As I sit here pondering the state of the world, nothing makes me more melancholy than thinking about how events taking place this current season have disappointed our youth. This time last year, we had already been witness to ducks racing down their blue, slippery raceway to determine the yellow bird champion of the year at the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center’s “Dixon Duck Dash.” Just a few days later, it was time for our youngsters’ creativity to be unveiled with the Newhall Community Center’s “Halloween Costume and Pumpkin Decorating Contest,” put on by the Sunrise Rotary, the Salvation Army and the City of Santa Clarita. Each year, I look forward to these two events, as they represent a happy time, with children smiling and enjoying the evening, all while their parents get to beam the kind of pride only a parent can exhibit.
Ok, I admit I get a lot of warm feelings out of these events as well. This was my fifth year chairing the Dixon Duck Dash, and it would have been my second year dressing up in a yellow and orange costume as the event’s MC. Plus, it was to be my fourth year as the chief judge for the Newhall Community Center’s “Costume and Pumpkin Contest,” along with Bruce and Gloria Fortine, Ken and Debbie Chase, and my wife Pam, who all returned as seasoned judges of the event. This year, we also had something planned that had never happened before in the history of Santa Clarita’s children’s Halloween competitions: Mayor Marsha McLean and her husband were going to join the team of judges, and each one of our winners was to be honored with a certificate of recognition by our own California State Assemblywoman Christy Smith.
It took something earth-shattering to derail the plans for such monumental events, and the two recent California brush fires did just that. The first one lit up just before this year’s Dixon Duck Dash. Flames from the Saddleridge fire caused the closure of Interstate 5 and other nearby roadways. Traffic on alternate routes clogged streets, and all the turmoil prevented the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center’s volunteers from trucking the duck raceway up from Pasadena in time for race day. Less than two weeks later, the Tick fire burned close to our township and caused evacuations for some 50,000 Santa Clarita residents, necessitating that the Newhall Community Center be used as a refuge for those who were temporarily displaced. So, while I was gravely disappointed, I am also very proud of how our volunteers, city staff, firefighters, sheriffs and other first responders helped provide for residents unable to return home, and cared for those in need during this latest local emergency.
But like the great Yogi Berra would say, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” And I say, “The good stuff ain’t over yet.” I am writing this column on the Sunday before Halloween, and with everything that has happened to derail our children’s good times this holiday season, Halloween stands ready as an opportunity to make up for it all. I love this holiday. It is a time when neighbors show their friendship and goodwill to fellow neighbors by handing out treats to the neighborhood’s children. Even though our two sons are grown adults with youngsters of their own, and even though they live just far enough away that they most likely will not be trick-or-treating at my house, I will not let our local youngsters down. Currently, it is even more important because times have changed. When I first moved to the Santa Clarita Valley, Halloween represented a night when almost all the homes were lit up. Bands of kids in costumes roamed the streets with their parents, looking for a treat. But then came the candy scares and the nightly news stories, and now parents- rightfully- watch out for their children much more diligently. Unfortunately, today most homes are dark, and only children from our immediate area come forth yelling, “Trick or treat.”
Knowing there is less adult participation makes me even more diligent in putting up lights and decorations, in order to make sure that our home’s welcome message is visible. I smile just thinking about the little ones who timidly approach and then run back to their parents after receiving their treat. It is even great to see the older kids, who nervously laugh as if to say, “Yes, I am getting a little old for this, but Halloween is still fun.” But the thing that makes my heart go pitter-pat the most is when a parent brings their child around and tells me, “I remember coming to your house and getting candy from you when I was a trick-or-treater.”
I realize I am writing this before Halloween, and you will not get to read it until this year’s Halloween is history. I sincerely hope you were in one of those brightly lit-up houses, armed with bags of candy, and ready to make a child happy. But if you were not, please consider what you can do to brighten up your neighborhood’s Halloween next year. It is never too late to start, and if you do, there may come a time when a parent will bring a child to your door and tell you, “I remember coming to your house and getting candy from you when I was a trick-or-treater,” and I’m betting it will make your heart go pitter-pat as well.