The Spirit of Halloween

I hustled the witch and the pteranodon down the steps and into the graveyard, careful not to trip over any of the ghosts that might be blocking our path. After adjusting reptile wings and a black fuzzy hat, I checked the light in my camera and changed my settings accordingly. I had the kids in the graveyard {our front lawn} to snap a few pre-Halloween photos during the golden hour. Amid giggles and the shuffling of treat baskets, I went in for the final touch and pressed the button on the fog machine.

A hissing sound filled the air, followed by a semi-transparent stream of fog that gradually wound its way among the styrofoam tombstones and down one side of our lawn. And then I inhaled … if you have ever spent any time around fog machines, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Fog machines have a very distinct smell. They smell like…roasted humidity.  

Back in high school, my main extracurricular activity was theatre. Every year, our high school theatre group would pair up with a local civic organization to create a haunted house for the public. My freshman year it was at Fame City. {And if you remember Fame City, you are old school H-town}, but we moved it to Sharpstown Mall in my sophomore year. We would spend our evenings decked out in our ripped, shredded, and spliced jeans and t-shirts, covered in blood and body parts.  It was the grunge era, so it wasn’t really that much of a stretch.

We plastered our faces with scary make-up, hollowed out our eyes, and ratted up our hair. Armed with a flashlight, we could either lead a crew of customers through the depths of our depraved imaginations, or work inside the house where the real fun took place. Unleashed, unchained, and mostly unsupervised, we screamed, banged on walls, and reveled in breaking the rules and the freedom that came from letting out our inner dark side. It was a time when we could leave behind the world of AP classes and choir concerts and celebrate what was dark and forbidden … in a safe way.

And all of this to the tune of the neverending hiss and roasted humidity smell of the fog machine.

In the current reality of my front yard with my two-year-old and five-year-old, I smiled at the contrast between Halloween then and Halloween now. What exemplified a temporary reprieve from teenage societal constraints, unfettered freedom in dipping our toes into the world of evil, and an annual expunging of pent-up screams and compulsions to hit things, has given way to eagerly awaiting this year’s Pottery Barn Kids costume catalog, monogrammed treat bags, The Hallo-wiener read by flashlight, and “safe” trunk-or-treating.

And yet, as I smoothed out the glittery tulle on my little girl’s witch dress, my heart swelled with Halloween spirit as I realized that I love it just the same.

And I’ve always got my fog machine…

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Jennifer U
Jennifer grew up in Houston before heading to Austin for seven years to attend the University of Texas as a history and government major and continuing at UT for law school. An attorney by day, in the evening she trades high heels and ambition for wet kisses and warm hugs from her three children - Kieran {Dec 2005}, Sawyer {Jan 2011}, and Birdie {Sept 2014}. Her many vices include an intense passion for all things Bravo and her plan for the future is "more cowbell." You can find her at the duck pond, the zoo, on Instagram @jen.e.underwood and blogging at Treading Water in the Kiddie Pool {}.


  1. Brought back fond memories of roaming the streets in the 60s in my non PC Hobo costume and Beldens bag decorated with Kleenex ghosts and crayon drawings. So much fun. The best was the holiday the next day for All Saints Day where we could wake up and barter and trade candy with siblings until we had just the right kind of candy….No Mary Janes or Molasses taffy.


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