Sidney Van Wyk
Halloween in my small Iowa town is no small event. Like most events in my community and my family, it drags on for days and days of planning and costumed events that had not seemed to be Halloween related before, Halloween itself always started with that school day. Little children bring treats and costumes for classroom parties while older students in the junior high and high school passed between classes with the ‘Monster Mash’ and other Halloween favorites playing over the loud speakers while passing candy between friends. Some teachers and students, feeling like kids again, would dress up.
When you went home, it was time for business. My church put on the town’s largest Fall Fest on Beggar’s Night so my mother would dutifully make her famous chili and a desert while my brother and I would dress up. Christian would head out to trick or treat with friends, making sure to hit Mr. Zarr’s house because the PE teacher always passed out well over a 100 cans of pop.
Trick or treating was an example of hard work and persistence since it was often cold and sometimes down-right freezing. My first Beggar’s Night when I was four years old was spent shivering against my father’s chest as snow fell, though I insisted we keep going.
When I was older, I would stay home and make sure to pile our neighbor kids with sweets while helping mom before we ran to the church to finish setting up. Once we passed out all of our candy and the food was done, we would pack it all into the van and drive to the church.
At the church, the youth group ran the game down stairs and the bouncy games while the mothers and other culinarily inclined adults ran the kitchen upstairs. Bins and bins of candy had been donated for weeks before. My uncle, the pastor, always takes pride in passing out every piece of candy.
People from all over the Greater Des Moines Area would come to our church for the event. We were a safe place kids could play and get candy while parents sat upstairs and got a bite of good, home cooked food. They could usually convince their kids to also eat before heading below to the dark, sugar infested basement.
By the end of the night I would have a crink in my back from bending over and collecting rings. The blow-up games would be deflating as the last children were collected by their parents, some helping parents and older youths clean and tear down from the night of fun.
Everyone involved would leave the church tired but content.
For my small town, Halloween is not just a night to give out candy and dress up, or, as some people see it, to be terrified by ghosts and celebrate demonic forces. For us it is the first night of the cold but joyful holiday season. After Halloween, there is a new excitement in the air that changes us all into joyful children, carrying us through the wintertime. We fight the freeze with treats, songs, laughter and time spent together in front of fires. For me, Halloween is something special.
When I was a child, my family never celebrated Halloween. Days before free-candy night, my classmates would discuss the different costumes they had in preparation for the evening of excitement. I sat quietly in my jealously thinking about the fun and candy I will miss.
By the time I reached high school, my parents were much easier on my brothers and I when it came to curfews and freedom. One year, my friend and I decided that we were going to dress up and go trick or treating in the “upper class” neighborhoods. I had a crazy, candy addiction all throughout high school. Hearing stories of how rich communities would hand out full candy bars instead of the fun-sized ones only added to my anticipation. What’s fun about less candy anyway?
My addiction with pirates as a child finally had purpose—it gave me a perfect idea for a costume. I gathered everything I could from my ‘dress up’ trunk and made a Jack Sparrow costume for myself. I put braids, beads and feathers in my hair, tightened up my boots and straightened my hat before heading out to gather the free candy bars that await.
The first house we approached was three times as big as my own house. It had tombstones in the yard and skeletons sitting in chairs on the porch. The lights and fog were an added excitement. As we knocked on the door, the sound of lightning struck and the door opened to the grim reaper. Stunned and speechless, we stared as he slowly held out two Hershey bars with a violent laugh. Reaching cautiously, we grasped the delicious treats and put them in our bags before running to the street. As we looked back, fog engulfed his doorway as he slammed it behind us. It was thrilling and rewarding all at the same time.
After spending hours running from mansion to mansion, my friend and I collected enough candy to break our backs! We went back to my house and formed a pile of all the goodies that we gathered. We looked through all the different varieties of chocolates, lollipops, taffies and bubble gums. We traded and shared as we basked in our glorious success of our candy-quest that Halloween night.
For some reason, I have never enjoyed dressing up for Halloween. It’s probably due to the fact that I have serious issues thinking of something to wear. But about two years ago, I had the perfect costume and the occasion to wear it.
My best friend, Erin, was having a Halloween birthday party and a couple of my friends and I decided to dress up as the characters from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Emily was Alice, Fulton was the Mad Hatter, Leah was the Red Witch, and I got to be the White Witch. I wore a white flowing dress with sleeves that hung down to my calves. I wore dark lipstick and pale white powder. There was a little bit of a ghost resemblance, but I looked past that.
After taking pictures, because of course we had to document it, we all roasted marshmallows around the campfire. So what happened next? Well, everyone decided that it would be a good idea to go to a haunted house. Now, I do not enjoy being scared and I had never been to one before, but I felt as though I had no choice in the matter. I had to go. As soon as we pulled up, I knew I was in for a wild ride.
This was not just any ordinary haunted house. Half of it was outside through a forest, and the other was through a cave. Because my eyes were sealed shut throughout the vast majority of the terror, I was constantly tripping over rocks and my own feet. My death grip on my friend in front of me was not about to let go. I wanted to cry as I heard my name whispered in my ear. The chainsaw only added to the nightmare. Why do people enjoy this horrible experience? And even pay for it?
3…2…1…Beeeeep!! The basketball game ended and my team had won. Sweat dripped off my brow as I put on my gray hoodie. My parents hugged and congratulated me with smiles on their faces. As we walked outside, the cool air met the warm sweat on my body, sending chills up my spine. As my family walked briskly to the car, I was taken back when I noticed little children down the street, dressed in costumes with goodie bags in hand. With all the excitement of my basketball game, I had forgotten it was Halloween.
As we pulled into the short driveway, my sister, brother and I quickly jumped out of the car before it was in park. We were all in our basketball uniforms so it was unanimous, we would be basketball players for Halloween. We ran through the glass door to the house, dropped our backpacks, grabbed H-E-B plastic bags, and raced out the door. Being in 8th grade, I felt a little old to trick or treat. But my siblings and I raced up the street wide eyed, hungry for some sugary goodies.
There were little kids everyone, crowding the doors of our neighbors. However, our neighbors were always outside and so were we, so they knew who we were. When they saw our familiar faces, they gave us more candy than they gave the other kids. We even went to our next door neighbor twice because she was a sweet old lady who loved to treat us.
We grabbed our bags from their bottom side and our candy showered the living room floor. We sat Indian style in a triangle with our candy in the middle. Our eyes quickly searched for familiar wrappers to snatch before someone else grabbed them. We threw out the candy that none of us enjoyed, and ate the pieces we liked until we could eat no more.
We felt like children that night as we bonded over full bags of candy. Although it seemed to be nothing special, we usually just passed out candy on Halloween. Actually going out and getting candy ourselves was something new, and we basked in the excitement of running door to door and the success of a full tummy of sugar.
Looking back on my Halloween’s now, I’m personally embarrassed for my eighth grade self. Thirteen year old Abby was awkward to say the least. She had a little extra baby fat that still hadn’t fallen off since coming out of the womb. Her stomach was as pinchable as the Pillsbury doughboy.
I was still in the stage where makeup was still against the rules in my household, so I made up for the matter with my straightened hair which was fried to the bones. Needless to say, I was not cool. The popular crowd had no idea who I was, even though some of my closest friends ran in their circles.
But this Halloween was different. It was a magical night, unlike most of my middle school years. I had somehow snagged an invitation to go tricker-treating with the popular girls. When I say “snagged an invitation,” what I really mean is, I showed up with out them kicking me out. They were cordial, but by no means were they embracing. It did not matter to me. I was out, on Halloween night, with the coolest girls in school.
We paraded around the surrounding neighborhoods, walking miles on foot. They pointed out where all the cute boys lived and told stories about sneaking out with them and stealing moonlight kisses. My innocent self was half horrified, still believing you could actually conceive from lip locking, yet I plastered on a smile to try fit in.
The night ended at one of the ring leaders houses. By this point one of the girls were actually joking and laughing with me. It was almost ten o’clock by this time and my phone began to ring. My father, on the other line, threatened my first grounding if I did not get my tush home as soon as possible. This officially was the most daring thing I had ever done. I caught a ride home, walked through my door with my face beaming. For one night I wasn’t the fat girl that was ignored in the hall, and for that I was proud.
The crisp, cool air swept through the ally, screams of both fright and laughter could be heard in the distance, the sound of the train was drawing near and the smell of zoo animals filled the air.
Most Halloween memories stem from running down the street from house to house, dressing up with friends and sorting through each piece of candy in your plastic pumpkin. But my Halloween of 2009 was much different.
Over 100 of my schoolmates and I were part of a service club at our high school. That Halloween, our biggest service project was working at “Boo at the Zoo,” a Halloween tradition in Little Rock.
Kids lined the sidewalks trading “trick or treats” for candy from volunteer vendors while we stayed dressed up in various costumes, and tucked away along the sidelines of the small “fright ride” train that ran the perimeter of the zoo.
When the train came by, we would jump out and act our part; when it passed, we sat in anticipation for the next one.
It was different than how I had spent any other Halloween, but it was an entertaining way to pass the night with friends.
The engine of the train purred once more, swelling and growing with each passing moment. In a few moments, I was alone again; pitch black forest to my back and the empty train tracks before me, taunting. Halloween.
When I volunteered to work at the zoo on Halloween night, supposedly passing out candy to children from around the city, I never thought that my experience would mimic, in more ways the one, the predictable yet chilling plot of most horror movies.
At approximately 5:00, shortly after entering the Tulsa Zoo’s gates, I was handed a lab coat and a powder white wig and told to board the train that in the day carries innocent families around to get a closer look at the giraffes.
Three-fourths of the way around, however, I was told to get off—this was my stop. A few bright spotlights lit the elsewhere dark scene, highlighting various test tubes, Bunsen burners and other laboratory devices. I picked up one of the vessels, turning it in my clammy palms, pondering my predicament.
I really was going to turn mad; the scientist label did not matter at all.
Alone and backed up to a creepy forest, I was at the point in the movie when the audience inevitably realizes that something horrible is about to happen.