Tired of hearing reminiscences about the “good old days”? Well, bear with me if I give you one more. I grew up in the fifties on the South Side of Chicago—inner city neighborhood where today I wouldn’t let my grandchildren walk next door alone. But Halloween is one of my fondest memories. At the ages of ten or twelve, I was allowed to roam free, with friends, after dark—and roam we did, through those tiny dark alleyways between apartment buildings where anything (or anyone) could have jumped out at us. The streets were full of kids just like us, and our parents were home passing out treats. It was a grand time of freedom.
By the time my kids were that age, we let them go maybe in the block we lived on, and we stayed on the curb keeping a close watch. They had freedom—but not nearly as much. Today my grandchildren never go trick or treating alone. An adult always accompanies them. And, truth be told, I don’t like to be the adult left home alone to pass out treats. Alone in my own home, I’ve been known to turn out all the lights, bring the dog in, and ignore the doorbell. It made me feel like Scrooge but I also felt safe—some of those trick-or-treaters got pretty darn big. The last few years I’ve sat on my neighbor’s porch, where I can watch my house and enjoy the little kids who come with their parents and their fanciful costumes. They’re sweet, polite, and lots of fun. But there are those occasional over-age ones with an attitude.
To me Halloween is a sad reflection of how our world has changed and how childhood has changed. Kids don’t have the freedom to run and play throughout the neighborhood that older generations enjoyed. Back in the day, during the summer children flew out the door after breakfast, knew to reappear for lunch, and came home when Mom called out “Dinner!” or rang a bell. Unheard of today when we have carefully pre-arranged play dates for our children.
This changing world is reflected in the celebration of Halloween in my three Kelly O’Connell Mysteries—Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, and Trouble in a Big Box. Each year the celebration of Halloween grows more constricted for the girls, as danger and threats surround their mother. One of the premises of the series is that danger lurks even in small, seemingly peaceful neighborhoods, and this is never more evident than at Halloween.
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