After a swallow of dinner, I dirty my face with burnt cork and, on my shoulder, rest a broomstick with a bundle of rags tiedCandy Corn, 16 Oz. (1 Lb) to its end. I then prepare for the battle with my mom over not wearing a coat.

I step into the hallowed night, wondering which house has the apples with razor blades.

Nervously, I take the shortcut home through waist-high weeds that surround a haunted house whose creaky steps I’ve mounted on blue-sky afternoons.

On the kitchen table, I dump my bag for my mother’s inspection. It’s a disappointment that nothing sharp turns up in the apples.


In college I feel stupid dressing up in costume, and I feel stupid if I don’t for a Halloween party where everyone else is in disguise.


Halloween becomes fun again once I get married. Six weeks after Steve and I exchange vows, we move to Beijing. With the enthusiasm for holidays that comes from being separated from one’s roots, we invite our new friends to celebrate with us.

The Hungarian journalists have sewn their own clown suits and a partner in Steve’s law firm dresses as a flasher with a sausage attached to boxers under his raincoat.

We provide umbrella hats for our Chinese friends who wear only their Mao suits, obligatory attire for locals in 1979 China.

Only Steve’s Chinese-American secretary creates a stir. The room becomes silent when she enters dressed as a Red Guard. She stands in that arched-back pose you see on posters, with Mao’s ubiquitous red book in her raised hand.

The wounds from the Cultural Revolution are still too raw for people to accept reminders of that holocaust.


Through my children, I re-live the thrill of my own childhood autumns, the season of crayons that still have their points and blank composition books. We convene on our front stoop to decorate the door for Halloween.

Steve tells us he heard on the radio that witches and hobos are politically incorrect, so I craft my witch as an ethnic-neutral with paper-bag

Noodle Pudding

Noodle Pudding

hair, and a newspaper face.

After we go trick or treating, I tell my four-year-old goblin, “Nobody likes the raisins–those we’ll give to Grandmom for her noodle pudding.”

Emily’s blue eyes, bright as light bulbs under normal conditions, are on high wattage tonight.

“This one’s bad for your teeth, Sweetheart,” I say. Then I drop an appallingly puny Almond Joy into the “throwaway” pile that will go on the high shelf in my closet where I hide my gum.

A pack of Soda-Licious fruit snacks that really will play havoc with the molars, I place into her pile. I don’t like the flavors. Halloween does this to me.


Each of my grade-school daughters accepts my offer of $10 to buy their Halloween candy in my effort to protect their dear little bodies from all that sugar. Soon they regret it; no such transactions occur ever again.


Emily, age 8, writes in her school journal, “I like Easter because it is fun and I get a lot of candy. My mom doesn’t let us eat our candy so I save it for so long that it gets rotten and I have to throw it away. Eliza eats hers anyway.”


Ever since my kids flew the coop, I’ve become a Halloween Grinch. I don’t want to keep jumping up to answer the door, so I go out to dinner.

After years of grappling with the temptation of leftover Reese’s peanut butter cups, this year I give out individually wrapped Lifesaver mints, which I leave in a bowl on my front stoop.

The following week over coffee, friends inform me that no kid likes peppermint Lifesavers. I had wondered why the bowl of mints had not been emptied.

At D.C.'s high-heel drag race

Participants in D.C.'s high-heel drag race

On Halloween night I go to a bistro in Georgetown with my friend Daniel. Last week, we went to D.C.’s annual High Heel Drag Race, and now I want to see more costumes, the Georgetown scene.

Daniel says, “It’s not safe, so let’s eat a bit farther up, then walk down.” I say, “You’re being a terrible worrywart.”

But Daniel is right. We zigzag to skirt around thick crowds of made-up young adults who exude no merriment.

The next day I learn that 15 minutes after we left the area, a 17-year-old boy suffered a gunshot wound in the head.

This makes me long for the days when I was a politically incorrect hobo for Halloween.

What are your memories of Halloweens past?

Get ready for next Halloween:

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