Autumn is the favorite season of most. And, ironically, it's not because some of us find it perfectly acceptable to plaster bloody handprints, the shadow of knife-wielding maniacs and emblazon a dripping plea of Help me! in red paint on our windows as Halloween "décor". It's certainly not because our neighbors can trick-or-treat us for a whole month with the most grotesque, gaudy decorations on their lawns, trees and walkways.
It's most people's favorite time of year for far subtler reasons: the cool, crisp weather, the changing leaves, the many harvest festivals and the joy of consuming heartier meals. Halloween is a small part of it, a really fun part as long as it entails black cats, wide-eyed owls, jack-o-lanterns, family costume parties, some self-regulated ghouls and a sprinkling of grinning skeletons. In the Southwest we also get the much more culturally interesting and wonderfully artistic Dia De Los Muertos.
Here in Phoenix we have reason to celebrate when we get that first whiff of fall weather. It usually comes in early October on some delightful breezes, though the native tapestry does not change in any perceptible way. But we hear the whispers of exotic, colorful, cooler climes on that welcome wind. Those breezes quickly shimmy somewhere else, spooked by goblin summer as it comes back to tease us in the middle of the month, stamping our dreams into dust and sending a few of us to therapy...or the northern mountains. But - at last! - by late Halloween we actually stand the chance of being chilly in our sandals and Bermuda shorts.
Except for this Halloween. It's in the 90s right now.
Despite some anger issues tied completely to summer's leftover temps, I love fall in Phoenix. I love it because of our dear friends. These selfless people spread Autumn joy around by hosting parties and entertaining our children, so that Matthew and I can actually talk to adults without that truly terrifying manifestation of the spinning head that parents in large families so often acquire when taking their brood out to crowded places.
Every year my friend Kim hosts a Halloween party, and whole families dress up. Her house is decorated to the ghoulish nines, and we walk in and gasp anew at her knack for weaving the perfect ambience. I could not attempt to describe her decorations, many of which she designed herself. She even has a marvelous painting of a haunted house lit by an eerie moon in her kitchen. Everywhere you turn you find yourself in a Halloween wonderland. It's her favorite holiday, and it shows in the eyes of all the cats, owls, scarecrows and skeletons peering at you from shelves, walls, hutches and tables.
Our children will someday reminisce about attending Mrs. Kim's parties - how she had the best piñatas that wouldn't break until the big kids had their turn; how there was wicked food including deviled eggs with olive spiders, donuts with vampire teeth, and jack o' lanterns throwing up guacamole; how every year as a party game they got to toilet paper their friends instead of neighbors' houses; and what they and their friends wore to the Halloween party. It's all dark, good magic, and someday they'll realize how lucky they were to experience it. Heck, I'm lucky to be included! I get excited every year and cannot wait to find my costume. It's the only time I get to play pretend.
A week later our family's trick-or-treat fortune increases, for tonight another good friend, Dana, will have the gang over to her house for trick-or-treating, and we'll all party and feast again. Her neighborhood is one of those rare conclaves where everyone decorates their house. They don't just decorate, in fact; they make the whole block scream Halloween with elaborate facades! Our massive group will head out to be spooked and wowed again as we wind our way through the candy-seeking crowd along ghoul-infested streets. I'll snag every chocolate treat I spy in my kids' bag, and they will ask to eat a piece every couple houses. The adults will have beer, talk and laugh again, and the young ones will have far too much sugar and terrorize each other, and it will be a very merry Halloween.
And it's all because of friendship. Our dear friends open their houses to us for celebration. I couldn't thank them enough for all the memories they've given my children. That's what now makes this season so wonderful to me.