Halloween is this week, and I’m going to predict we will set a record for the lowest number of trick-or-treat visitors to our house in half a century.
We’ve been married for more than 50 years, Nancy and I. We’ve usually lived in neighborhoods that were somewhat conducive to young people in costumes and masks wandering up to our front door to ring the bell and shout at us until we produced the candy bowl. We’ve always been aware of the need to have at least a modest supply of miniature candy bars or other tooth-rotting stuff available on the 31st of October.
When we first married, we lived a couple of blocks down the street from McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls. It wasn’t a particularly welcoming place. It was on a corner and had a bright street lamp, though, so some of the neighbor kids tried their luck and were rewarded with goodies. After a year we moved across town to a neat little rental house just north of 10th Street and west of Interstate 229. The front of that place gave the appearance that normal people might live there. The neighborhood was mostly young families, so a number of parents brought their sons and daughters to see what sort of treats the new folks might hand out. I’m thinking 40 or 50 total visitors there.
For more than 40 years after we moved to Pierre, we lived across the street from the governor’s residence. They used to call that place a mansion when it was a wood-frame house. After they upgraded and expanded to make it look kind of like a mansion, they began to emphasize “residence.’’ Whatever. The occupants of the residence tended to be people who gave out full-sized candy bars and advertised that they welcomed trick or treaters on Halloween. It wasn’t uncommon for 1,500 or more visitors to show up at the place.
A fair number of those young people, seeing a target of opportunity, spilled across the street to hit our place and the rest of our block. We could count on at least 600 visitors and often more than 700. When Halloween coincided with mild weather, we sometimes skipped the business of opening the door and simply sat in rocking chairs on the porch and dished candy to the kids who streamed by. A system developed by which the kids would arrive up the south steps, file past our chairs and leave by the west steps while we sat pitching candy into bags as if we were a couple of blackjack dealers in Vegas or something.
When the weather discouraged us from sitting outside, we took turns answering the door. Nancy liked to take the early visitors, who usually were younger and cuter with costumes and parents who stood on the sidewalk and smiled as they watched their offspring trudge up the steps and wrestle with the balky doorbell. It was an old-fashioned contraption with a button that supposedly made a bell ring but that often only produced the sound of a moth fluttering around inside a lamp shade. I drew the later assignments, which sometimes involved a couple of hulking guys who appeared to have been shaving for 20 years already, who had plaid shirts and blue jeans and who thrust a hand out for a couple of under-sized Snickers. Who needs masks and consumes when you’re way scarier than any ghost or vampire?
When we moved to a quiet neighborhood near the river in Fort Pierre, we expected our trick-or-treat count to drop. We never imagined how drastically it would plummet. Last year, for example, we agreed to take absolutely equal turns at the door. Nancy took the first one and treated four youngsters to candy. I took the second and gave out three treats. That was it. Seven. From 700 to seven in one easy move. How could a person have fewer Halloween visitors than that?
Well, we moved again, last summer. We’re at the end of a gravel road in a place surrounded by trees that are really cool except when it’s dark. Then they become foreboding. We’re the only house on this road, and the nearest streetlight is way past the trees. Behind us and up the hill is the dark street where monsters used to chase me home after horror movies at the theater downtown.
I wouldn’t approach our front door on a bet. We will soon see if anyone else will.