A group of boys in their Halloween costumes pose for a portrait after collecting candy in Meadville, Pa. on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2102. Meadville hosted trick-or-treat a week early. It’s annual Halloween Parade on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, is reported to be the biggest of its kind east of the Mississippi. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

I’m new to the neighborhood.

When I learned Halloween would be celebrated on Thursday, Oct. 25, not Wednesday, Oct. 31, I went to the local store, Giant Eagle, and bought bags of candy. I live in a neighborhood with a red brick road and many houses with front porches. I was told people often arrive in vans and escort their children door to door.

I was excited. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had trick-or-treaters visit.

It was a warm, sunny day, with the temp pushing 80 degrees. I walked home after a full day of teaching and poured candy into the plastic orange pumpkin I’d purchased. I sat on my back deck, facing the street, with two real pumpkins harvested from my garden on the steps.

And I waited.

The trick-or-treaters had a window from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Slowly a few arrived. I noticed they weren’t noticing me so I hollered across the street and then went down to the sidewalk to distribute candy.

A young girl dressed as a leopard struck confident, sassy poses as her mom and friends snapped photos. Her companion, in all black with a witch’s hat, skipped up and down the sidewalk with her broom.

I stayed on the street and slowly met my neighbors. My next-door neighbors sat on their front porch. He is a Vietnam vet and moved his P.O.W./M.I.A. flag so it wouldn’t block the path of the candy-seekers. Their neighbors are two men who will wed next fall. We all became Facebook friends and I received an invitation to the holiday party.

The local newspaper editor joined us, leaving his big bowl of candy on the front steps. We talked about war and community and national politics. I asked my neighbor if he spoke Khmer. He responded that he was surprised I knew to ask, that I knew the name. When he learned my father was also a Vietnam vet, he said: “OK. Not so surprised.”

The parade of children increased as the night darkened. Princesses and a lady bug, witches and a couple of Batmans stopped for treats. Some carried pillowcases, a reminder of trick-or-treating in my youth.

I remember one Halloween at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Dad led the pack of us up a hill. My brother was too small to hoist his pillowcase off the ground, so he dragged it behind him. Only later did he discover that he’d worn a hole in the bag and he’d left a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of candy behind him. That night when we returned, we spread our candy out on the floor and divided it evenly among us.

A number of older kids stepped up for candy: one in a white-with-blue-trim sailor suit with a bow and a plunging neckline; one in a gorilla mask carrying a briefcase, one with his faced wrapped in gauze (I think he was the Invisible Man); and the last in the quartet sported an animal head mounted on his head, creating a human hunting trophy. They were so gorgeous in their confidence and enthusiasm for trick-or-treating that I asked if I could snap a photo.

At 7:30, it was dark and the streets had nearly emptied of costumed kids. Parents were bundling them into cars or pointing them to the road home.

The town I now call home may be called Meadville; though, on this night, it sure felt like Mayberry, from my brother’s beloved TV show, “The Andy Griffith Show.” Neighbors gathered to chat as the light waned. Children shuffled through dry, fallen leaves and walked the neighborhood streets with confidence and innocence. Laughter and chatter floated on the cooling night air.

It was the sweetest thing: sweeter than all the Halloween candy.

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