The day was April 24th, 1982 and despite the warm spring air and pink blossoms blowing in the breeze, it was Halloween.
That may sound like an impossibility, but to a fresh four-year-old anything is possible.
From as far back as I could remember Halloween always engrossed me, washing over my childhood mind like a bloody waterfall filled with werewolves. Where other kids loved to dress up as Batman or Spider-Man, I loved zombies, mummies, and the macabre pickings of a cloudy Friday the 13th.
For some children Christmas is the one day of the year that can’t be topped. I get it. Presents are cool. Even back then I understood the superiority of Christmas over Halloween on an empirical level. I couldn’t deny the evidence. But somehow despite the thrill of waiting for Santa Claus to come down the chimney so I could tear open my gifts, Halloween always trumped it. There’s something about a dark night with a full moon, fall leaves blowing by with a hiss on the wind, that inspired me from my earliest days.
That being the case I of course couldn’t be bothered to wait until October for Halloween to arrive. If you want to torture a three-year-old just tell them to wait for something. I was no different and so I set my sites on the next best day of the year where I could make demands and have them met.
Ah, turning four. Things would be different. I’d get the respect of my peers in pre-school because of my age and experience; new He-Man toys would be pulled from their packages and find adventure in the backyard; hell, I might even get the much-coveted big-wheel that could skid like the General Lee from Dukes of Hazard.
It was a heady time, to be sure.
But more than all the presents or accolades of my fellow kindergartners, one thing excited me beyond my childish capacity to comprehend: my parents had agreed to throw me a Halloween-themed birthday party at my grandmother’s house in Bell Gardens California. Having a birthday at Grandma’s would be enough for any soon-to-be four-year-old, but adding Halloween to the mix? Two words came to mind: Epic Party.
Now of course leading up the event I had to make sure everything would be perfect. I designed my own invitations, being sure to use the quality Crayola crayons and not the waxy knock-off pieces of crap that broke easily. My mother helped me spell everything out properly and then, like John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence, I signed my name, taking time to verify that I had written both E’s in the proper direction.
With the invitations ready I now had to come up with the perfect costume. Every self-respecting four-year-old understands the importance if the costume. I mean, can you imagine what a faux pas it would be if I showed up wearing something from Sesame Street? Big Bird was awesome, but no, this required panache. My mom suggested I go as Superman since he was, and still is, my favorite superhero. Even that wouldn’t do. Superman at a Halloween-themed birthday? I might as well pretend it was amateur hour and just buy Oreos instead of making bloody Jack-o-lantern cookies. It would be an embarrassment.
Only one costume would do. It had to be flawless. It had to reinforce the theme and tell everyone I meant business.
It had to be Dracula.
And not just any Dracula. I knew there had to be blood dripping from the fangs and the evil eyes; hair slicked back like Bela Lugosi. I even needed the pale skin so that people would know I represented the undead and thus would trifle with no one. A cape would be needed to round out the ensemble because all self-respecting vampires wore capes. Edward Cullen didn’t exist yet after all, and in my mind still doesn’t.
The day finally arrived, and like a spoiled bride I prepared for dressing. My demands would be met. Luckily my older brother David, who at almost 13 years old had acquired all the make-up skills of a professional artist of at least two years older than that, began his work on my face. I’m sure my father helped, but as far as I was concerned this was a David/Steven joint. Blood drooled from the edges of my mouth; a painted widows peak came to a point on my forehead; tufts of cotton flared over my ears to give me the proper distinguished look of the aged vampire; and my cape…yes the cape…it was perfection despite being basically a black shawl with little round tufts on the fringes.
Dracula had arrived in all his four-year-old glory. His enemies would fear him. The party patrons would stare in awe.
Grandma went all out creating a homemade Halloween cake with giant ghost candles that I kept for years after. The house was decorated in cobwebs and spooky cutouts of ghouls and skeletons. Everyone from friends to my brothers and sisters had dressed up in appropriate attire, turning this April 24th into a day that would transform all future birthdays into mere shadows of themselves. What presents were given has been lost to time, but now almost 40 years later the sights and smells remain; the thrills of a boy getting his birthday wish.
As we transition into Fall with its dried leaves and dark skies, Halloween calls out like a siren song of gruesome delights and frightening images. Christmas has its fans, to be sure, but the twinkling lights and smells of gingerbread will forever be eclipsed by the full moon, barren trees, and hidden creatures lurking in the shadows.
Halloween will always be triumphant.
Even in April, where four-year-olds find joy in birthday parties filled with ghosts and goblins.