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We celebrated a great Halloween at our house.

I don't often say that. We live a long way out in the country, so we never get trick or treaters other than our grandchildren and they're not even a sure bet.

I blame the Pop Tarts.

A couple decades ago, long after we'd reconciled ourselves to not having trick or treaters, a couple neighbor kids who’d stumbled into our yard by mistake knocked on the door. Our son and I were the only ones home and we panicked.

You know in movies where the homeowners see the Mafia - or zombies - sneaking across the yard, panic sets in, and they start tearing the house apart looking for ways to defend themselves? Yeah, that was us. There was no candy in the house and if we were going to put something in those plastic pumpkins, it was going to be either frozen pork chops or stale Pop Tarts.

We went with the Pop Tarts, and I'm guessing that was a mistake because no one ever came back.

Why do I care about Halloween? It's probably Albertine's fault.

When I was growing up, we had some neighbors a few years older than my parents. I was almost forty years old before I discovered we weren't actually related to them. They were just that much a part of our lives. On Halloween, my sisters and I would dress up and our parents would drive us to a few neighboring farms. The only one I remember was the visit to Gus and Albertine's. We'd knock on the door, she'd look through the window, clutch her heart and teeter backwards.

“Well, I never!” she would exclaim. “Forever more! Who are you? Gus, Gus, come look who's here!” Gus would amble amiably out from the living room, already grinning, while I basked in the sure and certain knowledge that even though for the fourth year in a row I'd put on my chore clothes, smeared dirt on my face and went as a hobo, THIS permutation of hobo was my crowning achievement.

Fast forward a couple decades and I've stopped buying even a few token candy bars. But then Number Two mentioned to my wife that the year we'd made a little haunted path for the kids had been fun and we should do it again. A simple plan, but it got away from us.

Hey, it happens. A year ago, I was trying to decide what I should do with the cornerstone from my great-grandfather's barn and ended up building a stone cottage with a grass roof, a heated floor and a stained-glass window.

This Halloween was a similar project. For a month or so, whenever we drove by a thrift store or a Goodwill, we'd stop to check out their bargain Halloween department. We gradually acquired an inventory of masks, costumes, and other paraphernalia. About a week before the big day, we started construction.

No, I'm not kidding. I'm not saying we worked full time on it, but it was the sort of commitment no one with a nine to five job could make. We buried green monsters in open graves, hung plastic wrapped bodies in trees, posed scary masks in the underbrush, all on a trail that meandered for a quarter mile through our grove. I thought of equipping our ducks with sets of vampire teeth and decorating the dogs with rabies drool and fake blood, but I was talked down.

We hosted the big event on the weekend before Halloween. All our grandkids showed up, along with about a half-dozen spares. We heard a suitable number of screams and laughs ringing through the darkness and late in the evening the full moon broke through the streaming clouds. I took it all in by the flickering light of a scaled-down bonfire. I had a cup of spiced cider and a full heart. The world can be, and often is, hard, ugly, and cruel. Most days, and I do mean most days, I can barely stand to read the newspapers. There are no simple solutions to what faces us as a nation, and world.

But Monday morning can be a little easier to handle with the memory of laughter, good food, and good friends on Sunday night.

Albertine would be pleased.

Copyright 2023 Brent Olson


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