My dad approached life with exuberance and always liked a joke.
He never seemed to mind when the joke was on him. Many times, in fact, he encouraged it.
Sometimes a joke misfired, as one did on a Halloween night in the 1960s. But Dad didn’t let that stop him from making people smile and giving all he had. It’s a lesson I try to embrace and teach my kids.
We were living in Perry, a typical small town in northeastern Ohio. He and Mom were doing what they did every Halloween: handing out Hershey bars from a wooden bowl. When it wasn’t holding the Halloween stash, it was our mixing bowl for salads, so it was deep and pretty big.
About midway through trick-or-treat hours, a young boy inched up to our door by himself; his parent stood watch just off our porch. The boy clutched his bag, already so heavy with goodies that he struggled to maneuver it up two small steps. He peered out his mask with great expectation and said, almost in a whisper, “trick or treat.”
It was an Americana set-up, and Dad decided he’d go for a laugh.
“Look, Dorothy,” he said to my mom. “This little boy brought us candy.” Then Dad plunged both hands into the bag and pulled out gobs of the evening’s sweet loot. Lollipops and bubble gum clung to chocolate bars and marshmallow confections. It was the little boy’s treasure, possibly the rewards of his first trick-or-treat outing.
He was horrified watching it all be taken away.
So was my mom. “Bill,” she scolded as the boy’s look of delight morphed into dismay, “what are you DOING?”
Dad stuffed the purloined candy back into the boy’s bag, all the time trying to assure him that he was kidding. Not convinced that was working, Dad then dumped the entire bowl of Hershey bars into the bag, too.
The trick-or-treater grinned and found lightness to his walk down the steps and driveway. Dad turned to Mom with a hapless satisfaction smeared across his face, reminding me of Stan Laurel. No words were needed; the look itself said, “There. I fixed everything.”
But as usual, my mom had the Oliver Hardy-like last word: “Now,” she said, grabbing the empty bowl from my dad, “WHAT are we going to give all the other trick-or-treaters?”
I’ve tried to mimic Dad’s exuberance and teach it to my kids. I acknowledge that sometimes being high-spirited will trip you up, but advise them not to let the occasional slip slow them down.
Is it just me, or would this world be better if more people dipped down deep, even if only one night a year, and gave everything from their bowl?