The logic of Halloween

There are few days on the calendar where we welcome the confrontation of our biggest fears, much less reward them. Next week, however, we’ll once again throw logic out the window as we open our doors to pirates and zombies. On any other night, groups of masked teens roaming the streets with empty bags would cause a panic; on Halloween, their vague threats (issued in the form of an ultimatum: “trick or treat”) result in bagfuls of candy. Heck, most of us even keep the porch lights on for them.

Growing up, logic was always in short supply around Halloween. Many of my friends had parents who’d spare no expense to outfit their kids in the latest superhero outfit. Some crafted outfits of their own out of wire and papier-mâche. My parents had seven children and a firm belief that if their kids wanted to go out and beg for candy, they could come up with their own costumes. This would have made perfect sense if their kids had had common sense. Unfortunately, we didn’t.

After listening to what our classmates were wearing for the big night, we’d crawl through the attic for costume ideas. My older brother’s football equipment was good for several years, but wearing cleats while pounding the pavement probably took 10 working years off my knees.

One year, my parents finally bought me a Planet of the Apes costume. The fact that I wanted it made little sense, as I’d grown up ashamed of my double cleft palate and the way my mouth hung open when I’d breathe. The ape mask only accentuated how far my palate stuck out, yet with the added benefit of making me sweat like a migrant orange picker. I’d prance along as I’d seen Roddy McDowell do on TV, freed of the albatross of my own identity. Unfortunately, my years in speech therapy didn’t prepare me for speaking through plastic masks. “Did you say need meat?” a neighbor would ask, forcing me to remove my mask and pay attention to my pharyngeal fricative: “Trick or treat!”

My parents knew that kids outgrow Halloween costumes faster than their Air Jordans, so we never saw another price tag on our costumes. Forced to scrounge around the house for ideas, one of us always ended up in my dad’s old “Navy box.” It held the collected memories from his military service after college, and if it were mine, I’d have guarded it like a newly won beach on Normandy.

Instead, my dad watched wordlessly as child after child wore his uniform each Halloween. His medals dropped off us like dried leaves along the way, lost forever. The brim of his hat was taped together after years of abuse. His years of toil in officer training school, then on a battleship, were reduced to my sister saying, “I don’t like these stripes on the sleeve — can we pull them off?”

We’d stumble back home after hours of walking, our pillowcases full and Dad’s uniform looking as if it had survived Iwo Jima. He watched as we threw his tattered officer’s cap on the floor, attacking the very candy my parents made a point to never allow in the house, hours after curfew spent begging from the neighbors on a school night. In short, we’d spent an evening doing the very things we’d normally be grounded for.

And somehow, against all logic, Dad would smile. On Halloween, things like that made all the sense in the world.

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