Montana Nice

By Beacon Staff

I guess I’ve never been a real fan of the horror genre, so when I met this balding fellow wielding a single-edged axe and speaking in an oddly threatening drawl, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing Jack Torrance, Freddie Kruger or Sling Blade himself. But if his objective had been to scare the devil out of me, he was effective. And his wasn’t the only scare I encountered that night. Along the path to this house down the hill I found an overturned Jeep, miscellaneous items of torn clothing and (Oh, was that a severed body part!) a fellow appearing only in silhouette as some obviously deranged killer wielding a whining, smoking chainsaw. A stage tour in Hollywood? No, just a night of trick or treating with my kids in the old neighborhood.

The old neighborhood? It was somewhere well on the other side of the Mississippi, but we’ll just call it “The East.” I was raised in the West, but spent time in The East. My kids were raised there. Moving here five years ago, I found the change in attitude a kind of welcome home. My kids, on the other hand, found it a bit of a culture shock. The way everyone would smile, say good morning, and offer a compelling a glad-to-see-you expression. My son, somewhat derisively, referred to this behavior as “Montana Nice.”
I’d never really felt comfortable in The East. It always seemed that everyone was either richer or smarter than I was. And that that was somehow important. But I think it was Halloween when the unbridled competitive nature of the populace came out – that one-up attitude that drove all of us to do a better job of scaring the heck out of the kids innocently drawn by the prospect of candy.

I’ll have to admit that the attitude was contagious. I, myself, took on a character that I referred to as “The Phantom.” Dressed in a ghostly white gown, I’d paint my face and hair (back when I had some) a ghoulish combination of black and white that even scared our dog. Then I’d stand in a spotlight in front of our house, still like a statue, until a group of impressionable youngsters would surround me and ask each other the inevitable question: Is he real? You can probably fill in the rest, including the sudden move and resultant blood-curdling screams, general panic and pursuant demonic laughter. Yes, I know; I should be ashamed.

You didn’t let your kids trick or treat alone. It wasn’t dangerous, of course, but who could miss that rare opportunity to feel needed when your panic-stricken offspring came running back, candy in one hand and the quest for a comforting hug in the other. The scare tactics often appeared to require access to a movie special effects studio. A reanimated body in an authentic coffin would have been considered pretty tame. Now the overturned jeep opening the path of destruction and mayhem followed by a madman wielding a screaming chainsaw. Well, that was bordering on cool.

So how does this relate to Bigfork? By contrast. Every year the Bigfork merchants and businesses sponsor trick-or-treating. It starts at 4 p.m., offering just enough time for the kids to change attire from school to ghoul. Then all the kids parade through town in Halloween regalia, often with parents, but just as easily without, to get a piece or two of candy from each establishment. It’s not that the costumes are any less impressive than those of The East, but the personalities behind them are rarely as menacing. The shop proprietors often dress according to a theme: witches, vampires, ghosts, etc. But the blood-curdling screams are missing. It’s that Montana Nice thing. One has to believe that, in Bigfork, the Devil himself would feel compelled to be polite.
Do I miss The East? I suppose there was a certain cathartic effect of having the holy heck scared out of me. But, by contrast, there’s a definite charm to Bigfork. Bigfork, where the candy is plentiful and even the undead are friendly.
So take this as a personal invitation to visit Bigfork this Halloween, where the biggest fear is likely to be cavities. Unless, of course, I manage to find that Phantom costume.

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