It was that rarest of rarities: a football-free fall weekend. The Trojans of USC, our youngest son Robby's school and hence, our adopted college football team, had already played their game on Thursday night. My pro football team, the New York Jets, wouldn't be playing until Monday night. My wife's pro team, the Miami Dolphins (which she only roots for to provide moral support for two of our misguided sons), would also be playing Monday night -- against my Jets. The bottom line? We had a wide-open weekend ahead of us. (Though Robby would disown me for saying this. He believes that if there's a football game on TV, then you damn well better be watching.) Oh, and on top of all this, it was my wife's birthday.

So we took our dog and headed up to Vermont, where we did all kinds of things Vermonty, and autumny, and empty-nesty. I ran both days; Carol walked both days. We took Ricky on a hike around gorgeous Gayle Meadows Pond in Bondville. We read in front of the fire. We listened to music. One night we had Philly cheesesteaks at the Red Fox Inn, our go-to Vermont tavern; the next night, it was Gringo Jack's, for Tex-Mex.

And, of course, we went to Dutton's Farmstand. We've been going to Dutton's Farmstand in Manchester for over 30 years -- for as long as we've been regulars in that neck of the woods. We always take the same goofy Vermont farmstand photos. We always get bushes and bushels of Macouns, the world's best-tasting apple. And we always get pumpkins to take back to Westport. I think of the pumpkins as autumn decorations, but more specifically, of course, I associate them with Halloween. I always place three of them on the front steps in a homey little "grouping;" same treatment for the kitchen door. Then I head down to the basement and haul out my old reliable Halloween props -- the most prominent of which are a tacky plastic tombstone stenciled with the message, "Here lies the bones of Henry Jones -- R.I.P." and a similarly tacky plastic skeleton with movable parts and weird green eyes that I drape over the foundation shrubs. Same deal every year.

Which got me to thinking ...

Though Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, somehow, in our house, and on our block . . . it ain't what it used to be. Okay, we have three grown sons who are out of the house -- but they've been "too old" for Halloween for years already; that's nothing new. For a long time now the holiday has been about gearing up for the invasion of the little kids on the block, and in the extended neighborhood. Carol and I get a kick out of the little witches and hobos and rock stars and mini-NFL players --and Ricky goes nuts with candy everywhere and the doorbell ringing constantly.

The trouble is, the doorbell doesn't ring so much anymore. In recent years, if we got three or four little gangs, it was a big night. Last year I think we had two.

The road we live on is a semi-circle, for the most part traffic-free -- a near-perfect location for families-with-young-kids. Oddly, though, of the nine homes on our street, five of them -- either due to ongoing renovations or because the last owners moved out and the new owners haven't moved in -- are currently unoccupied. It's gotten so pretty much every night looks like a power failure in these parts. Kind of spooky, even when it's not Halloween.

Put all this together, and I'd say prospects don't look good for a whole lot of devils and gobllins and ballerinas ringing our bell on the 31st. I'm guessing we're looking at an all-time low. The pumpkins are out there -- but I just might not bother with the skeleton and the tombstone.

In addition to "The Home Team," which appears every other Friday, you can also keep up with Hank Herman's adventures with his dog, Ricky, on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman.