A South Jackson Halloween

Published 12:24 am Saturday, October 27, 2018

“Do you want to do something different this year? Like glow sticks?”

I was cutting chicken as my husband walked through the kitchen, and I motioned with my knife to the Oriental Trading catalogue opened on the counter.

“No one wants glow sticks,” he said. “We need to stick with candy. Let’s plan on getting 60 pounds of this assorted mix. We ran out too early last year. Speaking of Halloween, have you seen my subwoofer? I really want to play the music loud this year. You can’t play the Monster Mash without a good bass.”

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I rolled my eyes as I scraped the chicken into the crockpot. As someone who never took Halloween seriously, it’s been an adjustment living on a street that hosts approximately 3,000 people for two hours on Oct. 31.

I’ll never forget the morning after our first South Jackson Halloween, two years ago. The morning came too early and the sun was too bright. I stumbled into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. Cradling the mug of liquid energy in my hands, I walked to the front door, took a deep breath, and opened it.

It looked like a fraternity party had taken place the night before, if all the participants were under the age of 8. Candy wrappers sprinkled all over the grass. A Doc McStuffins handbag propped up against an oak tree. My front porch had glow sticks and leftover sweet tea next to the rocking chairs. If only we had an empty keg of Kool-Aid to complete the picture.

The scene was repeated in almost every yard on my street. The ones who kept their lights off and houses “empty” had relatively clean yards, but no one was immune to the leftovers of the biggest event of the year on South Jackson Street: Trick or Treat.

Moving to a small town, and especially after renovating a long-vacant house, conversation with new friends inevitably included the uniqueness of our street.

“Y’all know about Halloween on South Jackson, right?” They would ask us, voices slightly lowered, with a concerned look on their faces. As if we would casually walk out our front door after 6 p.m. on Oct. 31, take one look around, and run screaming back into the house. Which is exactly what we would have done if we hadn’t been warned.

Hence, despite some well-founded fear and trepidation, I began preparing for the trick-or-treaters in August. Each trip to Wal-Mart, I threw a bag of candy into the buggy. I thought this was brilliant, as it would spread the cost over two months. I’d bring the bags home and immediately stick them on top shelf of the pantry — out of sight and out of mind, 11 feet above the ground.

But I was pregnant at the time. So began my daily ritual of climbing on the shelves and grabbing a Three Musketeer… or two, or three. After a month of that, I caught on, and started buying candy that I didn’t like. Perfect. I had four bags and I was planning to get another five or six, and we would be good to go. That’s like… 600 pieces. Surely that would last us.

Thankfully, my Bible study small group staged an intervention and helped me see that it would be foolhardy to turn on our porch light without at least 1,000 pieces of candy. One simply does not walk onto a battlefield with a squirt gun. A fellow compatriot/neighbor suggested Dum-Dums, as the price per unit is significantly lower, and the price of chocolate had shot up recently (Rosland Capital á la Fox News should take note; the people on our street keep an eye on chocolate prices, not gold or silver).

Three Amazon-Prime-days later, I received 30 pounds of Dum-Dums in the mail.

Around 3 p.m. on Halloween, my husband came home bearing several Walgreens bag containing two strands of orange lights and a light-up Mickey Mouse Jack o’ Lantern. He proceeded to wrap the lights around half of our porch (not the whole, just half) and plugged in the Jack o’ Lantern. Because why would you strive for perfection when you can achieve mediocrity instead?

Our doorbell rang at 5:15. Superman and Wonder Woman needed candy. They each received one Dum-Dum. I felt like a Regions Bank teller, but I knew that if we didn’t ration the candy, we’d be turning kids away before the sun set.

We moved the bowl of candy outside, grabbed glasses of sweet tea, and sat on the porch. My husband took his laptop outside, too, and hooked it up to stereo speakers, so we had a Pandora Halloween station playing.

South Jackson Street, which is approximately half a mile long, was lined with parked cars on either side. Trucks with hay bales in trailers drove up and down the street, dropping as many as 20 people off at a time. The only thing louder than the laughter, greetings, and my husband’s choice of music that evening were the train whistles on the tracks one street behind us.

We’d lived in Brookhaven for two months, so long enough to recognize some faces and remember a few names, but not enough to know everyone that came to our front porch. While most people were still unfamiliar, it did make us feel a part of the community, especially some of my husband’s patients dropped by, friends from church, our electrician, and some of the nurses from the hospital.

Despite the familiar faces, the majority of the kids that trick or treat on our street drive in from the country and the surrounding rural counties. So while we had the equivalent of a third of the town’s population walk up our sidewalk, most of them don’t live near us. They didn’t know we had just moved to town; for all they knew, we had lived there for years (OK, slightly stretch of imagination, given we still have construction cones in our front yard). What I’m trying to say is that it gave us a chance to show some hospitality, even while we were still experiencing it as transplants. We were able to take part in a tradition that has made our street known throughout the state as the busiest on Halloween… because it’s our street now, our home.

Two hours and 1,248 pieces of candy later, a group of three kids walked up. I ended the night with giving the last two pieces of candy out, and the third child the glow bracelet off my wrist. We made a hasty retreat before we were asked to give the pumpkins and lights away from the others walking up the sidewalk.

Later, after putting my sugar-hyped, screaming 2-year-old to bed (note to self: do not entrust toddler to hand out candy), I turned to my husband and said, “I bet they have smoke machines on sale at Walgreens tomorrow. Wanna get one for next year?”

Sarah Reynolds is a Brookhaven writer.