The layout of our little community of Riverbend lends itself to an occasional block party. The streets and single-family homes are aligned in two lobes, like lungs to the left and right of a main bronchial boulevard that runs north and south along the spine of the subdivision. This arrangement limits traffic to a shallow, respiratory inflow and outflow, with no cars passing through at high speed. Halloween, consequently, is a pretty big deal in my neighborhood.
Families gather at friends’ houses for an early supper. Kids mingle in costume and run circles in the yards. Cars roll to a crawl as daylight dims and glowsticks and reflective tape bounce into the streets on the backs of children and happy dogs.
In all, hundreds of people stroll up and down our neighborhood on this night. Folks from less congenial parts of town park cars along the boulevard and join the locals in this annual celebration of bad manners and tummy aches.
I sit on the front porch, every year dressed as the same guy who works late and hands out candy in his slacks and button-down shirt. My spouse and children pair with other parents to walk and sip wine while the kids sprint ahead from house to house and yell at the near-strangers who are our neighbors.
When the evening ends, all gather in the lamplight and candle glow to spread out candy on the concrete and trade pieces. We look with displeasure at lingering teenagers, groups of un-costumed kids too old for this but not old enough for another role. We know them. They used to come by with their parents.
Around 7:30, one of my daughters hitched a ride home in the bed of a friend’s truck. I saw the familiar silver Ram move slowly with its precious cargo of six or eight children and pull up in my yard to drop her off.
My daughter and I handed candy to kids for half an hour, but when the customers thinned, she leaned into my lap and lay back against my chest. I rocked the chair and waited to hear what brought her home so early.
Her sister, we knew, was still out there with friends, still filling a big paper Whole Foods bag with candies from Wal-mart. I thought she must regret her decision to leave, but I think her feeling was more complex. Without turning her head or looking away from the dwindling crowd of passers-by, she asked me, “How many more years of this do I have?”