Halloween 2021: A Dark Night With a Happy Ending

For me and my three younger sisters growing up in Redding in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, Halloween was a one-day full-time job. Candy was our payment; our reward for our hard work. On Halloween we transformed ourselves from regular kids into bed-sheet ghosts, a tomboy hobo with a beard fashioned from bacon grease and coffee grounds, and a witch with a black construction-paper pointed hat.

I was always a witch, which may come as no surprise to some people.

Some other kids wore store-bought costumes that came in flimsy rectangular boxes with clear crinkly windows that displayed the disguise inside. There was a one-size-fits-all face mask with a thin string of elastic that went around the child’s head (and broke within minutes), and a step-in surely flammable fabric jumpsuit that tied in the back like a hospital gown. Body images of clowns, monsters, firemen, princesses or other characters were stamped on the jumpsuits.

Each Halloween afternoon, like crazed race horses released from their starting gates on their goal to win the grand prize, my sisters and I were among the first kids to hit west Redding’s streets.

We were prepared with our usual trick — a song of sorts — which we never volunteered, but we’d belt out upon demand in four-part unison, like miniature Andrews Sisters:

“Pumpkin, pumpkin, round and fat, turned into a jack-o’lantern just like that!”

It was light when we set out. It was dark when we returned. Bulging pillow cases held our winnings, which grew heavier and heavier block after block. On our quest for Halloween candy, homemade popcorn balls and even dimes, we ventured into unknown neighborhoods miles from ours. We only returned home when porch lights were snapped off, and jack-o’lanterns’ melting candles were extinguished.

When we finally arrived home, our mother, who was ahead of her time when it came to the evils of sugar, allowed us to eat all the candy we wanted until bedtime, but after that, we had to relinquish our hard-earned loot to her, which she said would be thrown away, a statement I never doubted.

Yes, one year I did try to beat the system, and when my mother wasn’t looking I crammed some candy down the front of my witch’s britches for later. My dishonesty was revealed in shame long after bedtime when I awoke screaming that a spider was inside my underwear. A piece of cellophane-wrapped candy – probably a Smartie – was the culprit.

Twin sister Shelly and I discussed these stories and other childhood Halloween memories Sunday night as we sat upon my porch and waited for trick-or-treaters to converge upon my neighborhood. We waited. And waited. And waited.

Coincidentally, not only did my kid sisters and I probably trick-or-treat at the same 1938 home I now own, but believe it or not as an 11-year-old I also took violin lessons in this very house from Mr. John de Cima, the man who had the house built. By the way, de Cima’s nephew was Bill Morrison, for Redding folks who remember Morrison and his awesome Morrison’s discount stores.

This bit of trivia only confirms what I believe; that here in Shasta County there’s often one degree of separation between most of us.

I’ve owned my house since the summer of 2017, but for a variety of reasons this was the first year I was home for Halloween. That’s why I went all out with the décor for Halloween 2021. Early on in October I arranged a display of assorted lighted pumpkins on my porch. For weeks, REU bill be damned, I left the pumpkin lights on all night. I thought of it as my investment in residential Halloween promotions, if you will. I was certain that people would drive by and see those cheerful blazing pumpkins and make a mental note to bring their kids here come Halloween. I could imagine children in the back seats of cars who’d point with excitement and say to their parents, “Can we go there on Halloween?”

With that in mind, I stocked up on Halloween candy early, just in case there was a supply-chain issue, 2021 being what it is.

In addition to lighted plastic pumpkins, on Halloween afternoon I actually carved seven pumpkins myself, which isn’t really my strong suit, especially without the proper pumpkin-carving tools. However, I made do with my makeshift implements and became a speed-pumpkin carver, thanks to a steak knife and an apple corer. I wasn’t going for artistic, but just something slashed through the thick pumpkin flesh to allow the light to glow through. Mission accomplished. Luckily, darkness covers a multitude of jack-o’lantern carving sins.

And, oh, the candy! Shelly and I combined our vast collections of quality treats. Not a piece of rock-hard bubble gum or a measly DumDum sucker to be found. No, we splurged on the good stuff: Tiny Almond Joys, Hershey bars, Milk Duds, Heath bars, Butterfingers and even cute little boxes of Junior Mints, to name a few.

We had so much candy that we stuffed little Halloween bags with a medley of our quality-candy hits, so the kids wouldn’t have to rummage around in a bowl, but rather, for the sake of sanitation, we’d drop little sacks of the high-end treats into their bags or buckets or pillow cases.

I’m not much into costumes, but to be a good sport I wore a miniature purple glitter witch hat for the occasion. Shelly wore a bumble bee headband. We looked festive, if I do say so myself.

One major flaw about my sweet old house is that it’s located on a block that has not a single street light. Not one. And while it’s true I did have all those lighted pumpkins, and also some battery-operated large candles, and my front yard does have dozens of solar path lights, it’s also true that when the sun sets, my street is black as the inside of a construction-paper witch’s hat.

It was nearly 7 p.m. after eating an embarrassing number of little Hershey bars and Whoppers, when Shelly and I faced the fact that no trick-or-treaters were coming. We quickly made some calls and found some friends who live in a Lake Redding neighborhood which was at that very moment under siege by marauding trick-or-treaters. Our friends were at the point of rummaging through their pantry looking for something else to give the little goblins and baby Yodas.

We promised help was on the way soon.

As I went to the front of my fence to remove a few grotesquely carved pumpkins and blow out the candles, I heard children’s voices, far up the street. I called out into the inky night, “Hey, we have lots of Halloween candy! Here! We’re down here!”

I held up one of the big candles and moved it from side to side, like a lighthouse keeper showing sailors the way to safety, away from the jagged rocks.

I heard a man’s voice. “Look to the light, Zion! There’s someone standing there. See?”

Soon, down the sidewalk and out of the darkness came a little boy – Spiderman – and a girl – bless her heart, a witch (or maybe a fairy; too dark to tell). Behold, our first and only trick-or-treaters. I didn’t ask them for a trick. They’d already done enough. Their trick was facing fear and and trekking into the darkness for a few sacks of candy.

Then Shelly and I packed up dozens of bags of candy and drove to our friends’ neighborhood that looked like a scene from the Walking Dead. Clumps of costumed adults and children roamed the streets and sidewalks under the illumination of a plethora of street lights.

Inside our friends’ home it was a scene of near desperation as Walt and Stella thanked us profusely, and said they were starting to break into Walt’s private collection of full-sized Reese’s cups.

Friend Walt Tausch – aka “Dopey” – was glad the donation of Doni and Shelly’s Halloween candy saved his full-sized Reese’s cups from going to trick-or-treaters.

Doni and Shelly to the rescue. Disaster averted! What fun we had after that, talking, sipping margaritas and taking turns answering the door to greet trick-or-treaters of all ages, attires and sizes, even a cluster of teen-aged trick-or-treaters so mature that, instead of saying, “trick-or-treat” politely said, “Hi, how are you tonight?”

Bring on those teen-agers! I didn’t care. Nothing could spoil Halloween for me at that point; even the father whose shirt was adorned with an image of a huge automatic weapon. I reminded myself that this was Halloween night, and a shirt like was just another scary costume.

Besides, I wanted to bask in the moment of Halloween 2021. Who knows what Halloween 2022 will bring, and what frightful things we may encounter between now and then.

One thing I know for sure: I’m going to start a neighborhood petition to convince the city of Redding to install a few street lights on our block. After all, it’s a matter of public safety, not to mention Halloween success.

Meanwhile, somewhere there’s a little boy named Zion who may have difficulty shaking the image of a woman in the dark, holding a giant candle, grinning like a jack-o’-lantern.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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