Halloween preparation is in the bag(s). (Portland Phoenix/Natalie Ladd)
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A teacher friend once told me Halloween is the children’s second favorite holiday of the year, preceded by Christmas and followed by Valentine’s Day. My friend and her colleagues danced a jig in the teacher’s lounge when Halloween landed on a Friday or Saturday.

“Year after year my third-graders were beyond distraction from the candy and costumes,” she said. “At least if it fell on a weekend, they had time to come off the sugar high. I can’t tell you how many empty wrappers we’d see in the halls and around the water fountains. Or how many ‘quiet coloring times’ I put my entire classroom in after Halloween.”

Pausing, the now-retired teacher looked over her coffee and continued, “But, wow, were they ever cute. So happy and excited. It was disruptive but infectious, really.”

Even this year, in the midst of the pandemic, Halloween is a big deal to eternally hopeful children. By Labor Day, bags of candy were on sale in grocery stores. Mixed in with early election propaganda were decorating catalogs boasting giant inflatable pumpkins and life-like (dead-like?) skeletons.

If we put blinders on, it would be like any other year. But of course, it isn’t.

Prior to moving into my tiny condo, I had the Big House on Mount Deepwood, which was in a neighborhood perpetually full of younger children. It was dubbed Mount Deepwood because the driveway was often mistaken for a bunny hill. I lived in dread that fearless trick-or-treaters who trudged up my driveway would wipe out on a pile of wet leaves. Digging deep into my grocery budget, I went broke on the “good candy” to reward them, while waving at packs of parents who wisely waited at the bottom.

Because I was always a minimalist decorator (more out of lack of artistry than interest), Mount Deepwood would have a few jack-o-lanterns and some mandatory mums purchased from the Deering High field hockey team. Those purple flowers were replaced by my BFF’s son, a recent Cheverus grad, after my daughters flew the coop.

Unfortunately, that same level of interest in making a home welcoming to mini-ghosts and Spidermen is not seen, or maybe even allowed, in my condo complex. I see a random pumpkin here and there, but not the display and pageantry found on the streets bordering us. It makes me realize how very much I miss the Big House.


The Big House had a fireplace to read by, an amazing breakfast bar where most foolishness took place, and a garage connected to the mudroom. The heartbreaking landscaper installed a granite bench made of handpicked stones from his favorite quarry, and the door was painted Burst Berry Red.

But, by Halloween, the Big House also had layers and layers of unconquerable leaves, required a housemate to make the mortgage and needed a repair no matter what was just done. The sale and move were simply part of my life’s evolution and was wildly celebrated by friends who were frustrated with my whining about it.

Looking at the many decorated houses on surrounding streets, I can’t help but wonder what Halloween night will look like this year. Teacher’s prayers are answered because it falls on a Saturday. It’s also accompanied by a full harvest moon, which hasn’t happened since 2001, and the weather is predicted to be cold but rain-free. Those lucky little buggers and their teachers also get an extra hour of sleep because the clock rolls back on Sunday.

If you’re wondering how it can be handled to keep us safe, there’s a website from the federal CDC and Halloween & Costume Association at halloween2020.org. I’ve also seen communication on the Nextdoor website: People are providing their addresses, most indicating they’ll put a bowl of candy on a chair at the end of their driveway or on the front step. Lights will be on and many said they’ll wave from the windows, sad not to see the costumes and little faces up close and personal.

I don’t know what my fellow condo-dwellers are planning, but I’m joining the candy-in-a-bowl-on-the-step brigade, too. Hopefully, there won’t be monster mash bashes, costume gatherings at the union hall, or any turning off of the lights.

I have yet to pick up a burnt orange leaf, but I’ll take all the trick-or-treaters I can get and am thinking about the best way to pull off Thanksgiving this year. The rest of this year is going to require flexibility, technology to stay connected, tolerance, and generosity toward others, no matter what that looks like.

Oh, and adult coloring books may help, too.

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected].

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