By DIANE R. CHODAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
The first Halloween I spent in Dunkirk after being away for 27 years was in 1998. The experience my mom and I had celebrating Halloween here made me want to write a letter to the editor of the OBSERVER or sign up as a guest columnist. I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun we had and even more surprised by how good the kids were.
Larah, Corinne and Ava Rukavina trick-or-treat together.
Halloween was the first of many good things I noticed about Dunkirk - little things I think others may take for granted. Like many of my ideas, I did not follow through on that one at the time and write that letter. I was working full time for the state and doing lots of traveling. Now that I am retired from the state and working full time for the OBSERVER, I think it is finally time to act on the idea and write about Halloween.
I think too often folks criticize Dunkirk when in fact there is so much good about it. Living elsewhere and seeing Dunkirk through my daughter's (and later, granddaughters') eyes made me recognize things I took for granted growing up. Things have changed and there is much I miss about the Dunkirk of my youth, but there are still good things and good people in our city and in our area.
I consider the way Halloween is observed in Dunkirk one of those good things. At my mom's house we get up to 200 visitors if the weather cooperates. Mom and I agree it is worth the price of the treats to participate in the ritual. Quite simply, we enjoy handing out the treats.
Nowadays, the majority of children go out with their parents. They look for the light on over the door which signals a house is willing to have visitors, and avoid the other houses.
I have been particularly impressed with the parents who, without exception, have prompted the children to behave and thank us for the treat. One mother even decided her children should greet those they visit with "Happy Halloween" rather than the more usual "trick or treat." She felt children should be less demanding and more pleasant. While her idea does have merit, we find "trick or treat" acceptable. Yes, it is a threat, but for the most part one delivered in fun.
Even the older children who are allowed to go out without adult supervision have been unfailingly polite. One year, we were running out of candy and I made an emergency run to the store to get more. While I was gone, Mom did not have enough candy to treat everyone in a large group. She explained that I had gone out for more. The older kids decided the younger ones should get the candy, told her not to worry about it, and wished her a happy Halloween.
We love to look at the costumes, especially those that are homemade. For example one young man created a television set costume out of a cardboard box. While he had some help from his parents, it was easy to tell that he had done some of the work himself. This appealed to us because he had obviously worked with his parents on a low-cost alternative to "store-bought" costumes, the family had spent time together working on a project, and the result was something unique. He was thrilled when we asked him to explain how he had gotten the idea and how the costume was made.
Both of us like talking to our visitors. If I don't recognize the costume, I ask for an explanation. I may ask a child if she is portraying her favorite character and why she likes that character. Sometimes we talk about the color of the costume. Sometimes if I just say "that's a great costume" the child explains EVERYTHING about the costume.
My mom insists that the younger children must have the fun-sized candy bars without nuts, while the older children can get the ones with nuts. There are two separate and differently colored plastic pumpkins to hold the treats. We always buy more candy without nuts, because it's all right for older children to have that.
My mom has a special place in her heart for little children. The small ones who do not really understand what this custom is all about always make her smile or laugh. Sometimes she tells the child to open his bag so she can put the treat in. She politely instructs them that one candy bar is enough, and avoids problems by giving the child one instead of having them take the treat from the pumpkin. I have always done that, too. I now realize where I learned that and why it is a good idea.
Sometimes Mom just smiles at the child, and the child smiles back.
When we turn the porch light off, it is always with some regret. Mom and I then sit down and talk about the costumes we liked best, which kids said the funniest things, and how grateful we are that the kids in Dunkirk still have manners.
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