Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or treat

It's Halloween and the weather app on my phone says rain--rain all day. One hundred percent chance of rain all morning. Eighty percent during trick-or-treat hours this afternoon.

It's going to be a tough day to be a kid, or a parent. The hordes will still be out tonight, trekking down sidewalks, schlepping up stairs to gather candy. But there will be a lot of waiting for the rain to stop and a lot of let's go now, I don't care if I get wet.

Halloween comes but once a year, and even with parties at school and parties last weekend and costumes and decorations on display for weeks beforehand, none of that is quite like the day itself.

My youngest child went trick-or-treating for the first time when he was two. Dressed in a hand-me-down Batman cape, with me urging him on, he trotted up the first neighbor's sidewalk, climbed the stairs, and made the amazing discovery that if you rang the bell and waited, people would come out and give you candy. Not just once--at house after house.

His older sister, almost four, was with us, but she a) hated walking and b) didn't like sweets. Halloween was one more thing Mom was trying to get her to do that she didn't understand. She grumped and pouted and rode in the LIttle Tikes plastic wagon.

On most Halloween nights I get a two hundred or more trick-or-treaters at my door. Maybe two hundred. I buy big bags of cheap candy and figure on 300 pieces. How far it goes depends on me--one piece a bag, or two? How long do I want to do this? When the candy is gone I can turn out the porch light and retreat to the kitchen, where I can't hear the door bell.

The children, teens and young adults who descend on my neighborhood on Halloween night come from Chicago's west side. The border between city and suburbs is only a block from my house. My town is integrated, educated, prosperous, with good schools. Citizens' voices are raised and powerful at village board meetings. The city neighborhood to my east is almost entirely African-American. There are some grand old homes and plenty of what was once middle-class city housing. White flight and resegregation came in the 1960s. Property values are nowhere near what they are in my suburb. Schools, family structures, opportunities--all very different, though only a few blocks away.

My own children, as they got older, trick or treated with friends in the more upscale neighborhoods a mile west of our home, or even two miles to the west. where people in big homes and broad lawns give out full-size Snickers bars or dollar bills on Halloween night.

That would be a steep treat for me to finance--Snickers bars times two or three hundred. How much difference does one or another configuration of sugar and flavoring make? But I'll open my door this afternoon, with handfuls of Jawbreakers and Smarties. Because, amazingly, this is what happens on Halloween.

No comments: