At other times of year, it’s not so apparent that our neighborhood is aging. Nothing moves on those short, frozen winter days but grumpy wool-wrapped critters of indeterminate age herding snowblowers. The grass groomers mostly seem to tend to their lawns early Sunday mornings, when I’m far too drowsy to care about whether whoever’s at the helm has wrinkles. Scouts and teen-age athletes still come ’round to pound on our door, peddling popcorn or pizzas or those ubiquitous blue coupon books.
But at Halloween, you can’t miss the truth: The whole neighborhood has gotten … mature? Seasoned? Face it — these days, we’re kind of old.
When Russ and I moved into this house 33 years ago, our enclave was a lively place. Bicycles lay strewn in driveways. Children shrieked and giggled. School buses poked along the street. Backyards were studded with swing sets, sandboxes and trampolines.
We were younger then. In those first years at our address, unbroken sunshine bathed the whole district, the trees mere broomsticks poking up through adolescent sod. While houses on those uber-desirable river lots across the street already had a few years on them, here on the dry side, ours were quite new. In fact, Russ and I watched most of the houses around us rise from the raw prairie. Our birdwatching was more or less limited then to distraught killdeer mothers frantically trying to protect their nests from the tractor-drawn mowers sent to scalp the empty acres a couple times a year.
Kids called most of these houses “home.” But as Hot Wheels on the sidewalk yielded to 10-speed bikes on the street, Nature had its inevitable way with the vicinity. Curbs became crowded with teenagers’ cars. Late at night, our bedsprings vibrated with the rhythmic bass blasted from their stadium-grade speakers.
Then came graduation parties in garages. Then came wedding invitations. Then the resident population thinned as offspring whom we’d watched grow up from our front window left home for college, eventually showing up only for occasional visits … with kids of their own.
It’s a long and subtle slide, like the farewell of autumn and the first hints of winter. We barely noticed from day to day … except at Halloween.
During our first years on this stretch of Rivershore Drive, we laid in a supply of candy fit to provision the Mongol hordes. Halloween was a major occasion! While Russ accompanied our daughter on her first rounds to gather trick ’n treat bounty — all the gooey gobs of glucose that nutrition mavens abhor — it was my job to man the barricades at home.
The little goblins numbered in the hundreds during our early years. Every chime of the doorbell meant another trip downstairs to the front door. At peak moments, I’d settle for the evening on the bottom step to save my knees and shoe leather.
That was in the 1980s. Even though the world still seemed a simpler and safer place, you could spot shadowy figures lingering at the end of the driveway … watchful parents dragooned into accompanying their young adventurers on the annual candy harvest. Sarah Ann Rairdon, the little girl who disappeared from Underwood, Minn., in 1985, was still in the news; Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping dominated headlines of the day; the mystery of Jenna North still lay ahead. Moms and dads were on alert whenever their youngsters ventured out of arm’s reach. While we coached our kids to bravely walk up and ring the doorbell, we ourselves felt a kind of fear our own parents had never known.
But there really wasn’t much to fear here at Halloween. Rivershore Drive was lit like Times Square — curtained windows aglow, outdoor lights beaming, electric ghosts and jack o’lanterns and Snoopies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles standing guard on nearly every doorstep.
And the crowds! We’d watch station wagons unload small herds of hopeful treat crews at the corner. They came to the door by sixes and eights, holding out plastic pumpkins or shopping bags or pillowcases already half-full of the kind of harvest that’s kept dentists in demand until this very day. I’d peek at them from the peephole in the door, then throw it open with a cauldron of Tootsie Pops or Hershey Miniatures in my arms. Sure, their faces would fall for a moment — they were hoping for full-size Snickers. Then they’d rearrange them in a parent-coached smile and dutifully murmured their thanks. After all, the paltry payoff did contain chocolate.
Why not make their dreams come true, you ask? We don’t like Snickers. On the other hand, we do favor Tootsies and Hershey bites … not that, in those days, there were many left at evening’s end for the home crew to devour.
The last few years have told a different story. Last time, the street was mostly dark. The sidewalks were deserted. We’d stocked up on treats, but waited in vain. By 6:30 p.m., we were nibbling them ourselves and had turned out the lights on the garage. Nada. The neighborhood had outgrown Halloween.
Of course, it’s not only that we and our neighbors have surpassed our salad days. Here on our stretch, the census of houses has shrunk by half, with flood control erasing the more elaborate riverside homes where kids’ dreams of Snickers were likeliest to come true. Meanwhile, today’s costumed candy crusaders tend to head for the climate-controlled comfort of trick-or-treating in the malls. The only creatures knocking on our door these days are the offspring of friends escorted by a beaming dad or granddad. Their motives lean more toward exhibiting their dear little munchkins than gathering sugary treats that Mom wouldn’t approve anyway.
What goes around eventually comes back around again. While quite a few of our longtime neighbors have moved to more convenient quarters, we do hear happy children’s voices visiting Grandma and Grandpa in the season of open windows and screen doors. And there’s a harbinger of things to come. One nearby home has turned over into new hands. Two supercharged youngsters are having the time of their lives chasing each other around their yard. More to come?
As our neighborhood continues its generational drift — replacing our peers with spry and youthful households perhaps our allotment of witches and devils, superheroes and Sponge Bobs, may rise again. I doubt, though, that they’ll ever again rival the bumper crops of kids from the era when our area was new.
On the one hand, that means no prospect again next Tuesday of greeting giddy Disney princesses and Transformers on our venerable front step.
On the other … our supply of Tootsie Pops may last past Christmas.