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Halloween on the prairie

Oct 31, 2013 - By Betty Starks Case

Somehow, we found a way to make it fun

Do I realize that this column hits print on Halloween? That it could fall victim to a heap of melting chocolate dumped on the coffee table from a trick-or-treat bag?

Yes. It may happen. I'm writing anyway.

To begin, I just couldn't believe the high hopes of stores stocked with endless Halloween "savings and rollbacks" -- from costume extremes to aisles of candies and ghosts. And then I saw a pretty orange glass pumpkin jar and found myself trying to justify its purchase.

I know kids get excited over all those goodies. Most manage to get their parents enthused as well.

This peculiar annual celebration occurs because Halloween declares a temporary lapse in a sacred parental rule: Candy can ruin your teeth, give you diabetes, launch you on the fast track to overweight.

But tonight -- go for it!

Now my mind launches a rollback of its own, making stops at past Halloweens, some of which leave haunting imprints on my memory.

We didn't used to make such an event of the celebration as is done today.

For one thing, not many had the money. But my schoolteacher mother couldn't always just let it slip by, either.

One year on the South Dakota prairie, she gathered up her courage and invited a number of our schoolmates to a Halloween party at our home.

My father drove all about the county to gather up guests and return them to their homes when the event ended.

How else could you get enough kids together on that wide prairie land for a party? School buses did not exist. Kids walked miles to school. On occasion, a determined mother moved to town for the school year to get her children educated.

So our party, in the view of my sisters and me, was a huge success. We bobbed for apples, screamed, shivered, ran from wailing ghosts who mysteriously appeared over the little pasture hill, and ate homemade cookies and popcorn balls, leaving a dent of delight in my memory to this day.

Very little cost was involved, except for the gasoline and simple, homemade refreshments.

Years later, living a country life ourselves, my mate's and my 6-year-old son learned about wild creatures and decided he'd like a skunk costume for his school's Halloween party.

Eventually, I figured out how to create a fairly accurate costume from black and white crepe paper, curling the fringed tail with scissor blades and tying it up to his back.

Then he decided it would enhance his costume if he ran around at the party squirting perfume from an atomizer I'd received as a gift.

I didn't care for the fragrance, so I agreed.

At evening's end in a reeking gym, Son was awarded first prize -- the judge's decision, I suspect, born of a need for a long breath of fresh air.

At our present home a few years ago, on the night before Halloween a couple of adults with several children rang our doorbell and demanded in unison, "Trick or treat!"

The adults wore hollowed-out pumpkins over their heads, the kids in concealing costumes.

"You're a day early," I said. "Come tomorrow night."

"Trick or treat!" the voices demanded, increasing in volume.

"I said tomorrow," I insisted.

Finally, the pumpkins came off, revealing my niece, her husband and their children.

I offered candy.

"No thank you," came the laughing response. "The trick was our treat."

Last Halloween I was greeted by a small boy whose costume caught my eye.

"You look like you came from outer space," I said. "Which planet are you from?"

"Wyoming," came the reply.

Planet Wyoming. I like that. And thank you, young man, for a whole new way of looking at our unique and often fiercely independent state.

Last weekend, in keeping with the coming season of horror, my mate and I watched yet another showing of "Jurassic Park." It still makes me quiver and quake.

That night, I did not dream of dinosaurs born of a mosquito preserved in a drop of amber. But I didn't sleep much, either.

Maybe it was only the wind bringing in the latest snowstorm.

About 2 a.m., I heard a roar outside our bedroom window -- a moan in the dark.

It was a long time until morning -- and not yet Halloween ...

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