Chocolate And Halloween Pillow Cases
Finally, October 31st arrived. We’d waited so long. Our moms would feed us the obligatory sauced-up hotdog or macaroni and cheese. We’d impatiently tick-tock away the sunset, and then we’d pull our winter coats and hats on over the costumes we’d spent the year painstakingly planning. It was okay though, because the fruits of our childhood and labor would be rewarded in Countrywood.
On Halloween, there was only one neighborhood worth visiting. The subdivision of Countrywood was notorious for haboring a natural spookiness and the best candy north of the Missouri River. The lights from the two and three-story houses flickered like jack-o-lanterns through a forest, which garnished the windy, blind-spot-ridden outer-road that led us toward our bounty. My best friend Stephanie lived in a green house on a cul-de-sac in the middle of Countrywood. We’d meet up after dinner to reap the benefits of her loaded neighbors. One year we twirled up their driveways in poodle-skirt costumes. The next year, we shuffled around in our hippie bell bottoms. The costumes didn’t actually matter because, like I said, our moms made us wear our winter coats, but no matter the weather, we tirelessly hit up the Santoro’s and the Svetlic’s and the Caruso’s because the candy was like gold for fourth graders. Homemade caramel apples with sprinkles and chocolate? We were there. The guy who owned Lays potato chips lived across the street from an eventual high school boyfriend — trick-or-treating at his door was like playing a lottery that always paid out. A knock might produce your choice of king-size chocolate bar. And when the kiddos depleted his collection, he handed out crisp green bills. Despite our early bedtimes, Stephanie and I made sure to save his door for last.
The houses of Countrywood were set well off of the roads that branched from the subdivision’s main artery. Weeping Willows cast black shadows like witches on the moon. On rainy nights, fog lifted from the asphalt and swept us up in our own convoluted ghost stories. In third grade, after happening into The Tell-Tale Heart, we both we fell into a voracious Edgar Allen Poe phase, which prompted a fantastic search for mysterious heartbeats under cement driveways. Steph had the guts to quietly put her ear to the pavement. I waited at the end, too scared to do anything but watch for other trick-or-treaters who might have amassed a better collection that us.
In all areas, Steph possessed the stomach for Halloween — not just for the candy, but for the horrors that came with it. She had a penchant for terrifying movies (As a nine-year-old I watched my first R-rated films at her house and slept in my parents’ room for days after) and playing Houdini in a locked trunk in the basement of her house. To me, Steph was magical. Completely of another world — she was (and is) disturbingly brilliant, but her willowy, waif-ish figure imbued her with a cosmic quality. She was also entirely practical. Steph taught me to use a pillow case for candy. The plastic bags I’d tried in previous neighborhoods never stood a chance in Countrywood; After a mere half-hour, our sacked linens heaved with bite-size Twix, Twizzler sticks and popcorn balls. Between houses, we’d run to the trees to dig into our stash — an indulgence performed more to lighten the load in order for my frail friend to carry the weight than fill up on sugar.
Under our coats and costumes, our goose-bumped skin rose with our own delighted cackles: We figured out how to hit certain houses twice. Soon, our tiny, sugar-bloated bellies forced us to give up on the snacking — we resorted to dragging our overflowing trundles for more and more treats. Like every kid, I never wanted Halloween night to end, but somehow my mom would always know here to park her car — there she’d be, waiting, at the top of the unlit street.
Eventually, Steph’s parents divorced. We got older. We got busy. High school left us with fewer excuses to participate in our favorite holiday. By the time we were 14, the joy of a king-size Hersheys bar was lost on a bottle of Smirnoff Ice. It’s strange that both experiences existed in the same neighborhood.
When I think about Countrywood, I envision a secret, swollen envelope of happiness, sugar-rushes and pointlessly pivotal moments that have made me who I am. I wonder what Steph would say. I’ll never look at a pillowcase the same way, but I suppose my belly now feels a little less…sweet.
*Throughout our friendship, Steph would tell me many necessary things I didn’t know: Like what a douche bag meant and that popcorn should always be eaten with peanut M&Ms.