My trick-or-treating days are over. No more musty night walks through the crunch of fallen leaves. No more blinking, swirling flashlights gleaming the way to the next neighbor's house. No more scramble to create an imaginative costume at the last minute. Worst of all, no more candy to collect.
My kids, who have been my ticket to this performance, have simply gotten too old for the show. For a mother who loves Halloween night as much as her children, it is another check on the long list of childhood activities they are quickly outgrowing. With my youngest son entering high school, I've pushed this tradition to the limit. It's time to hang up the candy sack.
For years, the lustrous splendor of a rose-washed harvest moon rising over golden cornfields signaled, like a beacon on opening night, that this autumn pageant was about to begin. Off we'd hurry to the local pumpkin patch, meticulously making our selection from a black-dirt field.
As producer of the pumpkin props, the boys' dad supervised the zealous task of slinging stringy seeds out of the gourds. Working with the intensity of professional artists, the guys placed their glowing masterpieces on the fireplace hearth for all to admire. The pumpkins' smoky fragrance immersed the house with warmth and excitement.
I ASSUMED the role of costume designer and contrived a variety of inspired creations that ranged from the toddler furry bear suit (it looked more like a carpet with ears) to dressing all the boys in a coordinated theme such as Batman, Robin, and the Joker, or the Three Amigos from the movie of the same name.
Not surprisingly, early adolescence brought a desire for costuming independence. I gave up my designated role and left the decision to the performers. Like actors preparing for a part, they rummaged the basement and closets for old hats, jackets, and amazing accessories.
So each Oct. 31, as a red sun sank behind a backdrop of silhouetted trees, the boys and I headed out into the evening theater. With glowing porch pumpkins as our stage lights, my jubilant children skipped down the driveway in a whirling procession of creative attire, candy sacks, and flashlights.
(Their father, in the role of refreshment dispenser, stayed behind. With a good football game on TV, a quiet house, and a big bowl of candy all to himself, he was a happy man.)
Across the yard the boys ran to pick up their neighborhood friend who, as an only child, shared the instant delight with my sons of becoming a fourth brother. (I ignored the fact that his mother, an art teacher, created fabulously perfect costumes.)
Because we live out in the semi-country, with houses spread far apart and few street lights, his mom and I always accompanied the boys. In truth, Halloween provided us with the perfect excuse to walk under the stars, smell the damp scent of newly fallen leaves, and most of all enjoy this theatrical escapade with our sons.
When the guys were little, they were content to walk at our sides and hold our hands. As they grew bigger, they dashed ahead to the next neighbor's house until we called for them to wait.
Before long, it was not "cool" to have moms with bright flashlights in sight. As the boys dashed from house to house, we hung back, following behind in the darkness.
Every now and then they would stop, unsure of where we were.
"Mom?" one would call out in the darkness.
"Right here," we'd answer, blinking our flashlights on and off like fireflies sending Morse code.
Relieved, off they would run through the next yard. We could hear their laughter and squeals of joy when they got an exceptionally good treat. Then, suddenly, all would be still.
"Mom?" they'd call again.
"Here we are!" we'd shout, flashing on our lights from the side of the road, not as far away as they thought.
And so it would go.
Each year brought a thrilling and poignant performance. There were nights that the stars shone in the heavens like brightly lit lanterns to guide our way. We pointed out the constellations as we walked down a road skirted by open fields.
There were nights when it misted or drizzled and the leaves became more pungent. The smell of the woods and fields refreshed us with their fragrance.
There were nights of full moons when all was lit with a grandeur of light and beauty.
And there were nights when it was freezing cold and snowflakes made a surprise appearance. Falling softly from a cloud-coated sky, their silent beauty dusted us in sparkling splendor as we marched along.
But most of all there were nights filled with great camaraderie, laughter, good visits, the drama of dress, the mystery of a walk in the dark. Nights of enchantment and joy.
Then one year, around the age of 13, my oldest son came to the realization that perhaps it was time for him to exit this show. A few seasons later, our middle son and our neighbor's bowed out. My youngest son and I continued this long-running act with a couple of his buddies as extras, but we have finally crossed the thieving threshold of an activity outgrown.
So we won't be going out this year. It's time to close the curtains. The scenery was magnificent, the costumes delightful, and the characters the finest with whom I could ever hope to share a stage.
This year, I'll be waiting in the wings. I'll pull a chair up to the window with a glowing pumpkin by my side and wait for my little neighborhood friends to come by. And when they do, I'll compliment them on their wonderfully inspired attire, give them an extra treat or two, and watch with envy as they skip down my driveway to the glimmer of a waiting flashlight and fade into the night.
Then, I think I'll just sit back and help myself to a candy bar or two.