Happy Halloween - Martha Randolph Carr

As a grownup, we can approach Halloween from two directions. We can either get dressed up and hit the party circuit, or we can get dressed up and answer our door.

Some try to figure out how to do both, but I prefer focusing on the kids. It gives me a chance every year to remember what a great time I had as a kid in my old neighborhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Every child knows that after the summer vacation the next good holiday to look forward to is Halloween. That's how kids mark the calendar, holiday to holiday. The newness of school could make some of the time fly by, but by mid-October everyone at Lafayette Elementary, where I went to school, was excited about what costume we'd wear and how much candy we might snag.

As the holiday approached, my friends discussed what we might be that year. I always wanted to be a gypsy, so I could wear a lot of cheap jewelry and heavy makeup. The jewelry, a drawer full of it, was from years of Christmas gifts my brother, Jeff, and I bought at the gift shop where Dad was a rector at Christ Church, in downtown Philadelphia. None of it was subtle or small or remotely real. Mom always looked appropriately thrilled and wore it on a rare occasion.

I globbed it on for Halloween, layer after layer. Large rhinestone pins, big shiny blue beads, large gold cat pins that could pull on your clothes with their weight. I loved the stuff.

Our next door neighbors, the Schraeders were our favorite stop. They were an older couple with no children and treated all the kids in the neighborhood like grandchildren. If one of us scraped up a knee, which happened on a regular basis, and passed the Schraeder's bawling on the way home, Mrs. Schraeder fixed you up before you got all the way home, and then sat you down with something to eat.

Halloween that year fell on a Thursday, which was almost perfection. There was only one long day of school until we were reunited with the loot and we'd be free to eat and trade.

We trick-or-treated as a group. Frankie Hines as a soldier wearing a lot of his dad's old army gear, the Daft girls in their Fourth of July costumes, which were good but we'd seen it. Little Herbie Fisher from across Cotler Drive wanted to be Frankenstein, big and tough. Jeff went as a skeleton in a costume my mother had made for him.

The weather in Philadelphia in late October was already cold and ours was the only mother who made our costumes so our coats would fit underneath. "You wouldn't make it to five houses," she'd say in a surprised voice. We always protested, but we were the only two kids who lasted until we had knocked on every door.

Our favorites were the Schraeders, the Williams' who gave out a penny for each year of your age, and our own house where Mom would let you take two. Our least favorite was the dentist down at the other end of Juniper Drive who gave out toothbrushes.

All along the winding path we took around the five blocks near our house, my brother and I thought we were setting out alone, giddy with our own sense of independence.

However, Dad was always just two houses behind us, carefully hidden in the shadows, creeping around by the bushes, so we wouldn't see him. The neighbors saw him bringing up the rear, but they didn't tell us until we were grown.

Now, when I see the excited fairy princesses and Power Rangers at my door holding open their bags, I take a moment to remember all of my childhood pals and our race around what seemed like such a big world. I wave to the parents standing down by the street and wonder why anyone would want to be anywhere else. Happy Halloween everyone.

Martha Randolph Carr's popular column now has friends on the web at www.MarthasBigAdventure.com. Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.