The Halloween Mask by Joe Nunes


Sometimes a “trick” isn’t much of a treat

Trick or Treat! What a catchphrase! It captures the spirit of Halloween perfectly!

For the first twelve years of my life, my focus was on the Treat part of Halloween. But as I got a bit older, I found more fun in the Trick part.

My goal was always to have some harmless fun with my tricks. For example, growing up in San Diego, our high school had an outdoor lunch area, and our “hallways” were covered walkways between buildings. One Halloween, a group of my friends and I put all the tables from the outdoor lunch area on the roofs of the walkways!

Despite my best intentions, sometimes my tricks got out of hand or backfired on me, and the result was not as fun as I imagined it would be. However, I never lost that spirit of fun that is a big part of Halloween. I could take or leave the candy, but I loved to trick people with harmless pranks.

After I married and started a family, my wife and I fell into the habit of her taking the children out to knock on doors in the neighborhood, while I stayed home to dole out treats to the spooks and goblins that came to our house.

I had a lot of fun with the kids who came to the door. Sometimes I would yank open the door and shout “Trick or Treat” before they could say a word. Then I’d start reaching into their bags as though I was going to take their candy. When they complained, I would remind them I shouted “Trick or Treat” first, so I should get the treat. Other times, I would open the door and wait for them to say “Trick or Treat” and then I would say, “Okay, I’ll take a trick. Show me a trick!” Then I would laugh heartily as the kids would try to do some kind of trick!

Halloween is supposed to be a fun night for all involved, and I wanted to do my share to help make it amusing.

One year around 1980, I got a couple of rubber masks that pull over your head. They were designed for an initial surprise, but they really weren’t too scary. All night long, when the doorbell rang, I would put on one of the masks and jerk open the door quickly with a yell. The pack of kids at the door would flinch and then burst into laughter as I handed out the treats.

This went on all evening until it started to wind down. There were fewer knocks on the door. The packs of young children were being replaced with smaller groups of older children who were allowed to stay out later. They were like gleaners going around to scrape up whatever candy was left in the neighborhood. Instead of waiting in the entryway, I retired to the living room to watch a little television between visitors.

The doorbell rang. I got up from the couch and headed toward the front door. On my way, I got the scarier of the two masks and slipped it over my head. Then I grabbed the tray of candy and flung open the door with a giant roar!

I looked down and there stood a little girl, no more than two or three years old, all by herself. She burst into tears and ran down the driveway to her mother, who was waiting on the sidewalk. I immediately tore off the mask and followed. By the time I got to her, she was gulping huge gasps of air between uncontrollable sobs while clinging to her mother’s legs. I felt about a foot tall. I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I had terrified this small child.

I apologized to the mother as she was trying to console her daughter. I thought sure I was about to get a stern lecture from an outraged mother. I was marshaling my defenses, preparing to question what a young girl was doing out that late at night instead of being home in bed already. I apologetically showed her the mask and explained I had no idea there would be someone so young knocking on my door alone that late at night.

To my surprise, she looked up at me with a combination of discouragement and laughter and assured me everything was just fine. As she calmed her daughter, I knelt beside the little girl and showed her it was just a mask, and invited her to take any of the rest of the candy she wanted. Eventually, she calmed down and took the candy, but she never let go of her mother.

As I was getting ready to return to the house, the mother explained what had happened. This was the girl’s first Halloween. They had been out with the earliest trick-or-treaters and had been slowly making the rounds for hours. All night, her mother had been telling her how much fun it was to go up to the houses and yell “Trick or Treat” and be rewarded with a piece of candy. Much of their time had been spent on the sidewalk in front of houses trying to persuade her daughter to go to the door.

Then she gave a small laugh and said, “Your home was the very first one I got her to go up to by herself.”

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