Berkeley Pumpkin Patch
One of the joys of being a parent is getting to relive childhood memories through the eyes of your kids.
I grew up in the last days of the golden age of Halloween. Before parents worried about internet stalkers, Megan's list, razor blades hidden in apples or even the Tylenol tampering incident, we kids had no fear. There were few after school programs and us latchkey kids pretty much ran free in our neighborhoods on a daily basis.
On many Halloweens my brother and I spent hours trick or treating. We dressed up in homemade costumes and used pillowcases to collect our treasure - bag after bag of fun size and full size candy bars, lollipops, bubble gum, the random orange or apple and coins.
As we got older, there were some precautions. We had to have our collection inspected by adults and were told to come home an hour after dark. But, in general, we were free to roam, to meet friends and strangers in the neighborhood. Whether we gathered treats or pulled tricks was part of our secret world of children. Our parents stayed home to give out candy to our friends, while we collected from the parents of our school mates.
So I was shocked to discover that Halloween had changed for my kids. Little girls showed up at school in one of four or five store bought Princess variations. No masks, no weapons allowed for the boys. Many grown ups don't stay home to give out candy, but go to adult costume parties instead. But the most shocking discovery for me was when I found out about the "commuters."
Don't get me wrong, my brother and I certainly walked towards the blocks with the bigger houses and rumors of better candy. We drifted as far from home as our feet would carry us. But it was only when I came to Oakland that I discovered parents who actually drove their kids to other neighborhoods to trick or treat.
"Alameda's so pretty," said one parent.
"You should see the decorations they put up in Berkeley," chimed another.
"I just go to the hills," from yet another.
So while my kids were in preschool, I tried it. It felt a little strange, like I was benefitting from the property taxes of some random person two counties over. Was I providing my kids with some of the best parts of my childhood memories?
In Berkeley, in particular, the kids filled the streets like a scene from ET. Running and squealing from haunted house to pumpkin patch. But something about it began to feel hollow. When we'd come home to West Oakland, I wondered if the porch lights were dark because no one wanted to give out candy or because all of the children had simply left for the evening, charmed away by some pied piper dream of the suburbs.
So, four years ago, I decided to trick-or-treat in the place we live. No more commuting. We'd 'go local' with childhood memories.
I have to admit, the first year was tough. At that time, many folks had given up on the kids coming by, so many houses were dark. There was one house where the elder who answered the door asked us to wait a minute for her to go find some candy. She dutifully returned, carefully depositing menthol cough drops into each child's bag. At another doorway, the young hippy who answered the door didn't have any candy, but offered the kids tea instead.
Fortunately for her, my health-conscious kids saw this as a "treat" not a "trick" and filled up on small packets of chamomile, licorice root and senna. (Yes, I did warn them not to drink the 'smooth move' tea unless needed.)
Since we started, there have been more and more of us to show up. Some folks who answered the door one year to apologize for having nothing, remembered us the following year. Decorations have become more plentiful and costumed kids are starting to fill the neighborhood. Although the yard displays and candy aren't as fancy as some we've seen, there's been another, more important benefit.
It's been a joy to see neighbors; to reconnect with friends that we forgot lived nearby; to meet new residents as they come into the community. I feel safer knowing who lives on my street and a block or two over.
In the end, I don't let my kids trick-or-treat alone like I did as a kid. But I'm glad that my children are getting to walk the block instead of driving to another community to say both "Trick-or-Treat" and "Thank You."