Animals of all kinds, TV and movie characters and even a five-foot tall fidget spinner gather in Oxford’s Memorial Park on Oct. 26 for the Uptown businesses’ trick-or-treat. Yet in a crowd full of costumed trick-or-treaters, a woman in a bright pink ball-gown stands out.
“Queen” Peach and her husband Luigi gather their children, Mario and Princess Peach, and hand them their trick-or-treat baskets. On any other day of the year, the Walker family usually goes by Betsy, Mark, Liam and Lydia.
Liam, 9, sits down in his blue motorized wheelchair and speeds off in front of the family.
“Woah, that’s pretty fast,” I say.
Liam looks back at me for a second and smirks. He pushes forward on the joystick and doubles his speed.
“Yeah, he’s no joke,” Betsy says. “He’s the most agile, precise driver, though.”
He stops in front of Krishna when he spots a paper pumpkin in their window, telling him hey, there’s candy here! and waits for the rest of us to catch up.
Everyone we pass on the sidewalk seems to know the Walkers. They stop every few steps to say ‘hi’ to someone new and to exchange compliments on costumes.
Lydia, 6, twirls around in her matching bright pink dress. But unlike her mom, she has a tiara and a sparkly wand.
“Look at you!” one of Betsy’s friends says to her.
“Yeah, everyone’s like, ‘Why do you have a princess costume?’” Betsy says. “So I say, ‘Why don’t you have a princess costume?’ This should be in your closet.”
In fact, Betsy’s was in her closet, hanging up next to her wedding dress for the past three years. She bought it just in case she’d ever need to wear a bright pink ball-gown.
We make our way down High Street toward You’re Fired.
Liam maneuvers around wandering children and climbs out of his wheelchair to go collect his candy.
Liam was born with Muscular Dystrophy (MD), meaning his muscles tire easily. He gets around pretty well without his chair, but it definitely helps on nights like this with so much walking involved.
Betsy says, oddly enough, the buildings that are most wheelchair accessible in Oxford are the older ones.
“A lot of the buildings that have the cutout, like Bluetique, where the windows are off to the side are all ramped,” Betsy says. “Whereas Subway, one of the newest buildings, is not wheelchair accessible and has a step. It’s one of those things where it’s like, ‘That’s a dumb mistake.’”
We cross the street toward UDF, and Mark and the kids head inside.
Betsy tells me she’s lived in Oxford her whole life, except for when she attended Ohio University for college. Mark went to Miami, and after the two got married, they decided to stay in Oxford to raise their family.
“You know, honestly, if you want to get something to eat or come get a beer, you just do it.” Betsy says. “It’s like living anywhere else. You just find a way. Whenever people complain about the students, it’s like, ‘I live here on purpose. I like that they’re—”
“Mommy! Look! There’s unicorns over there!” Lydia interjects.
“Very cool! Okay, go do your thing,” Betsy says. “Anyway, I grew up on Church Street right in the middle of all of it. My parents finally decided to leave and move out into the country when their outside patio furniture was repeatedly getting stolen. But I would live in Mile Square if I could. There’s just no wheelchair-accessible places.”
Lydia spots a friend and sprints to catch up. Her velvet pink cape flies behind her.
Mark and Liam head off in a different direction, making sure they go to every business with candy. Lydia’s more concerned with introducing Betsy to her friend from school.
Eventually, the four meet back up outside of Bagel and Deli and decide to head back to the park where there are different games and activities going on.
We continue walking, crossing the street toward DuBois Bookstore. I ask Liam what his favorite Mario game is.
“Super Mario Odyssey,” he says. “Well, it’s not technically out yet, but I like it already. I’ve seen a lot of previews.”
“My little brother likes to watch video games on Youtube,” I say. “Do you like to do that, as well?”
“Yes, sometimes,” Liam says.
“A lot,” Mark adds.
“Mom, we’re just standing!” Lydia complains, tugging on her mom’s dress.
Her friends are up ahead at the park. She scrunches up her whole face, trying not to cry.
“I know. We’re just standing and talking,” Betsy says.
Liam is pleased, though. He found a friend dressed as Bowser. They decide to take a group Mario-themed photo. But Lydia’s had enough, so Betsy takes her place as Princess Peach for the photo.
Finally, we head back to the park. Lydia and Liam disappear amongst their friends.
Betsy and Mark stand on the sidewalk, talking to friends of their own.
A man doing magic in the grass holds Lydia’s attention for a while, but soon she runs up on the stage and dances with her friends. Liam gets up to join them and they all dance to ominous Halloween music.
When that gets old, they chase each other in circles through the pillars surrounding the stage.
Mario chases Sulley from Monsters Inc. who chases Olaf from Frozen with Princess Peach in the lead.
This goes on with no end in sight until it’s announced that the Halloween parade is about to begin.
The Walkers regroup and get ready to join the parade. I get ready to say my goodbyes, when Lydia — too shy to talk to me earlier in the day — gives me a big hug.
“We’re huggers,” Betsy says, stretching her arms out for a hug, too.