By Jamie Balke
Explorebigsky.com Columnist

Trick or treat

When we were kids, there was no question which holiday my brother John loved most. Each year in October, a fantastic descent into madness began. What started as a modest Halloween display spiraled out of control as he competed with our neighbor to see who could create the most terrifying yard decorations.

Still in grade school, my brother held his own against the adult neighbor, who had corresponding disposable income to his advantage. While the neighbor invested in gruesome electronic monsters that popped out of graves, my brother devoted countless hours, a twisted imagination and artistic talent to transform our yard.

The haunted graveyard John created was so creepy that trick-or-treaters avoided our house. The last year he set up his stage of horror, we didn’t even hand out a full bag of candy.

Although John’s creative self-expression was a delightful rebellion in our idyllic suburban community, I think he was really just seeking an excuse to use a fog machine.

The final year’s display included bats and ghouls dangling from trees, a plastic skeleton wrapped as a mummy covered in spiders (including a particularly massive spider crawling up the neck), and dramatic lighting installed behind handmade gravestones.

It was not enough to let this display speak for itself – in some way, my brother always became part of the landscape. I will never forget the day he approached me – all business – to ask if he and his friends could set up a pulley system in my room to repeatedly drop a fake, life-sized body out the window above the hapless neighborhood children brave enough to approach our house.

Another time, we argued over who got to don the grim reaper costume and stand real quiet-like near the door as trick-or-treaters reached for the doorbell. The goal was to wait until after our mother distributed candy and the kids believed they had made it through the worst of my brother’s tricks.

John’s contagious enthusiasm for the holiday brought our family together in strange and wonderful ways. I miss the last-minute runs for stage blood and faux spider webs. And I miss watching my brother creep around on the roof of the garage, a nightmarish masked phantom dressed all in black.

I’m not sure what it says about me, but these are some of my favorite childhood memories.

Jamie Balke hopes her brother will bring his signature Halloween style to Bozeman this year, and that he’ll let her help.