Opening Letters

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

in the Chippewa Valley, Halloween can sometimes look a lot like Christmas

Jim Jeffries |

Last Oct. 31 marked the day that I had spent more of my life in Wisconsin than in Indiana. The date seems appropriate since my interview in the summer was a total treat. I went from the soupy, boiling, polluted air of Evansville to the refreshing, moderate, clean climes of Eau Claire. My wife and I thought we had been transported to paradise. Then Halloween came. The total trick.

Moscow would be named Bonaparteburg today if Napoleon would have had a tenth of Anna’s tenacity.

Halloween in Indiana is completely different than it is in Wisconsin. In Indiana, it could be 85 degrees in October, so we avoided rubber masks because they would adhere to our faces. Fake gashes and lesions would drain like running wounds (cool) into our second best T-shirts as the wax melted (not so cool). When you picked a costume, lightness and breathability were the highest considerations. That’s the main reason I chose to be a ghost one year. The other reason was that, as the fifth of six boys in the family, I had to make my own costume. My parents also did not have the time or energy to closely supervise me. So I just pulled out a sheet and cut two eye-holes in it, which turned out to be much too big. Too much of my face was revealed, nullifying the creepiness factor (in my seven-year-old learned opinion). So I just cut the eye-holes into a neck-hole. I then pulled out a pillow case and cut much smaller eye-holes in it and put it on my head. Yep. The result was a tiny Klansman going door-to-door in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood. My parents got more phone calls than I got candy.

Halloween in Wisconsin was different from my experiences as a boy. For one thing, my children never went trick-or-treating as Klansmen. I have only three kids, so my wife and I play much better zone defense. But more importantly, they would freeze three steps from our front door clothed in a light sheet. In Eau Claire, the highest considerations for a costume are thermal efficiency and whether or not it will fit over a snowsuit. My daughter was a bunny rabbit our first Halloween in Eau Claire. The only reason people knew this is that we told them. Her costume was covered by two layers of winter wear, and her ears had been blown off by the driving snowstorm. After returning home, she had to wait two hours before she could eat her candy. A frozen Kit Kat bar will give you a break.

My starkest memory of Halloween was with my daughter, Anna. Anna had taken several years to research which neighbors gave out the best candy within a very generous estimate of how far she could walk in a day. The result was a grid committed to paper – a plan as detailed in logistics as Napoleon’s strategy for invading Russia. But she made the same mistake that Napoleon had made: She did not plan for General Winter.

She had chosen a pillowcase (sans eye-holes) to collect her spoils for both its volume and tensile strength. At about three-fourths of the way through the night, her bag was approximately half her body weight, and she was trudging into a 40-mile-an-hour sleet storm. My lashes were starting to freeze together, and I thought the prudent move was to return home before frostbite set in. Anna reminded me of my promise, probably electronically recorded somewhere, to go trick-or-treating with her for the entire duration of the event, and continued her grim march forward. Moscow would be named Bonaparteburg today if Napoleon would have had a tenth of Anna’s tenacity. The last neighbor, costumed in slippers and a bathrobe, emptied her bowl of candy through a barely cracked door and into Anna’s pillowcase. We finally slogged back, leaving a trench in the snow to mark our passing as Anna dragged her plunder behind her. This experience bound us closer together, as shared suffering has a tendency to do.

A cold Halloween has become an accepted norm as I’ve become a true Wisconsinite. Christmas decorations coming out in October don’t bother me anymore. It’s quite the trick negotiating the weather in October, but every now and then, we get Indiana Christmas weather for Halloween, and that becomes quite the treat.