At our house, we’ve always loved getting into the Halloween spirit. Rylie would often decorate the house with those crazy cotton spiderwebs that seem to attach themselves to both nothing and everything at the same time. Ziggy and the kids took great joy in purchasing a giant, hairy spider that hangs from the door and makes creepy noises, causing me to avoid using the front door for about a month. I prefer decorating in the brilliant reds and oranges of fall and carving a pumpkin.
In my younger years, my parents also enjoyed decorating and even more so creating an experience for trick-or-treaters. It always involved some basic Halloween decorations and spooky music playing, initially on a tape, and graduating to a CD. Dad usually rigged some contraption that could be operated somewhat remotely. Most of the time, Mom was his accomplice, often creating the illusion of answering the door on a spookily decorated porch like all the other moms on the street. That’s when Dad would “come alive” or launch his contraption(s) - completely startling the unsuspecting guests.
Still, to this day, I can’t help but smile thinking of the wild things that we’d do. It was a special time of bonding and one that I wanted to continue. So, once Rylie and Tanner got a little bit older, we resurrected the tradition, even including my parents and other friends in our escapades.
As Halloween approached, our dinner time conversations often revolved around what kind of experience we’d create for unsuspecting visitors. At first it was more about the adults. My parents, Ziggy and I got to channel our inner kid and play pretend again. Then Rylie got in on the action. There were several years when she decided she’d rather be part of our haunted missions than trick-or-treat herself!
Each year, we’d pick a theme. The kids always had a role in that, whether they stuck around for the show or chose to collect Reeses Cups and Twizzlers instead.
One year the theme was a Haunted Pirate Ship. I wish I could remember whose idea was what, but I think it started with the fact that Rylie had an old pirate costume. In a way that’s kind of the magic of this whole ordeal - it was about our group of us, not any individual. Each of us would contribute ideas and somehow it all came together. It was just about imagination, experience, and fun.
For our haunted pirate ship, we each had to assemble some sort of pirate attire. A giant cardboard ship was crafted and place in front of our porch. A teeter-totter bike ramp that Zig had created for the kids became “the plank” and our trick-or-treaters had to walk the plank in order to get their candy. Pirates of the Caribbean music played in the background and as kids approached, our pirate selves would come to life harassing them with pirate speak and threats to throw them overboard. I can still hear Rylie’s giggles as she watched her always-serious mom and prim and proper grandparents turn into scallywags!
Another year we set up a Haunted Gold Mine. This one definitely started with Rylie! As I look back on this memory, I think it also highlighted one of the traits that Rylie possessed, but I didn’t always appreciate at the time.
Rylie loved bringing people together. She sought out ways to connect with others over common ground. For her, rocks were a way to connect with Grampy (my dad). My dad is a geologist by trade and somehow his love of rocks transferred to her. She was enamored with rocks and loved to collect them, look at them and even asked to go to an old gold mine for her birthday once!
So when Rylie proposed a haunted gold mine as our next theme that got Grampy’s wheels turning. Together, Rylie and Grampy, with the help of the rest of us determined that trick-or-treaters would have to pan for gold in order to get their candy.
My mind doesn’t work like this, but there was a wheelbarrow, a hose, a chute of some sort and a lot of rocks involved. Rylie LOVED it. We all dressed in scary masks and old clothes and took on the role of dead miners come back to haunt the mine.
In the last two years, it’s been much harder for all of us to get into the spirit. As much as we all enjoyed the process of bringing an idea to life, decorating, and creating a spooky experience for both kids and their parents, it’s just not the same without Rylie’s contagious laughter and spirit for the mischievous.
With the passage of time, I know it will get easier to channel her love for the season. I’m almost ready to dust off the kitchen table and gather the troops around for a planning session. It won’t be the same, but I know that bringing back togetherness, imagination and fun is a wonderful way to honor, not only Rylie, but the true spirit of Halloween - the magic of letting go and playing pretend.