Monday, November 01, 2010
Halloween in Pukekohe
Panic ensues. These are friends of Jaime's. They already know due to my very explicit instructions in a series of Facebook posts that they can not trick-or-treat without a small child. Teenagers are simply not acceptable at the door unless they are escorting a young one. At their age, free lollies require work. And as an American, I have the Halloween Knowledge to enforce this dictum. This is why they have presented themselves on my back door step on a sunny warm evening at the end of October. They are here to collect Aeron – their token small child.
If ever there were an evening less Halloween-y, this would be it. Spring arrived only two weeks ago here in Pukekohe. It feels like it might be a very short one, transitioning immediately into the lovely, warm, incredibly blue summer we remember from our first month in this country. A warm floral breeze wafts gently through the house clearing out the musty odors of winter. It's almost nine and the sun is just beginning to descend on a yard engulfed in riotous spring growth, the grass almost up to our knees. We've thrown open absolutely every window and door in the house to the outside noises of children, birds, and happy dogs.
“What are we going to do?” they ask me. Fortunately, Chicken House is prepared with DrC's costume, leftover face paints, and a whole lot of ratty clothing. Leading the way, Jaime and the boys troop into the bathroom to prepare for the night.
It took research to figure out how we could signal that our house was open to the trick-or-treating phenomena. Not all houses in New Zealand participate. Halloween has not really taken off here in anything like the way it has in the United States. I imagine that the churches inveigh against this most pagan of pagan holidays while at the same time the anti-materialist Greens go on about its American, imperialist consumerism. So not all homes, not all children participate in Halloween. Those who do can not simply put jack-o-lanterns in the yard to signal their willingness to dispense treats. Thing 1) Pumpkins here are green, not orange... which is awkward looking at best. Thing 2) It's daylight... lighting a pumpkin looks ridiculous and doesn't show up from a distance. In New Zealand, you put black and orange balloons on your letterbox which wave gaily in the spring breeze in about as non-threatening a fashion as it is possible to imagine. It looks like we're throwing a birthday party.
“Mrs. C, are we done yet?” the boys have donned some ratty clothes and put on eye makeup. One of them found a plastic monster mask and a black cape. I've seen these kids with “piss and cigies”, hanging out with friends already lost to weed, drink, and dropping out. But tonight, they are in my world where teenagers can have fun without resorting to adult things; they belong to silly costumes, running around in the streets, and candy without a beer, egg, or cigarette in sight. “Almost, gentlemen. A little more paint...” Jaime pulls them back to the mirror as I head into the kitchen to fill the lolly bowl.
This year, the family variously attended five seasonally themed events. Only one of the events came even close to the real spirit of Halloween and that was the afternoon barbie hosted by some friends of ours downtown. I lay this at the feet of Siouxie and Steven who have a circular of well-travelled friends, no small number of whom are from the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Everyone present wore great costumes, the food was fantastic and the conversation brisk, smart and enjoyable. It helps that the two are both university types, their circle of friends truly bright and interesting people, and that Steve has a really nice barbie. Still, standing in my black devil costume on the porch with a chill pear cider, I realized I had to move inside or get a sunburn. New Zealand is so much like Washington state that moments like these – where it's the same but different – leave me disoriented. I couldn't help but contrast this experience with the years during which I had to find clever ways to hide thermals and sweats underneath the girls costumes.
Aeron nods eagerly, the smile splitting her brightly decorated face. She is the center of attention, purpose, and fun this evening. For once in her life, being Jaime's youngest sister is conferring enormous advantage, “I approve!”
Sighs of relief and relaxing of shoulders on the cusp of manhood, bags come out, and a practice chorus of “trick-or-treat” as I pass out chocolates and wave the kids on their way. I call out, “Happy Halloween!” as they disappear down the street, little boys just one more time on this night of Halloween and lollies.