloween carnival.

The neighborhood children soon arrived with mothers in tow. My brothers and I were disappointed my father had to work a night shift at the fire station. An enormous man, he'd have been comforting to have close while the monster prowled our neighborhood. But there was also comfort in numbers, and our basement was crowded with princesses, hobos, cowboys, and genies. Together, we were safe.

Too afraid to dunk my own face in the water, I watched as my oldest brother's friend, a strapping 8-year-old, chomped down on the apple I'd wanted - the one with the quarter.

It was then that I heard a crash from upstairs. I looked up at my mother - she had heard it too, and I watched as she exchanged a worried look with another woman. Boom! One of the mothers turned off the record player, there were anxious shushes as doughnuts and candy were quickly forgotten. We all stood stock still, though my hand sought the reassurance of my mother's. Boom, BOOM! Louder this time, and one of the mothers cried out that it had to be the monster. We were too frightened to move, but a chorus of whimpers began to echo off of the concrete walls.

Then a sound I knew well, the creak of the basement door opening slowly, slowly, filled my ears. …

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