John Carlson: 2020 Has Been No Treat

Masks like these aren’t the kind most of us have been wearing this weird year. Photo by Nancy CarlsonMasks like these aren’t the kind most of us have been wearing this weird year. Photo by Nancy Carlson

By John Carlson—

There’s a new boogeyman haunting the streets of Muncie this Halloween, and his name is COVID-19.

For kids, this sucks.

Looking back on my past Halloweens, I remember them as an unrestrained joy, special days that lasted well into my forties.

Not that in my forties I pretended to be a kid. I wasn’t going door-to-door all scrunched down while holding a paper sack and hollering “Trick or treat!” in a pre-pubescent falsetto. Much as I loved them, my trick-or-treating days ended once I hit thirteen.

But then my own kids came along. That meant I could renew acquaintances with this favorite holiday, accompanying them on those chilly, misty October evenings when witches and princesses, Martians and zombies roamed the streets.

For me, my kids’ Halloween years were as fun as my own had been. It was a joy to walk with my daughter Katie dressed as a crazy scullery maid, and my son Johnny dressed as a smoke-stained fireman whose firehose had been temporarily unplugged from our Hoover vacuum cleaner.

We lived in Yorktown then, and made our rounds one street over in a neighborhood crawling with children. It was the rare house that didn’t offer a welcoming porch light. Then when my kids’ bags were filled, we’d head home to Nancy, order a couple pizzas and run through the TV channels looking for classic horror movies like  “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” or maybe “The Mummy’s Ghost.”

If you liked a good scare, that seemed about as much fun as parenting could offer.

Still, even I knew there were limits to it. In our nighttime perambulations I’d encountered a few trick-or-treaters whose chin whiskers seemed thicker than mine, costumed kids who could have sung bass in a doo-wop group. That was why, based on my own childhood experience, I laid down the law to my kids: Once you hit thirteen, your role was to pass out candy, not collect it.

But what nobody warned me about was how quickly kids went from age four to thirteen. Katie hit it in no time. Appropriately enough, considering the holiday was Halloween, the rapidity of this scared the bejesus out of me, but at least I still had my son to accompany. Then true to form, in a snap of my fingers he turned thirteen, too.

No more trick-or-treating for them, and no more accompanying them for me, all based on my arbitrary decision regarding when they should stop.

Suddenly, I wished I’d kept my mouth shut.

While the kids paid a price for my foolishness, it turned out the price I paid was just as bad, and not only because I couldn’t hit the streets with them anymore.

For years I had considered Halloween candy-looting parents to be depraved individuals. I knew this was true because I was a depraved Halloween candy-looting parent myself, going through my kids bags whenever they were unfortunate enough to be attending school. You could read it in their confused faces when they got home, discovering their pitiful mini-boxes of Chiclets chewing gum remained intact, while their tiny Milky Way and Kit-Kat bars had mysteriously disappeared.

If this seems deplorable behavior, keep in mind that I had always suspected my Dad of looting my haul of Halloween candy, too, though I could never be sure.

It seemed likely, however.

Craving chocolate was firmly embedded in the Carlson family’s DNA. At least it was among the males. Once when I was a grade-school kid, Dad and I practically had an Old West showdown over that sweet, tasty stuff.

Walking into our kitchen early one evening, I had casually opened a cupboard door, spied the last big chunk of chocolate in a bag Dad had set aside, then grabbed it. At that very moment, he entered the kitchen from the opposite end, spotted his chocolate in my grubby little mitts and stopped dead in his tracks.

I stared him in the eyes, measuring his intentions.

He stared me back in the eyes, mentally calculating how fast he could be on me.

Then at the same split second, he sprang as I instantly crammed that whole chunk of chocolate into my mouth.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe he didn’t hoist me aloft by my ankles and shake me around trying to make me spit it out. As it was, let’s just say our father-son relationship was somewhat strained for the next several hours.

Meanwhile, my kids’ turning thirteen marked the end of my parental candy-looting career.

But back to COVID-19…

The coronavirus has put the hurt on so many people, kids no less than adults, at an age when their lives should be mostly carefree. Given the limited nights of trick-or-treating in a child’s life, this feels unfair. It’s screwing up things due to a virus as nebulous yet scary as the ghostly presence of Michael Myers, lurking in a shadowy doorway in “Halloween.”

Guess that’s just how it is, though.

Somehow, I hope the kids make the most of it this year anyway, have a little Halloween fun and stock up on some candy while they’re at it. Trick-or-treating is still on, after all, though how that will play out is anybody’s guess.

No doubt about one thing, though.

Being short on treats, 2020 has definitely been a trick.


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.