When I was in middle school, I couldn’t wait until eighth grade. Every Halloween, the eighth grade class at my Catholic school would sponsor a haunted house for the community. Since I was an unpopular — and pretty dorky — child, I envisioned that haunted house as my time to shine. I would disguise myself as a monster and be the most terrifying — and popular — character in the school. I was crushed upon entering eighth grade and learning that the church was cancelling the haunted house.
Perhaps that emotional scar I still carry with me is what makes Halloween my favorite holiday. It’s the one day of the year when I can channel that 13-year-old dork and transform myself into anyone — or anything — I want to be. From visiting haunted houses as a teenager to attending Halloween parties as a young adult, I embraced Oct. 31, costumes always necessary.
My three sons have been incorporated into my celebration of Halloween. Our house has turned into the place to be for Halloween for my children and their friends. And it has become the house that trick-or-treaters remember and revisit year after year.
The preparation starts several weeks beforehand, as I create as spooky a front yard as my wife will let me. A mock graveyard adorns our front lawn. Black lights dangle from our awning. A full-size skeleton hangs on our garage. Skull lights circle our front bushes. Severed heads swing from a dead tree (it’s literally dead and despite Carla’s wished, I refuse to chop it down because of its awesome Halloween effect). Barbed wire circles our mailbox. Spider webs are tangled between our bushes. And most importantly, a mummy welcomes visitors as they enter our walkway. With their mother’s help, my oldest boys carved up scary pumpkins to add to the scenery. Without a doubt, my house is the spookiest — if not the only decorated — home in our neighborhood.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Dennis household is where Halloween is celebrated amongst our friends with kids. After some pizza and drinks, our home is the staging area for our children to assume their alternate identities. Jaydon morphed into a scary ghost. Jackson was a sword-fighting ghost (his creation). Baby Matthew was a pumpkin. Our friends’ children included a panda bear, Harry Potter, a hippie, a cat, Iron Man, a witch and a lion. It was quite a crowd.
The parade starts as the motley crew marches down to the Halloween festival that our neighborhood sponsors. And then starts the magic of trick-or-treating. All the kids, with parents in tow, head up and down our subdivision seeking their treats. The tricks, however, remain at our house. While they’re off trick-or-treating, I return to the Halloween headquarters and morph into a monster.
I shut off all the lights in the home, flip on a strobe light and blare the “blood theme” from the show Dexter. I close the door a crack and wait for the victims — I mean — trick-or-treaters. I hear voices as parents urge their hesitant children to walk through the graveyard, past the mummy and approach the door. As they say “trick-or-treat,” I slowly open our creaky front door (it’s always creaky and despite my wife’s wishes, I refuse to grease the door because of its awesome Halloween effect). The first sight is a bloody machete I expose, then I peak through the door crack and offer up some candy.
I’m not cruel. If I notice a child is scared I take off my mask and assure them it’s all fake. But the real fun is when an older child, who probably is too old to trick-or-treat anyway, provokes me by saying, “I’m not scared.” Then the chase begins. And they always escape unscathed, at least physically.
My Halloween reputation is strong. Several parents drive their children to our neighborhood specifically to visit our house. Some have asked me (as the monster) to pose for pictures with their kids. Even when I visit our neighborhood elementary and middle schools, some students will recognize me as “that scary dude from Halloween.” And best of all, my oldest son is proud when his father is recognized as “that scary dude.”
It’s difficult as parents to maintain our own selfish interests while meeting the needs of our children. But in the case of Halloween, I have scored.
My 13-year-old self would be proud.