There’s one on every block. In some places there are two or more. Halloween decorations have become at least as popular as Christmas decorations which is why they come out at the same time and can we please not have Christmas decorations on store shelves in August?
The variety and scope of Halloween decorations is just amazing too—in fact I’d say it’s one of the things that makes Halloween the better holiday because the decorations are so much more diverse.
It’s fun to see so many houses decorated for Halloween because I remember when I was a kid there was just one house in my entire neighborhood that was decorated. There were plenty of houses handing out candy, but most just had their porch light on—the common signal that a house is open.
I don’t want to say things were better back then but there was a special excitement generated by just one house, and it was always the same house. We only knew her as Ms. Linda and, for most of the year, she was just the woman who managed the lunchroom. She was not one of the lunch ladies who, for all their lousy portrayals in movies and TV shows, seemed nice enough in their white coats and hairnets. Sure, they were slinging reconstituted potatoes and highly processed meat and stewed prunes into the compartments of our plastic lunch trays, but they always did it with a smile.
Ms. Linda was the overseer of the lunchroom itself. It was her job to keep it from devolving into more of a warzone than it already was, and she did it with a smile too. October was her favorite time of year. She’d read aloud, usually from The Thing At The Foot Of The Bed, a collection of scary stories that include murder, beheading, and a guy who literally shoots himself in the foot. It’s great family entertainment—if you’re the Addams Family. Silence reigned in the lunchroom while Ms. Linda read.
Somehow from one Halloween to the next I always forgot about her house, even that it was Ms. Linda’s house, but word would get around among trick-or-treaters that there was a house down the street that we absolutely had to go to. She had her porch lights on—and they were blue and green, and her front door was open so we could walk right into her living room, among cardboard skeletons and around a large pot of bubbling dry ice. A boom box sat in one corner playing The Monster Mash. It was impressive. It was even more impressive when you realized she made most of the decorations herself–Halloween wasn’t nearly as big a deal then.
Then there was Ms. Linda herself in a long black dress, her gray hair teased out in every direction, her face painted green. She’d drop a satchel of candy right in your bag, bucket, or container without breaking eye contact then swoop away to give some to another kid.
That parcel of candy was the only one our parents didn’t have to check. The Sweet Tarts, candy corn, and assorted chocolate bars it contained were all still in their original wrappers anyway, but we also knew Ms. Linda wouldn’t hurt us.
Now that I think back on it, though, I’m a little surprised. Halloween would have been the perfect time for her to exact her revenge for all the other months of screaming, food-throwing, and having to break up fights, but Ms. Linda really liked us and she was an adult who really liked Halloween. And I’ve only just realized, looking at all the decorated houses, how much of an inspiration she was.
This cheered me up when I read it for the first time in October and it’s cheering me up again today. Thanks to you, Chris, and to Ms. Linda for the inspiration.
I think we all had a Ms. Linda in our neighborhoods, and I suspect you’re one yourself, Ann, which makes me very happy.