Independence family sets sail for one last Halloween

Mike Genet
The Examiner USA TODAY NETWORK

Amid the craziness of pandemic-afflicted 2020, Keith Gonzales was determined to bring some normalcy and cheer to his east Independence neighborhood. His family determined they had to do the same one more time this year. 

Paige, left, and Kim Gonzales reconstructed their late father and husband's beloved Halloween lawn decorations one last time this year in front of their Independence home. Keith Gonzales contracted COVID-19 shortly after Halloween last year and died in December at age 60.

For about 10 years before each Halloween, Gonzales would construct a pirate ship with a literal skeleton crew as a large lawn decoration – an expression of his giant enjoyment of Halloween. In daylight or lit up in the evening, it attracted plenty of attention from neighbors, passers-by and even people who heard about it and made a short special trip. 

In addition, the patch of yard on the other side of the driveway of the Gonzales' 30th Terrace house became populated with a graveyard of skeletons. The inside of their home becomes adorned with Halloween-themed decorations and trinkets, picked up throughout the year. 

“He liked to say, 'Halloween is a lifestyle, not a holiday,” said Keith's wife, Kim. “That was our thing."

“With people young and old, he got such joy. He was on a mission to make something normal last year.” 

But a week after Halloween last year, Keith fell ill. A couple days later he went to the hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19. A month later he died at age 60. 

“This guy had taken maybe a week of sick days since I was born,” said Paige, a senior at Truman High School, and Kim added that her husband had lost a notable amount of weight shortly before that and “was in the best shape of his life.” 

Keith normally took his time disassembling the pirate ship each year and putting together a tiny cabin to be decorated with Christmas lights, but last year he decided to do that while taking a couple of extra vacation days from his job with UPS – in reflection, an interesting coincidence given his illness, Kim said. After Keith died, the family already had those Christmas decorations. 

Kim and Paige said they didn't contemplate and then decide to construct the Halloween display, but rather, “We just knew we had to do it one last time,” Kim said. They enlisted her mother and Keith's oldest son to help. 

Added Paige, “He'd be all mad at us if we didn't.” 

The pirate ship had started simple and small, mother and daughter said – a combination of how Keith enjoyed Halloween, as well as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies with his daughter. It was a small consolation because he dreamed of owning an actual boat and Kim said that wasn't practical.  

With help from pictures of past years, they believe they put forth a worthy effort Keith would've appreciated. 

“There wasn't a design,” Kim said. “He would do a little something different every year. He would see neighbors taking down their fence and would ask for the wood.” 

In reality, Paige, said, “It's been a big community effort.” 

While the decorations won't be seen on 30th Terrace next year, Kim said they've found a new home.  

A couple in Raymore that would make the drive to see the lawn spectacle will take the pirate ship display, she said, while a family in Odessa will take the graveyard display to incorporate into their own Halloween decorations. 

“Amid all the horrible things going on,” Kim said, “there's a huge outpour of good people.”