A recent reflection on a childhood steeped in dysfunction and turmoil revealed that my family had one thing on every other family in our neighborhood. Our holidays were actually quite pleasant. Television sitcoms, comedians and literature set the greatest familial battles around holidays.
Somehow, in some inexplicable way my father, my stepmother and the white-trash Brady Bunch they created always managed to get the holidays right.
Christmas, the Fourth of July and Halloween continue to stand out as moments of peace in an otherwise tumultuous upbringing. Holidays seemed to represent a sober respite in my father’s otherwise vodka-soaked days. I’ve never seen a non-terrorist spend more money on explosives in July. He was the Timothy McVeigh of our hood. No matter how poor we were, we always had the most amazing Christmas presents in the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure some of it was hot, but it’s the thought that counts.
What you don’t see in classic horror films are the banal moments when the villagers go about their day-to-day lives. Sometimes the monster takes a break from terrorizing the village. Frankenstein’s monster isn’t always there. It like living under the oppressive thumb of a ruthless dictator: There’s never a moment in the day where you don’t know that he’s out there somewhere plotting something terrible, but really, someone has to do the villagers’ taxes, so you’d better get back to work.
In my non-movie world, somewhere out there was a bar with bartenders with horrible judgment. They knew the monster and the destruction that he could bring to this world. For some reason they couldn’t help waving vodkas around like a torch stoking the fear, confusion and the insecurity that come with not being a real man.
As the family’s heavy-reader, Halloween was a chance to channel my artistic expression via a medium that didn’t stir up whispers about my sexual orientation. Pumpkin carving was a joy. Vegan readers take note: Carving a pumpkin is akin to killing an animal. You slice it open, you rip out its guts and you take its seed. It’s like a giving a gourd a vasectomy.
Pumpkins play a large role in the story of Halloween 1992 which serves as a lone hiccup in a childhood of drama-free holidays.
Our large home on the bluffs above the Mississippi River stood isolated from any main road. A long gravel driveway connected us to the street. That meant we needed to figure out a way to funnel trick-or-treaters down to the brown mansion on the hill. No one came the previous year which led to an overwhelming amount of leftover candy. This suited me just fine. My stepmother came up with a great idea to line the driveway with our pumpkins. These would serve as a mysterious beacon beckoning future diabetic children to our doorstep.
We set them out before the sun went down. There were six pumpkins altered on either side of the driveway creating a path of light to a candied utopia. I could see their orange glow from my bedroom situated perfectly on the second floor of the northwest corner of the house. I felt a calm come over me as I readied my lazy hobo costume ahead of my own candy-coated adventure.
Then I heard the loud roar of my dad’s vintage Chevy pickup. He backed in the drive and parked bumper to bumper with my stepmother’s brown Oldsmobile Toronado. There are clues that let you know that the monster has entered the village. It can be the way a truck door slams. It can be a distant scream. It might be the scattering of the villagers. My stepsister and stepbrother took refuge in my bedroom.
After years of monster terror, the villagers’ response becomes rote as if one says, “(Sigh) I really don’t need this monster business right now. I really need to finish this paperwork.” There’s also a sense, something sewn deep in the human biology that wants to bear witness to the destruction. It’s a morbid sense that if you’re going to experience harm, that you don’t want to be taken by surprise.
There’s a sound an argument makes when you can’t make out the words. There was the stepmother’s high-pitched screaming and my father’s unintelligible smoker’s yell. To this day, none of us know why they were arguing. By now we were gathered at the window watching dad struggle to get into his truck. He slammed the door. He revved the engine. He backed it in to the grill of my stepmother’s car.
An accident maybe? Nope, he did it four more times taking great pains to get more distance for momentum between each horrifying metal-on-metal crunch.
I could hear the gravel spit from beneath his tires and he sped up the driveway. He weaved the rusted old truck taking great pains to mash each pumpkin beneath its wheels. It was like we were watching the world’s worst slalom skier strike every flag on his way down the hill.
I image that he wasn’t too drunk because he went a perfect six-for-six on his way out. He extinguished every light that led away from the home.
Ten minutes of continuous silence followed. We were assured that the monster wouldn’t return to the village tonight.
There would be no Halloween visitors to our village tonight as word of the monster’s destruction spread through the neighborhood. We did what the survivors always do. We surveyed the damage. We cleaned up the mess. We went back to our lives.
Someone’s got to eat all of this leftover candy.