“Who Will We Be This Halloween?”, Oct. 25, 2016

This morning, days ahead of a national election, with a long list of critical issues spinning cob webs in my head, I keep asking myself one question: Who will I be for Halloween?

If you tell anybody I said that, I’ll deny it. I can’t help it. My mind has a mind of its own.

It started when I realized in a panic we’d forgotten to mail the Halloween cards my husband bought for our grandkids. So as fast as two people of a certain age can move, we signed, addressed, stamped and mailed all the cards. Maybe the kids will get them by Thanksgiving.

Anyhow. Then the Halloween memories started rolling….

In first grade, my classmates elected me as their nominee for queen of the Halloween Carnival. I’d just lost two front teeth. Maybe they felt sorry for me. I wanted to decline the honor, but they elected as their nominee for king a boy I loved more than candy. His name was Clint. He had all his teeth.

When I told my grandmother, she got all worked up.

“You’ll need a evening gown,” she said. “I’ll get Kitty at the cleaners to make one. Also,” she said, taking my face in her hands, “you’ll need to smile.”

Smiling was a problem. It started the day I lost two teeth at once and realized I looked like a jack-o’-lantern. I still smiled, if if I felt like it, with a little tight-lipped smirk. But I had sworn to suspend all gum-showing grins until my permanent teeth showed up.

“Promise to smile?” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I’ll try.

My grandad was many things _ a baker, a traveling salesman and a part-time Baptist preacher who, as my grandmother often said, worked for the Lord when he couldn’t get a paying job. Jesus was in his soul, but the devil was in his eyes. He could light me up like Christmas.

“Smiling comes from your heart, not your teeth,” he said. Then he clacked his false teeth to make me laugh. “You’ll smile,” he said. “I guarantee it.”

I wanted to believe him.

I wish you could’ve seen the gown Kitty made for me _ gold satin like the harvest moon, stuffed with crinoline slips that whispered as I walked, words every child needs to hear: You are lovely. You are loved.

Crown or not, I already felt like a queen. The carnival was packed with families, neighbors, friends. Clint was late. I feared he wouldn’t show. Then I heard the laughter. The crowd parted and there he was: The boy I loved … in a monkey costume.

He twirled his long tail like a lariat, scratching his crotch, working the crowd. Finally he grabbed my hand in his paw and dragged me onto the stage.

Talk about terrifying. The crowd roared. I looked for a place to hide. That’s when I saw my grandad at the edge of the stage, beaming up at me, clacking his false teeth.

I didn’t smile. I belly-laughed, a big, gum-baring guffaw.

Two things happened at once. First, Clint and I were crowned king and queen. Second, while I still liked him well enough, I did not love him any more.

And yet, I will forever treasure the memory of that night.

Halloween is a time of hopes and fears. We get to dress up in costumes and believe we can be anything we dare to be. We get to face down our fears, real or imagined, for ourselves and our children and our world. It’s like a national election without the ads or debates.

Who will I be this Halloween? I will be someone who knows how it feels to be toothless, and yet, lovely and loved. Someone who prays for her children, grandchildren and all children everywhere to be safe and also feel lovely and loved. Someone who’s learned that despite _ or because of _ our differences, we are far more alike than different in the things we care most about, in the everyday matters of the heart.

Those are good things to be on Halloween. Or Election Day. Or every day.

Who will you be this Halloween? If you want to trick-or-treat at my door, please do.

I’ll leave a light on for you.


  1. I was so sick this hollowween but we had kit kat one full bag which we saved for kids. A few days ago we bought it. I got up at 6 pm left the bed put the whole bag in a pot, opened the door each time for each kid. Felt better greeting them with big smile ! And today found your column and it really inspired me ! Thank you !

  2. Isn’t it odd? I can’t remember one Halloween costume from my childhood. But, I know who I am going to be this year and probably years to come. I am going to be gramma/mama/teacher/storyteller and all the other things 2 precious 5 yr old boys need every day. To their mama, I hope to be support/dinner maker/grocery shopper and anything else she needs while she learns to be a mama/fulltime worker/ grass cutter/ and everything else she now has to do alone since the passing of her very young husband It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that this is what we are here to do….love, care, support, cherish what we have.

    • Sue Otenburger says

      Your daughter and grandchildren are fortunate to have you. We are all fortunate to have Sharon Randall to help keep us aware of our blessings, large and small.

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