AT DUSK ONE HALLOWEEN IN the late 1970s, my Dad turned into a drill sergeant — called us outside under my brother’s second-story bedroom window and told us to line up “by the numbers.”
“The numbers,” in our case, meant our birth order. And he only told us to line up in front of him when something hit the fan or was about to hit the fan.
Sure enough, as my younger brother, sister, and I stood in our costumes, I spotted it. The evidence. White, spray-painted doodles on our goldenrod-painted house.
When no one confessed to the graffiti, Dad laid down the ultimate consequence for farm kids in costume heading to town to trick-or-treat.
If the vandal refused to step forward and accept responsibility, we might as well take off our costumes and go to bed while our friends raced from door to door collecting candy.
He would cancel trick-or-treating, and we would need to wait an entire year to head out into the one night glorious beyond compare for all its pageantry and sugary excesses.
The three of us kids stood like sentries.
Because I did not spray paint the house, time raced on gobbling up the minutes between dusk and the soft trick-or-treating curfew parents of school-aged children telepathically agreed upon –somewhere between 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.
I must have been about 11 years old. My kid sister, who must have been about 6 years old, finally stepped forward.
During her tearful confession, I figured I was mere seconds away from dashing down the sidewalk steps and into that year’s Halloween adventure.
Instead, she confessed as falsely as a torture victim. She took the rap because she cracked under the pressure of interrogation and the threat of paradise lost — a Halloween bust that entailed folding the pillowcases we used as goody bags instead of filling them with treats.
Sister took the rap, but I doubt that my Dad believed for a second that her short arms could reach so far outside of the window.
Because I knew I didn’t do it and wanted to get the show on the road, I mentioned to him that the graffiti was outside of my brother’s bedroom window — not my bedroom window or my sister’s bedroom window.
Doesn’t that sort of turn all eyes on my brother?
So, the stalemate turned into one of our family’s favorite injustice-themed stories — one that some of my old friends occasionally ask me to retell because any adult who trick-or-treated as a child appreciates its conflict as high stakes.
None of us trick-or-treated that night.
My brother, for his part, casually confessed years — and I mean years — later, which only confirmed my instinct then to disown him for letting my sister take the heat and for ripping off both of us.
Meanwhile, my Dad never apologized for this legendary Halloween drama because he is old school.
He believes that if you throw down a consequence, reversing it represents wishy-washy parenting that conditions kids to mistrust family leadership, believe that everything is negotiable, and — ultimately — disrespect parental authority and authority in general.
Clearly, that would be the road to hell itself.
That I appreciate his point of view much more now than then, might be the only upside of our tanked trick-or-treating.
But there’s other good stuff here, in the midst of this memory’s calamity.
One of Dad’s stock phrases hints at how wise parenting comes about:
“You can’t ‘B.S.’ an old ‘BSer,’” he likes to say.