My first Halloween with my new husband was actually right before we got married, so technically he was not my husband. To the people of Keene Valley, New York, we were apparently homeless. That would be an impressive feat to pull off in Keene Valley—surviving as a homeless person. You see, Keene Valley is a tiny mountain town in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. It is about 80 miles or so from the Canadian border. The weather is highly unpredictable during the summer, and frigid in the winter. Temperatures routinely drop below zero in January or February and stay there for a few weeks—even during the day. Halloween can be blessed with a warm Indian summer day, snow, or anything in between.
About 600 residents call Keene Valley home during the fall/winter months. The summer population is closer to 2,000, as the summer people descend on their “camps.” Everybody knows everybody. Anyone new is eyed with suspicion—more so if it is dark, cold, and rainy, and the new people are sitting at the end of their driveway.
Our wedding was scheduled for November 13, 2004 in Indianapolis, Indiana. I had moved over to Keene Valley from Middlebury, Vermont in July to cut the hour and a half commute from my apartment to my job to visit my fiancée. Though I was not yet married, by September I was already elbow-deep in housewifery. Mostly, that meant subjecting my patient husband to be to all of my family traditions, strange though they are—especially for someone whose family did not really have many traditions.
Halloween Family Traditions
We started with a marathon baking session. Pumpkin cookies! I opened bags of M&Ms and red hots and screwed decorating tips onto store-bought tubes of icing. “Decorate!” I commanded. And we decorated and decorated. The pumpkin cookie recipe makes about 50 cookies as big as your hand, and I was bound and determined to decorate each of them with flair and originality. Each of us took a large Tupperware to work the next day, and we still had about 30 left to eat.
The next family tradition of mine that I have never, ever heard anyone come remotely close to in strangeness is spaghetti in a pumpkin. We have had spaghetti in a pumpkin every single year since I can remember. My dad would always clean out a giant pumpkin, and help remove the extra racks from the oven while my mom cooked spaghetti to put inside the pumpkin along with spaghetti sauce. We never called it anything interesting like “pumpkin brains.” We just called it spaghetti in a pumpkin. We usually toasted the pumpkin seeds to eat.
I can’t really figure out why we created this monsterous mess, because once the spaghetti was cooked, we put it in the pumpkin, and put the pumpkin in the oven for about an hour, then took it out and ate it, and that was the end of that. Sometimes we had company over, sometimes we did not. I’ve seen many people take chips and dip in a cute little hollowed out sugar pie pumpkin to a Halloween party, but never spaghetti in a pumpkin.
Far be it for me to leave out this grand tradition, even though we had no counter space, and a very small oven. I handed the pumpkin, the knife and a giant spoon to my fiancée and said “Hollow this!” I made the spaghetti. The novelty of the enterprise was mostly in me taking pictures of him in each stage of pumpkindom. This was before blogs, or I probably would have posted them. Our lives were not yet that complicated, so we still had time to do such things.
Awaiting the Trick or Treaters – At the End of a Cold, Dark Driveway!
After spaghetti in a pumpkin, we had to carve our own pumpkins. I think we made one say Happy Halloween. I can’t remember the other. We lived above a barn-like garage at the end of a 1/4 mile gravel driveway with no lights. So, in order to have trick-or-treaters, we had to pile our jack-o-lanterns and folding chairs into the wheelbarrow and wheel them to the end of the driveway. There, in the cold drizzle of a mountain Halloween, we sat with our bowl of candy.
It gets dark early in the mountains in October, and soon it was pitch black. Roving packs of children wandered the circle of streets that make up the town. Each time someone came near us, we would shine our flashlights from our chin up to our faces to look ghoulish. More often than not, the parent would ask if we needed help. We would then say, “No, we just live at the end of the driveway—in Lew and Bridget’s place” and they would start chatting with us. So much for being scary!
I think we were more frightened of walking back up our driveway in the dark after our flashlights gave out. And that was our memorable first Halloween together.