Since we’re publishing on Oct. 31 this year, and because we all need a reminder right about now that goodness and beauty abound, I went back to the archives for this column from the year 2000, slightly revised and refreshed.
Halloween night, I went for an atmosphere soak during peak trick-or-treat time — walking the neighborhood from Euclid to Elmwood avenues, South Boulevard to Washington Boulevard — big old houses, thickly arbored parkways, and loads of kids, not all from that neighborhood, I’ll warrant.
Doesn’t matter. Halloween isn’t about territoriality. It’s about gracious giving, even if the gifts are bad for your teeth (the real trick in trick-or-treating).
We’ve been blessed the last four years with balmy weather, but this year was best. Must have been 70 degrees, judging by how many people sat on their porches and front steps. The majority of houses were warmly lit inside and most of the porch lights were turned on as well. This section of Oak Park boasts beautiful, elegant homes with ample front porches and spacious picture windows. Normally when you walk down a block, there’s a clear demarcation between outside and inside, private and public, but on this night in this neighborhood, that barrier completely dissolved.
The air, temperate and bug-free, allowed many front doors to be thrown wide open. I’ve never seen so many open doors. It seemed, at first, to break some unwritten rule, but once the incongruity faded, it felt so … welcoming, neighborly, as if privacy needs took a backseat to the more urgent imperative of communal connection.
On a night like this, it’s possible to glimpse what life might be like in some future utopia of harmonious interdependence — if only humanity can find the courage to take that next evolutionary step.
Forget broad lawns and narrow minds. Let’s be the village of “open doors and porch lights.” Let this be the logical next step in our long commitment to open housing. The holiday delirium was making me feel downright visionary.
Overhead, the branches of leafless trees twisted gracefully against the twilight. The fingernail moon sailed westward like a single-masted ship into the afterglow of the setting sun, pursuing its master with slavish devotion.
Kids scurried from house to house, the hems of their costumes brushing the pavement, shoes scuffling through the parched parchment of curled leaves.
Jack O’ Lanterns and assorted other luminaria gleamed from nearly every porch post, stairstep and window with savage contortions and/or friendly smiles. A giant cobweb, strung between two houses, rose two stories. Burial mounds of leaf mash lined the curbs. Ceramic pumpkins fused together into tiny totem poles of frightful visages.
On one front lawn, a fire pit blazed, the residents reclining in white wicker furniture, sipping wine, doling out sweets.
Adults were almost as numerous as kids — commuters returning from work, parents accompanying little ones, directing them, reminding them to say “trick or treat” and express gratitude for the latter. Thanksgiving can’t hold a candle to Halloween, when kids say “thank-you” far more often.
Like most communities, most of the year, we are infected by an epidemic of “porch neglect.” But this was the night to take advantage of the best room outside the house. Back decks are for those who want to withdraw. Front porches are the stitching in our social fabric.
For all its frightfulness and grotesque ghoulish gore, Halloween really teaches kids a lesson in neighborly beneficence, when heretofore anonymous adults become accomplices in a vast right-thinking conspiracy to create idyllic childhood moments that will age and cure for later reminiscence, just like the ones created for us.
Parents play a bigger role in trick-or-treating than when I was a kid. Though born of fear for their kids’ safety, there is an unintended bonus. Being out on the streets reacquaints us with once-upon-a-time magic, allows us to steep awhile in dreamy nostalgia about the past and hopeful idealism about the future.
At any rate, that’s where I was steeping. When you get older, the treats are intangible, filling our personal pillowcases with sweetmeat memories and good will.
None of which cause truth decay.