Why is October special?
Could it be those leaf squalls slapping you in the face before skittering to the ground?
Is it that surprise morning frost that has you galloping to your car?
Is it the seemingly endless supply of orange pumpkins, faded-yellow corn stalks and strange looking gourds staring at you from every corner?
Or perhaps, it is simply that one friend of yours.
The one who comes to your house, paints up your face and demands that you go out on the town.
That could be what makes October, October.
And maybe that is what makes that friend, your friend.
"Okay," said my mother, back in the mid-sixties, as she tied a kite string around my sister's neck, securing the sheet with holes cut out for her eyes. "Do not eat any candy before we inspect it. And absolutely, no apples. Everyone got it?"
We all nodded.
Now, I am not an historian, a scientist or even that well rounded.
But I am a know-it-all.
And according to me, the Halloween-Apple-Scare, was the beginning of the end of living in the Leave-it-to-Beaver-World that we'd all grown accustomed to.
Evil was so new when I was a kid that it was practically innocent.
The first known hacker of apples was nothing like today's cunning Apple hackers, stealing people's identities with a few strokes of a couple of keys.
The original hacker inserted razor blades into Galas and passed them out as treats. And he had to do it all by hand because computers were very large and very rare at the time.
My Sweet Sven took a computer class in college.
"Millie, it was awful," he said. "You had to punch your program into a stack of cards and if you missed even one little comma or made any tiny error, Fortran1620, the computer which completely filled the computer room, would reject them. And it didn't even tell you why."
"Then what would you do?" I said.
"Then you had to go across the hall to the card punching room and try to find the missing punch."
"And then what?" I said.
"Then after you thought you found the problem and thought that you had it resolved, you had to get back in the line and wait to see Fortran1620 again."
"Did you ever pass the class?"
"Yes. But I cheated."
"I printed off a deck of cards, punched the heck out of the stack and turned them in to my professor."
"Without running them through Fortran1620."
"I had to. That computer never liked anything I ever gave him."
"But how did you pass?"
"My professor must not have tried it either. I think I got a B. Or maybe it was an A."
Well, that explains the sweet computer-hating-cheat that I have been married to for thirty years. And I guess after hearing his horror story I don't blame the first hacker for just hacking by hand. It sounds much easier than standing in line and all that bullshit.
So while my mother was tying kite strings around our necks and Sven was standing in line with a bunch of cards, the apple hacker was busy inserting razor blades into a bushel of Grannysmiths and McIntoshs.
I know this sounds rather difficult, but it was before razors all came on the end of a plastic molded handle in multiples of five, in order to get the smoothest results.
It is a fact that this urban myth is horrifying.
But seriously, no child going door to door, trying to see through tiny slits cut into a sheet that won't stay put, has ever even once, been tempted to stop, take a break and eat piece of fruit.
Yes, I know. Eve had a bit of a problem turning down the shiny Red Delicious. But it was not surrounded with Milky Ways, Kit Kats and Pixie Stix.
I have a feeling that if that ruby-red temptation would have been lying in the bottom of a pillowcase packed with candy, things would have turned out very differently.
As long as I am being factual, here is another fact. The Legendary-All-Hallows-Eve-Apple-Hacker did not have the IQ of today's hackers.
Just how far did he think kids traveled? It's not like we all couldn't remember which house in our neighborhood was handing out the apples. We knew the house with the fruit, the quarters, the homemade popcorn balls, the crappy little tootsie rolls and the full-sized candy bars.
We also knew which ones turned the front porch light turned off.
There would have been no need for Barney Fife and Perry Mason to hunt down, hold a trial and lock away the jerk inserting sharp surprises into apples and passing them out as hors d'oeuvres.
I am sure that any mother who was picking up and throwing away piles of candy wrappers would've spotted it immediately in the bottom of her kid's emptied treat bag and would have asked her child to kindly point out the house that the bruised and battered apple with all the metal sticking out of it, came from.
There were six of us kids growing up in our Catholic cracker box house on the corner under the willow tree.
Every Halloween we got to choose.
We could be a ghost, a hobo or a gypsy.
And it was all done with mirrors.
It was all done with sheets, scarves, charcoal and a crabby mother who did not care much for the holiday.
It was never my favorite holiday either.
It was okay.
They didn't cancel school.
They handed out candy instead of presents.
But then I was twelve and my friends came knocking at my door.
"Can Millie come out?" they said.
I had my foot on the pedal, and I was happily sewing up the side seam of a totally cool dress, complete with a Nehru collar.
"M-I-L-L-I-E!" my mom hollered down the stairs.
"Nah," I said, when they stood behind me in the basement. "I want to finish this tonight."
"What is wrong with you?" they said.
I was not only a pressure of my peers, I was also pressured by my peers.
I liked my peers.
And they liked me.
That is why they call it peer pressure.
I hurriedly rubbed charcoal across my cheeks, threw on a tattered sweatshirt, rolled up my pants, stuffed a small pillow inside a bandana and tied it on the end of a stick that I found in the front yard, on a sprint.
I caught up with my girlfriends at the top of Belin Street.
And that would be the night that I learned what Halloween is really all about.
It turns out that it has nothing to do with candy or apples stuffed full of razor blades.
Halloween happens to be the biggest night out on the town, for tweens.
And we didn't even have that word.
There we were. A gang of girls. Loose. In the dark. Hiding in bushes. Scaring the little ones. Smashing Pumpkins.
I did not smash any pumpkins.
I was a pumpkin protector.
I love pumpkins.
We bumped into a pack of eighth grade boys who were sniffing airplane glue and then falling over in the middle of Gettle Ave.
That really was scary.
The next year when October 31st, rolled around, I was reaching for the doorknob when I heard my dad behind me. "Millie, the only reason you would be going out would be for shenanigans. You don't even have a costume on. You will be staying home."
And that was it for Halloween and Millie Noe.
And then I had kids.
No, not right then. It was eleven years later.
And there I was, the mother rushing around after work, dressing everybody up and freezing my butt off out there in the dark waiting for the little darlings as they went door to door wearing masks they couldn't see out of.
And before I even had a chance to duck, I heard myself say, "There is no reason for you to go out there. You don't even have a costume on."
But in the middle of those years, Halloween came alive.
Maybe it was not wanting to grow up.
Maybe it was not wanting to give up something I never gave a shit about.
Maybe it was just really fun being Bonnie and Clyde and traipsing up and down State Street with fake guns and sipping whiskey out of a flask.
That could have been it.
Or maybe it was all the excitement of winning first place in that costume party down there in The Pit, the year that Sven played himself and I was his bird watching lover.
Or maybe it was just really fun spending a night with the world's strongest man and being photo bombed by an old friend who has since passed.
That could have been it.
Or maybe it had to do with all those crazy stories on November first, like that night the Smurfs went home and made love and then had to throw away their sheets.
Guess you should wash that body paint off before you do the mumbo jumbo.
Halloween is the biggest night out, for tweens.
They can continue to have the time of their young, pumpkin-smashing-lives until their dad
figures out that they are out there smashing pumpkins. Or, as in my case, protecting sweet little jack-o-lanterns.
But what about the rest of us?
Don't we count?
I think we do.
We are tween life and death, as long as we are breathing in and out.
Go to your closet and try on that old mask.
Carve a pumpkin or three.
Put in some teeth.
Try on a wig.
Find that old eye patch.
Pin on a tail. Go to a party. Put a blade in an apple.
Dig out your pitch fork. Clip on a nose. Slap on some ears.
Take a ride from a witch.
Let your hair down.
Don't worry. Your secret
is safe with me.
What happens at Condoween, stays at the condo.
The previous advertisement was brought to you and paid for by the Condo Association.
Sugar skull art by Bev Bingham.