Halloween, at the beginning of the end.
It was a perfect, classic Halloween night. The dry leaves cackled softly to one another as they swept 'round the feet of the littlest ghosties and goblins. Parents pierced the darkness with trusty flashlights, and then stood proud but alert on the sidewalks as their children reveled in the one night when it is allowed to take candy from a stranger.
Low clouds tumbled across the sky, pushed by a wind that my Aunt Grace used to call "witch's breath"... wild, gusty, unpredictable, and with just enough bite - just enough ice to remind you that somewhere not far away Winter is waiting.
Our porch was decorated appropriately; our lights were on, and the candy was by the door.
Twinks was ready; she was vibrating with the eagerness of every child who has ever Trick-or-Treated. She stood at the door, the very image of Hermione Grainger; her black Hogwarts robes swirling in the wind, her hair (carefully styled to resemble Emma Watson as much as possible) swept around her face, her wand clutched firmly in her hand... and her precious Time Turner 'round her neck.
She was waiting for Grandpa and Aunt Laurie to come and take her Trick-or-Treating.
Daddy had to be at work; second shift means he misses Halloween most years. I traditionally stay home and hand out candy; I have only taken Twinks out myself once in her eleven years - her first year. She was a roly-poly little pumpkin baby. I carried her to a handful of our neighbors houses, and then we went home and gave out candy with her still dressed in her little pumpkin suit.
This year, maybe next year, will likely be the last for Twinkle. Not just because she is getting to be "too old" to go out; nor is it because Grandpa moves slower these days between houses, and is ready to hurry back for a big steaming mug of hot coffee far before she is ready to call it quits. It isn't even because of how badly she was hurting by the time she got home.
For several years now, we have been watching the slow and inexorable death of Halloween in our neighborhood. Our rapidly growing little corner of The Greater Metro Area has long been regarded as a safe haven for middle class families. With the demographics of our little city shifting towards upper-class wannabees, and a proliferation of McMansions, we are now dominated by "Mega Churches", all of which have rushed to fill a void that seemingly never existed before they arrived. Maybe the void was there, and I was too "unenlightened" to know the difference...
The Mega Churches have something going on nearly every day of the year; many are open and bustling with activity from 6:00 am until 10:00 pm daily. Daycare, private church-based schools, teen centers, tween centers, fitness centers, senior daycare, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, anything that brings the cars, the people, the money.
For these Mega Churches have learned - if you can get them in the doors on any day but Sunday, let them see how friendly we are - how nice the place is - then they might come back on Sunday, with a nice donation for the plate. Take care of their kids before school and after school, pick up their elderly parents and take them to the store, give their teens a "safe" place to hang after school - and the target, the intended audience will show up.
This year we had a record low number of kids out and about in the neighborhood; most were at carefully planned "Fall Festivals" or "Harvest Celebrations" that scrupulously avoided even the mention of the word Halloween. They went dressed in costumes; but only in outfits that honored "book characters" or that were "historical figures". They went to these parties, not to bob for apples (health risk) or play pin the tail on the donkey (PETA) but to go from "station" to "station" doing inane activities that earned each child a hearty "Great job!" and a piece of candy as a reward. Goody bags as you go out the door; begging strangers for candy is passe'.
Twinks may be of the last generation to know that tingly thrill of venturing forth into the darkness dressed up as Someone (or Something) Else. Within another year or so, I fear that there will be no children running up and down the sidewalks dressed as froggies and fairy princesses; no teen-aged boys with pillow cases filched from their mothers cupboards hoping for just one more year of sugary goodness, no more of Twinks friends standing on our porch, hollering "It's me! It's me! Where's Twinks?!!!" while I marvel at their costumes, and pretend not to recognize them.
When Twinks was three years old, we gave out 25 pounds of candy every year at Halloween. Yes - 25 pounds.
This year, we gave out less than two pounds.
Our little city has tripled in size.
You do the math.