I am writing this Sunday night from the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA) conference that begins tomorrow at the beautiful historic Greenbrier in West Virginia. I flew into Roanoke, VA on Friday night where I stayed overnight, then rented a car and drove the 8o miles or so on a crisp Saturday morning up to the mountains of West Virginia, where I attended the NAE4-HA Board of Trustees meeting yesterday and today. I currently serve as Vice President for Professional Development for the association, and as always, I enjoyed our two-day meeting as we dove deeply into how we can best prepare 4-H Youth Development practitioners for the work they do with youth- complex and demanding work to be sure.
For most of my journey East, though, I was pondering something that, well, haunted me. Haunted seemed the best word because it really had to do with something I witnessed on Halloween night as I walked my best buddy dog Romey around our neighborhood, long deserted of the the children that filled it just hours earlier.
I noticed that a fair number of houses had bowls of candy set out, with notes instructing the kids to take one candy each, and, oh, by the way, happy Halloween too!
I get it. I do. Our weeks are packed. Our days our long. The demands on our lives sometime leave little room at the end of the day for anything else than dinner and bed.
But here. In my neighborhood. Where the littles had dressed as witches, super heroes, princesses, ghouls, and yes, even a taco, not to mention a lion or two, there were many who did not greet their cheerful “Trick or Treat!!” but instead left candy to be picked up and taken home in a pillow case with no witness to bear to their creativity; their imagination. As if the candy was the most important part.
I didn’t miss one. Not one. I waited to open the door and looked forward to seeing the costumes and handing out candy. I shrieked at ghouls and bowed before princesses. I was humbled before lions, and marveled at super heroes. And I told each of them Happy Halloween!!! And as one whiskered little kitty said over her shoulder as she headed back down the driveway: “Thank you! Happy Halloween to you too!”
As I walked later that night around the neighborhood I hoped that the couple on the corner who are folk singers just might be singing tonight. But they weren’t. Their house, like the others was dark except for a few orange lights in the bushes. The neighborhood was telling the children it was time to go home. The imagination of childhood that could take hold for a night was over for this year.
One night, not long ago, I walked quietly past my singing couple’s house and stood in the shadows with Romey while they sang Puff the Magic Dragon together, that beautiful song of imagination. Song of and kings and princes , sealing wax, and valiant dreams. Of a dragon and a little boy that love each other, and kingdoms that are created in the world of the mind.
A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar
I could not help thinking of the candy left in baskets on steps, with no adult to open the door to enter into the magic of Halloween. Of the moments of imagination that are slowly dissolving in our world. It seems realistic. The next morning was a school and work day. There were things to be done and deadlines to be met. And sleep to be had before it all began again.
Before what began again, I ask?