It’s Halloween season, and it’s 70 degrees outside. Kids might pass out from heat exhaustion all around my neighborhood, sweaty and dehydrated in rubber masks while trick-or-treating. Mosquitoes will get stuck in their make-up, and their costumes will all have salty crusts that will require extra soaking an unceremonious disposals. Some years bring heat during the holiday, while others might be cool and rainy. It’s unpredictable, but at least there’s never any snow. That’s Halloween in eastern North Carolina, very different from where I grew up.
In upstate New York, the hues of the leaves bring tourists this time of year. Soon the foliage will be compost or crunched underfoot. The little goblins, vampires, princesses, and superheroes will be out to score some candy. And they might have to wear coats, thermal underwear, gloves, hats, and scarves. Their costumes may have been crafted to accommodate layers of winter clothing, or they might have to partially disrobe to show off their holiday disguises.
In my small town, my parents knew everybody. There was no mad dash from house to house, like candy bandits on a sugar-fueled crime spree. We stopped and talked with everyone, even the woman who would give me a pencil and a shiny nickel in lieu of sweets. Sometimes after stripping off coat, gloves, and hat, the keeper of the candy would want a good long look at my costume’s intricacies. My mom, bless her, put a lot of work and time into some of them. On one occasion, I even remember being asked to play my host’s violin for him, once it was mentioned that I started taking lessons at school. I scratched out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to the pain of everyone’s ears, including mine. Then, candy earned and elderly couple amused, I bundled back up again to head out into the cold, October night.
When I got to be 12, maybe 13, I was too grown up for that kid stuff. My sweet-tooth protested, but my pride wouldn’t allow me to trick-or-treat with the little kids anymore. At school, I heard tales that some of my friends would be toilet-papering trees, playing pranks, and getting up to small town mischief without me. I didn’t live in town, and there was no way my folks were going to drop me off in town to “run wild through the streets”. Well, not exactly.
My dad loved a good joke. He could engineer a prank and took quite a bit of pride in it. (See this for the story of his masterpiece.) I have a sneaking suspicion, based on some eyewitness accounts and some rumors, that he led a wilder life in his younger days than I will ever know. Unfortunately he passed away before I reached an appropriate age to brag about such things, and I think he was quite a different guy by the time he started dating my mom. But sometimes a twinkle in his eye told me the mischievous part of his brain wanted to come out and play. Then he would snuff it out, and just smile without a word. One Halloween, he let me have just the slightest peek at the prankster of old.
Armed with shaving cream and toilet paper, after the paralyzing shock of what I believed was about to happen, he drove me into town. I was speechless, so we enjoyed the heat in the car on those dark roads with only the sound of air through the vents and tires on the asphalt. He pulled the car off the road and killed the lights. We gathered our instruments of mayhem and crept through the dark to the single-lane bridge into town. There we wrapped toilet paper around the bridge’s frame and concealed ourselves behind some bushes. The wait was interminable, but soon headlights approached. My giddiness threatened to erupt from my mouth, and I shook with excitement, cold forgotten. For a kid that always followed rules and respected authority, I felt like a rebel! The car slowed, but once the driver realized the barrier was made of double-ply, he sped through. We snickered and wrapped more around the structure again, but no more cars came by. Small town. Most probably took a different route, where it was lit better and we didn’t dare try our prank. We got cold and went home, mission accomplished. I don’t even remember what we did with the shaving cream. But I will always remember the Halloween that my dad and I shared in some juvenile delinquency.