A Country Halloween

Good morning and Happy Halloween.

It’s a rainy morning here in Montana which isn’t surprising as precipitation, in the form of rain, snow, sleet, etc., picks up with a fury come fall. I don’t know, in the last years of living in Montana, if I’ve ever seen the sun poke over the mountains on this day of tricks or treats. Makes it quite difficult for those who wish to wear skimpy costumes or a lot of face paint.

It’s still very much a darken sky this morning — as it always is on this downhill slide from the autumnal equinox–and as much as I prepare myself from the transition from light to darkness, the heaviness of fall creeps down my spine. Good thing Halloween, in its break from seriousness, in its flash of color, and in its authorization for the horror, the flamboyant, and the frivolous (the candy, too) is a good way to celebrate the change of the seasons.

In the months since I left residency at Pacific Lutheran, this fiction writer has turned toward non-fiction (which to those who read this blog, namely you, you probably aren’t surprised. However, I was. I’m still learning a lot about myself) and I’ve been busy mining my life for stories. And my musings take me back into my childhood as much as I recall my winters at Big Creek. I feel like a pilgrim, traveling in search of something new, yet familiar. And certain days, like this one, remind me of how Halloween was celebrated on Church Road, the first house I lived in rural northern Michigan.

The first home my parent’s purchased was an old country church. It had tall ceilings and a loft. In those early years of their marriage, they remodeled the church to make it into a home. Across the street from the church was the Leist farm. Behind the church was a swath of cornfield, belonging to another farmer in the neighborhood, and beyond the field was a giant hardwood forest. The size of the field and forest might not be as giant now as I had determined them to be in my ten year old mind, but as a young child, there was a lot of land to explore. Farms, fields and woods comprised the neighborhood playground. With all of that land, there were not many people. It was not a suburb (I didn’t even know what a suburb was until I went away to college) and the town of Petoskey was over ten miles north.  What does geography have to do with Halloween?

It determines your route for trick or treating. My parents were the first ones to start the local trick or treat movement. While many of my fellow country kids begged and pleaded their parents to take them into town for trick or treating (apparently townspeople, with their sidewalks, have much better candy than farmers). My parents felt it was important to source your candy locally. To drive for hours and hours in the rolling farm country of northern Michigan so their two children could wander up long gravel drives and surprise the neighbors who all but assumed on October 31st, the few families that lived in the area would forgo the dark roads and flee for town, with its sidewalks, lampposts and higher density of candy.

My parents had strict roles they occupied on Halloween. While they both decorated the house–draping fake cobwebs across the front door, making a scary tape recording  with sounds of pots banging and howls, and carving pumpkins, when the time came to trick or treat (which happened at dark. My dad didn’t believe in this new happy hour approach to candy peddling. It was Halloween. The dark is supposed to be a part of it. Besides, he didn’t get off work until well after 4pm) my father did the driving and my mom stayed at our house, dressed up as a witch or bloody nurse and waited for other liked minded families to knock on our church door and request candy. My dad dressed up too–usually in a werewolf mask and a torn flannel shirt but he removed the mask for driving.

In our homemade costumes, my brother and I, after a sensible yet Halloween themed dinner (think: orange colored milk and grapes peeled to look like eyeballs) we’d load into the back of the station wagon and take to the country roads in search of candy. When we begged and pleaded to be like the other kids and take part in the massive trick or treat assault on picturesque Petoskey, he refused. We didn’t live in town. We lived in the country. Thus, we weren’t allowed to ask complete strangers for their candy. We knew our neighbors, even though rows of cornfields separated us.

When we approached a house, my dad didn’t stay in the car. He saddled up on the porch with us and when we knocked on the door we didn’t just get a handful of candy, we were also invited inside. The adults of the house would admire our costumes–most of our neighbors were elderly and didn’t have children at home to make costumes for–and then my dad, dressed as a werewolf would catch up with his neighbors. Halloween, for my dad, was as much as participating in the trick or treating with his young children, as it was a fine opportunity to reconnect with his community after a long busy summer (my dad wasn’t a fatmer but worked road construction and he, like those who raised cattle or worked the fields all had a similar schedule: work from dawn to dusk).

Our trick or treating route took hours to complete. It was a late night for all of us, but our candy bags were full and my brother and I enjoyed this rare time with just our father. Plus, we witnessed our father backing right into the Johnecheck’s mailbox and shattering the back window of our car. Candy, who cared about candy when your dad smashed a car window and swore the entire ride home? It was a priceless moment in the Doherty family history. We couldn’t wait to get home and tell our mother!

We only lived in the church house on Church Road until I was ten. We didn’t move into the city, just five miles south and my parents built a house. A house with slightly less tall ceilings and bedrooms to accommodate a family of four. However, as much as they had dreamed this ranch style house on five acres, a good mix of field and forest, their marriage didn’t last. Three years after our house on Camp Sherwood Road was completed, my mother sold the house and moved us to the small village of Boyne City. I was in high school when we moved, so my trick or treating days had passed. On Halloween, my mom still wore a costume and certainly had more customers than she did when we lived in the country, but I did’t see what the fuss was about, even though the streets were filled with devils and cowboys and princesses and robots. I’d take my country trick or treating over any amount of city pillaging.

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