My grandfather loved Halloween in an over-the-top way. He didn't just kind of enjoy passing out candy; he turned his entire home into a haunted freak-show, and he let me help. The first thing we did to ready the house was set up the trick coffin. My grandfather would rig a pulley to a man-sized stuffed dummy, who would be concealed. He would make his own gravestones to put around the grizzly scene -- most of them had really inappropriate names carved on them (like I.P. Freely), his signature crude humor. Then, he would set up a soundsystem that would blare scratchy records of Halloween sound effects: screaming witches, yowling cats, howling wolves, creaking doors. It could be heard all over the neighborhood, echoing off the pine trees. It would have made Vincent Price proud. The last step was to position my grandmother at the front door with a bowl full of candy, and to wait for dark.
I would rush through trick-or-treating so that I could get back to grandfather's sound room (aka the guest bedroom facing the street) as soon as I could. From where we sat, with the lights off, we could see the trick-or-treaters, but the trick-or-treaters couldn't see us. It was a great way to view the prank. As soon as the children decided they were brave enough to pass the ominous coffin to get to the candy they so desired, they would try to run for the door, where my grandmother stood with the bowl. Their sprint never saved them. As soon as the children passed the coffin, granddaddy would yank the pulley and the life-sized dummy would stand straight up, face-to-face with the kid or parent. Only adding to the terror, granddaddy had rigged the dummy with a microphone; as soon as the kid looked into the face of the gigantic dead guy, he (granddaddy/the dead guy) would growl in his lowest voice, "GIMME SOME CANNNNNNDY." This would cause a frenzy of screaming, almost ALWAYS from the parents. Most ran away. Some punched the dummy in the face. Many swore. A couple just fell out. Grandaddy and I would mute the microphone and laugh until we couldn't breathe.
Those who were brave enough earned their sweet tooth that night. You might think people would avoid his house out of terror, but that isn't so. We had lines and lines of people wrapped around the block. My grandmother always -- always -- ran out of candy. The night usually ended with a recruited friend, my grandmother, and I popping popcorn and stuffing mini treat bags with it so we could continue feeding all the people at the door. (This was a small town and a time predating seals on food.)
Eventually, when we ran out of all food for the crowd, we'd have to turn out the lights, lock the door, and huddle near the fire as we waited for people to stop coming. I usually fell asleep in that year's outrageous costume, terrified from that night's ghost stories but exhausted.
My grandfather died twelve years ago. I do not mourn him at Christmas, or on his birthday. I don't cast a glance anymore at his empty chair at Thanksgiving. But the first time I smell burning leaves, pumpkin pie, and the cold, clean air that signals October in the South, I think of him. Now when I wait in the dark, out of candy, near my own fire, in my own house, I know he's nearby. And it's as if no time at all has passed.