I moved from Gloucester Point, Virginia to Jacksonville, Florida on Halloween 24 years ago. I had taken a job with The Florida Times-Union as a reporter and expected to be at the paper for three to five years on a career path that would have landed me with a national daily in Washington D.C. (glad that didn't happen).
When Gayle joined me two months later, we moved into a Ponte Vedra Beach neighborhood of squat, solid brick ranchers, home to many retired military. We were the new kids, part of a new wave that would transform the neighborhood.
By the time our airborne trooper was 10, our neighborhood was wall-to-wall with kids and Halloween was the event. Refugees from nearby gated communities would come here because it was the place to be.
About five years ago, the kids started disappearing. They had all grown up, gone to college or to work and some to war.
Last year only two trick-or-treaters showed up.
But a new wave appeared last night. About 50 assorted goblins, ghosts and their young parents came to the door. The kids were all younger than 10, including one in a stroller. The highlight was a well-spoken fairy princess, barely three years old.
When she came to the door, she stumbled and fell.
"Are you OK?"
"I'm fine," she said. "It happens all the time."
When she disappeared into the dark with her parents, she called out, "Bye, Big Man!"
Big Man indeed. Gayle and I laughed. Looking at my waist line, the fairy princess was dead on.
But this Halloween, the Big Man is somewhere over there sleeping in a cramped charter flight with his M203 and his assault pack or waiting for the next flight with 125 other Big Men.
Last Halloween, he was stuck in an irrigation ditch carrying a SAW gun, 1,000 rounds of ammo and a spare barrel. This Halloween, he is fiddling with his IPod on his way home.
What a difference a year makes.