Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What a difference a block makes

When I was of trick-or-treating age, I was living on a farm on the outskirts of a not very big town. I think at that point in time, the town had a population of 4,000 and my mom, being the gregarious talkative type, knew every single resident. Or at least if she didn't know them personally, she knew of them. There was a smallish downtown, really a short strip of Main Street that had the post office, a used book store, a dry cleaners, and a hardware store. There were no restaurants unless you counted the ice cream stand that served the worst burgers and fries known to man, and one small grocery store where if you were lucky you could find a cake mix and some icing.

Halloween was a middle of the road holiday in Not Very Big Town. Kids dressed up, and those who lived "in town" walked around, but the rest of us got driven by our parents from house to house. There was no Halloween parade and, to the best of my memory, we never wore costumes to school (although I only went to the public school there for three years). Costumes were always pulled together at the last minute from the dress-up box, and frequently recycled from year to year and sibling to sibling. I think my sister and I were gypsies for several years running.

We kept to the same route every year, we hit my sister's friends, then my friends, then my mom's friends. We always ended at the same house, the people who had bought our "in-town" house after we had moved to the farm. Hot chocolate was distributed, and my sister and I would quickly assess our haul and begin the bartering process. We would eventually head home and have our candy baskets confiscated and placed on top of the fridge for "safe keeping."

When M and I lived in the city, there were no kids on our floor, so we never got any trick or treaters. Which I was fine with as no one had ever made the shlep up our mile long driveway when I was a kid, except maybe the children of my mom's best friend on one particularly greedy occasion. But for M, the loss of the trick-or-treaters was devastating as he grew up in neighborhoods where the kids would spend hours going from house to house collecting gobs upon gobs of candy.

Our first year in the suburbs, we bought bags upon bags of candy. And got not a single trick-or-treater. The following year, we got one, and he slipped and fell on our front walk. By the third year, we didn't even bother to buy candy. Because our street was so busy, we would take the kids over to a friends house in a different neighborhood so I didn't panic about someone getting hit by a speeding car. The whole experience was not that different from that of my childhood.

As we prepared for trick-or treating this year, I began plotting out a route in my head. "First we'll head to Lovely Friend's, the Soccer Mom, then we can swing around to Rebecca's old neighborhood and say hi." M looked at me and said "Or, we could just walk out our front door." Duh. Of course. And out our front door was a world that was totally foreign to my Halloween experiences. Gaggles of children in costumes (many of them homemade!) ran up and down the street while grownups wandered around chatting and supervising. M and I quickly attracted a crowd as the "new neighbors" and the kids had a blast ringing doorbells and getting information on who was home and who was not. As an added bonus, almost all the kids who came to our door after C and A collapsed from the excitement of it all were polite and took one piece of candy each until I urged them to take more.

I've always been rather skeptical of the neighborhood experience, and I don't know that I will ever be the person that organizes a block party. But I found comfort in finally meeting the families that surround us, and knowing that if I want it, there is a community here to explore. Plus, there is a gaggle of teenage girls who are dying to babysit. And that is worth the several bags of candy we went through last night.