Olathe & Southwest Joco

Living a life of tricks is a treat for this Halloween enthusiast

Susan Vollenweider’s son, Noah, and his girlfriend, Alex, had fun in the neighborhood last year.
Susan Vollenweider’s son, Noah, and his girlfriend, Alex, had fun in the neighborhood last year.

Three words have joyously followed me through my life, first as a costumed kid, then as a candy passer-outer. “Trick or treat!”

I taught my children to say them and followed along listening over years of Halloween jaunts. Just looking at the words, I can feel a Halloween night: chilly, dark, the smell of wood smoke from fire pits in the air, glowing pumpkins at every front door, and flashes of light from kids racing down the typically quiet street that becomes a party for just a few hours, once a year.

My brothers and I grew up in a very small town in Connecticut with a mother who was a professional costume designer. When we were tiny, she made us some amazing costumes but told us at a fairly young age that she wasn’t going to buy or make us any more. If we wanted to go out on Halloween, we had to make our own.

So we did. One year my brother transformed himself into a robot with a couple of boxes and aluminum foil, and another year he was a racecar driver in a cardboard car. I can’t recall a single one I made but Mom wouldn’t take us out without one, so I know that I did. I also know it was a lot of work, with little sugary reward.

Our house was deep in the country. We had one neighbor within walking distance, if you consider 10 minutes walking distance, and don’t forget to add 10 more for my folks to visit with that neighbor. So, we all piled in my parents’ car and drove. If we hit five houses it was a good night, but it was a family event that we did until we were in junior high school. It wasn’t about candy, it was about community.

If Childhood Me was told that she would resume trick-or-treating in college (the Greek houses handed out drinks and the nearby posh houses had full size candy bars) and learned that her future neighborhood went all out for Halloween like it was a movie set, her mind would have been blown. But all those phases had two things in common: Oct. 31 and I wore a costume to each of them.

I love wearing costumes so much that when my kids were tots, I dressed up with them. In those early years, I was an outlier and felt a little awkward passing the suburban-mom-uniform clad women, but dang it, we were adorable!

My kids’ childhood neighborhood is a tightly packed subdivision, the antithesis of my own. But, it’s a subdivision in a small town with lots of country houses like the one I grew up in.

On Halloween, those families come to town and our streets are packed. 15 years ago, I was the weirdo Mom in a costume, but I was just ahead of the trend. Entire families now come up our short driveway dressed up. When my three children outgrew our family trick-or-treat march, they walked around with their friends. Two of them still do and both in costume…they are 23 and 14. Sometimes they knock on doors, mostly they just walk around to be part of the party.

I may be an outlier or ahead of the trend again, but I adore it when teenagers trick or treat. These are kids who face ridicule from their peers, some even from their parents, but enjoy the annual ritual so much they’ll keep it up until they are ready to stop. I kinda think that’s a positive character trait. They know it’s not about candy, it’s about community.

I don’t know what my children’s future Halloweens look like; how long until my daughter stops calling it “cosplay,” and my son stops dressing to match his girlfriend. What I do know is that they’ll have memories different from my own, but equally cherished.

Susan is a Kansas City based writer and podcaster. To listen to the women’s history podcasts that she co-hosts and read more of her work visit thehistorychicks.com or susanvollenweider.com.