UNDERCURRENTS: Memories of Tricks and Treats
I couldn't help but reflect on the Halloween of 2018 this week, as I was adding spooky-fun events to our various calendars while the second anniversary of Hurricane Michael lumbered past just to remind us of all we lost before the world learned to spell "coronavirus."
Halloween 2018 landed exactly three weeks after the storm. Twenty-one days had groaned by as Panama City rose from ruins. Massive piles of glass and brick were shoved into side streets. Even taller mounds of fallen trees piled up along curbs and rights of way.
But by then, we had power at our house, and both my wife and I were back at work regularly. No more standing in lines for hours to get ice or granola bars or sandwiches, like third-world trick-or-treaters — which remained the daily grind for so many.
As Halloween approached, some of the downtown merchants got together in hopes of salvaging the holiday for area kids. The Panama City Center for the Arts gave away donated costumes in the days leading up to the event. But it was anyone's guess if children would show up, considering the state of things in town.
So we dressed in our costumes and joined volunteers at the Center for the Arts to hand out art supplies, plastic trinkets and other goodies for children — and thousands showed up. Headlines at the time estimated "hundreds," but I was there. I saw the streets filled, the backed lines, the packed park. It was good-spirited madness, and a vast release of stress energy.
It was beautiful, for all its scars.
Downtown businesses that had yet to patch ceilings or repair their other damage gave out candy and treats. A church grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, free for everyone. Roads were choked with pedestrians crossing. (Eventually, city police called an end to the celebration, citing safety concerns, as there was no event permit and roads were not closed.)
But for a few hours, in the midst of our own private apocalypse, there was joy to be discovered and shared — and thus, multiplied. A moment of diversion from the endless days of digging out and cleaning up.
Halloween has always been a special time to me, from the days when we'd walk as a family along streets in Century, where I grew up, to visiting friends' neighborhoods in Panama City, where my kids grew up.
Best of all, my daughter was born on Halloween. Her birthday parties have always had an element of the spooky season about them — with apple bobbing, costumes and early evening trick-or-treating, followed by wearing our costumes out to eat at the restaurant of her choice.
We have a photo of our 3-year-old son, dressed in a Flash costume, still wearing his mask, holding his newborn sister (with his mother's help) on Halloween 1991. If that doesn't say it all, I don't know what does.
Their mom was often a costumer for them as they grew up, making them red and pink Power Rangers one year, a princess and Darth Vader another time (I contributed the helmet design, which was fashioned out of a milk jug).
In 2018, they were beyond the whole trick-or-treating thing. My son gathered up with some nearby friends (he was by that time staying with us again, as his apartment was destroyed by the storm — with him still inside it), and my daughter was living in Texas, where she'd worried for days after Michael, unable to reach us by phone or internet.
I think Halloween 2018 in downtown was like a big gulp of fresh air for us.
And I hope that's the case again this year, as downtown prepares for trick-or-treating at businesses once again. The virus is still out there, of course, and poses its own dangers — as real and harmful as any natural disaster. But perhaps most people who venture out for the evening will wear a mask.
It is Halloween, after all.