ROTTERDAM — Halloween is a big deal on Helderberg Avenue.
For the past 40 years, children from the Wonderland Co-Operative Nursery School have paraded from the school to Roma Barbera’s Victorian home for a trick-or-treat tradition. But it’s a tradition that’s coming to a close this year, as Barbera plans to sell her home.
“Now tell me what you are,” Barbera asked each child as they came through her front door Monday afternoon.
Around 20 kids cycled through her home, wide-eyed and timid, glancing at the festive decorations and toward the candy carefully laid out on the dining room table. They trickled through the house with their parents and newly decorated candy bags, shyly collecting Twix, Butterfingers, M&M’s and lollipops.
One Tinkerbell, also known as Madison Pommer, is a second-generation Wonderland student who was carrying on a trick-or-treat tradition with her father, Mike Pommer. Though he doesn’t have a clear memory of it, Pommer was among the Wonderland kids who visited Barbera’s home around 30 years ago.
“40 years ... I mean it’s amazing, really,” Pommer said. For his daughter, it was not only a chance to carry on a tradition but another chance to dress up.
“She loves dressing up as a princess, so anytime she can do that, she’s excited,” Pommer said.
Once the princesses, superheroes and ladybugs had taken their share of candy, they assembled outside to sing a few songs, thanking Barbera before marching back to the school.
The tradition began as a favor, said Barbera. Her sister-in-law was involved with the school, and the home the kids usually went to for trick-or-treating at wasn’t available, so Barbera was asked if the kids could parade to her place.
“I thought that first year was it,” Barbera said. But she loved welcoming the kids and seeing their excitement. She always has the house decked out for Halloween and plays music for the kids. It’s an interesting house at any time of year -- photographs, decorations and trinkets cover almost every square inch of the place -- but Barbera makes it festive and something to behold on Halloween.
“Every year, I know when we go, it’s magical. She makes it special for the kids,” said Leslie Leo-August, a teacher at Wonderland. "When this world is so uncertain, I know I can count on her to make it special for the kids."
Leo-August has been part of the tradition for 28 years, basically since she first started teaching at the school. Her own three daughters have gone through Barbera’s home, and she was hoping her grandchildren would also have a chance to trick-or-treat there.
“I don’t know yet what we’re going to do next year,” Leo-August said.
The Halloween march to Barbera’s house is memorable for many students; even years later, people will come up to her and say, 'I know you! I’ve gone through your house before for Halloween.' It happens to Barbera regularly at her job at Price Chopper.
“When I first started working, my boss asked me, ‘Roma, do you know all our customers?’” Barbera said.
“I was at a wedding once, and a woman (who had been a Wonderland kid) came up to me," she added.
All the Halloweens with Wonderland made her decision to downsize and move away difficult, but Barbera said it’s time. She plans to put the house on the market sometime in the spring, making this Halloween a bittersweet one for both Barbera and the Wonderland staff.