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Do kids today know that holidays are nowhere near as good as they were when we were kids? For one thing, it snowed more at Christmas back then. It seems we ALWAYS had a white Christmas. Thanksgiving was better too. It started on Tuesday when school got out and continued all week until we went back on the following Monday.

I loved Thanksgiving Day. We drove over to my cousin’s home around 10 am. They had a huge house that could comfortably hold my entire extended family, and it was tradition to show up early for a light buffet of eggs and juice and rolls that my aunt put out. We would lounge around in their finished basement or the TV room, which was a big library where 3 couches and a TV were set up to watch football. I spent most of the day out on the enclosed patio where most of the cousins gathered for board games – while the women cooked dinner and chatted. It was more fun than Christmas because it lasted all-day and well into the evening. I never wanted to leave. There was nothing else like it.

But I think Halloween, more that any other holiday, was much better when I was a kid. For starters, we didn’t have a 6-7 pm time limit for trick-or-treating like they do now. The moment it started getting dark, whoosh, out the door we flew, not returning until our pillowcases were full. If that took 3 hours, so be it. Our parents never came with us so we could hit the good houses – the house that gave out bags of chips and full-size candy bars – 2 or 3 times.

Planning for our costumes began 2 weeks earlier, during art period, when Sister Mary Helen let us to draw what we were going to wear. We didn’t have Costume USA stores back then, so unless your mother was Martha Stewart, you had to fend for yourself regarding costumes. To their credit, the nuns at our school knew this so they spent two weeks with us helping us make our masks and outfits. On Halloween day, we had a contest to see who made the best costume, and although I never won, I did make some pretty damn-cool costumes. My favorite was the bunch of grapes outfit I made in sixth grade. I wore a pair of brown sweatpants and shirt with about 50 green balloons safety pinned to my clothes. On my head I wore one pantyhose leg stuffed with paper to simulate the stem. I think the whole thing cost me 79 cents (for the bag of balloons).

More than anything else, it was watching the Stanislawski’s house transform from a simple house into a haunted graveyard that forever sealed in my mind the notion that Halloween was the best holiday. Now, people do decorate their houses today, and every other strip mall parking lot has a haunted attraction, but back then, almost no one went to the level this family did. The house became an event, complete with smoking dry ice, eerie music, live actors – the older Stanislawski boys in costume – and the most realistic display of dismembered corpses anywhere. Just walking home from school the week before Halloween, and watching their display grow fueled my anticipation to a point that was almost more than I could stand.

It was so good and so frightening that they had to have two people give out candy. The first person was down at the sidewalk. The second was up at the house. What to do! If you chickened-out and took something from the medieval outfitted Mrs. Stanislawski, no one would think less of you. But if you wanted the really good candy, you had to go all the way up to the porch and climb the six steps to Mr. Stanislawski waiting at the smoky door. It was terrifying and I did it only twice, but that was more than some of my friends did. Still, it was more fun to watch others as they attempted to approach the house, only to turn back screaming. My friends and I would turn to one another and proclaim that the display wasn’t half as scary as the year before.

In reality it was. We were all just a year older. The display hadn’t changed, we had. And as time went by and the display seemed less and less scary, its legacy grew in my mind. Halloweens will never be as good as the bone-chilling, blood-curdling trick-or-treats of my childhood simply because it’s Halloween NOW. My kids will look back at this Halloween with all the same reverence and adoration, and tell their own kids that Halloweens were nothing, no, nothing like the gloriously spooky days of their own kid-dom.

That’s the way it should be.

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