Opinion: Painting the town on Halloween


Commentary by Ward Degler

My favorite holiday this year just might be Halloween. Not because of trick-or-treaters – we don’t get them out here – but because I can finally stop stewing about summer. No more failing flower beds. No more enraged weeds. No more lawn mowing.

Summer didn’t have a whole lot going for it this year. To start with, the planting season was a full-scale reenactment of the Great Flood. Noah’s Ark made several appearances in my backyard during April and May, and by mid-June, Noah himself was sending out SOS pleas.

Halloween has changed a lot since I was a kid. For starters, it’s more civilized. Today, parents herd their costumed children safely door-to-door to beg for candy that they aren’t allowed to have any other time of the year. There are apples, of course, and other healthy stuff like fruit bars, but candy corn and mini Snickers bars still dominate the spooky scene.

The Halloween of my youth was more of a community affair. More chamber of commerce than neighborhood association. It was, in fact, a well-rehearsed plan to eliminate ghostly mischief.

It was customary in those days for kids (not me, of course) to prowl the downtown streets with bars of soap, liberally applying streaks and globs of it on store windows. In case you didn’t know, soap on a window can’t be washed off. It has to be scraped off with a razor blade. It was such a problem that some store owners parked themselves in front of their shops all night to keep their windows clear.

Then, the school board and the chamber of commerce got an idea. After lunch on Halloween, kids were let out of school armed with jars of poster paint and paint brushes. For the next few hours, they worked in organized teams painting spooky scenes on the same store windows they used to soap.

At the end of the day, the mayor, the head of the chamber of commerce and the principal of the school would tour the downtown streets, pick the best-painted windows and award cash prizes. The next morning, the kids returned with scrub brushes and buckets and washed the paint off the windows.

Window painting is a thing of the past in my hometown. So is soaping windows. Now, it’s all about pint-sized goblins, witches and ghosts ringing doorbells and yelling, “Trick or treat.”

And seeing who can collect the most Snickers bars, of course.