Years ago, I was working as a feature writer for The Baltimore Sun newspaper when an editor told me to go find a Halloween story. I think my editor had a vague idea of me interviewing a father who was trying to convince his kids to not get a violent, bloody costume — or maybe a modern Mom who wanted her daughter to dress up like a brain surgeon instead of Cinderella.
Armed with a pen and the trusty spiral notebook that fit so well into my back pocket, I hit a Halloween costume store and did what I loved: Wandered around and watched people. Within an hour, I had my story. But instead of the interview I expected, I stumbled across something very different.
The woman who caught my attention was a mother of five, and her two oldest kids had suddenly decided dressing up wasn’t cool in junior high school. My article became a story about a woman who was mourning the loss of childhood. She talked longingly about how she’d helped transform her older boys into anything their imagination desired in years past – once, one of her kids had morphed into a box of popcorn, with real popcorn sewn onto his hat. But the decision to leave Halloween behind was theirs alone; that was part of growing up. So she hid her sadness from them.
Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the chocolate. Like the Mom I interviewed, I love the fact that Halloween celebrates imagination. And the reason why I’m incredulous, ecstatic, and beyond grateful that I now write fiction is because it means I never have to leave that piece of my childhood behind.
As a little girl, I spent hours daydreaming, happily inhabiting the colorful stories that played out in my head. Most of the time adults didn’t understand this; to them I probably appeared spacey and unfocused. But on Halloween – on that one magical day – adults joined in the celebration with me, understanding that I really was a fairy princess, or an Olympic gymnast, or a fat orange pumpkin with skinny little legs.
This year I bought a giant, hot-pink, fuzzy hat to wear while my husband and I take our kids trick-or-treating. I’ll put away the hat for another year on November 1, but my imagination gets to stay. Because there are characters to create – people who do and say things that completely surprise me – and scenes to craft, and moods to conjure, and it all comes from the strange, shimmering place I remember so well from my childhood. The place we all get to visit, on Halloween.