Pumpkins glare at me from every stoop and step as I drive home. They are twinkly reminders that a small amount of light can illuminate a whole lot of darkness, even if it is coming from a scowling face. In church on Sunday, my minister talked about Halloween. While he’s against it in principal, he said there are times when it can bring communities together. His words took me back to Tylerton on Smith Island. When I was still hale and hearty enough to take my sixth grade students on a three day trip to this island, out in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, twice we managed to land there close to Halloween. Because the life of a waterman is harsh and dangerous, many of the families had moved off-island for easier work. Tylerton was a community with only four children left and it was a mighty quiet place. So, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation educators had my students create wacky costumes from found objects and then go trick-or-treating in the 25 house community. The islanders welcomed the sound of unruly children roaming the streets and celebrated Halloween for a week with each successive group of students.
Our village also used to echo with the laughter of cowboys and princesses and nerds and outlaws, but this Halloween the streets were subdued. There are less than three hundred children left in our county. Like the Smith Islanders, many of our Appalachian farm families have had to move to the lowlands for work. So, houses compete for the trick-or-treaters because the giggly Martians and sober hobos bring us hope that our community isn’t done, yet. I managed to bribe two miniature cowboys down my long driveway with a promise of home-made cookies. Even teen-agers well into high school are welcomed with Snickers bars and popcorn balls. Children make noise and remind us that we are still alive. A Halloween without children is one of the scariest nights I can imagine.