Halloween is a great time for any kid, but it was really special for me. Candy was a rare treat the rest of the year. I might get a five-cent Milky Way at the movie theater, or leftover candy from Mom’s bridge parties. An evening devoted to harvesting free chocolate and sugar from strangers was a Bacchanalian orgy.
I knew Halloween was coming when the local grocery store started selling wax whistles—bright orange, completely edible and irritating as hell to adults. I’d blow it like a harmonica for hours until the temptation to devour it took over. Then I’d break off a note at a time, savoring the taste and consistency, until it was gone. That was it until the following year: no replacements allowed.
Big, red, edible wax lips, another favorite, gave me an excuse to “kiss” a girl with no risk of shame or teasing. However, it didn’t take long to bite completely through the middle support, rendering them fairly useless for kissing. And they didn’t taste as good as the whistles.
My grade school hosted party in the auditorium/lunch room the week before Halloween. Being in the school building after hours was strange and exciting, like being granted a backstage tour of Disneyland. I’ve forgotten all the activities save one: The Gypsy Fortuneteller. She knew my name and several things about me, as if she could read my mind! Later, however, I found out it was Curtis Morgan’s mother, ruining the mystery.
When I was younger and money was tight, we made costumes out of anything available. Cutting holes in the bottom and sides of a paper grocery bag turned it into a robot body. A bath towel became a superhero cape. One year my mother tried to use white liquid shoe polish to paint a clown face on me until I started screaming because it burned my skin. I think we settled for lipstick circles on my cheeks.
In later years we bought costumes from the dime store. They were made of flammable polyester until 1973 when Uncle Sam mandated fire retardant after reports of kids inadvertently being turned into Johnny the Human Torch. The eyeholes in the accompanying mask usually cut into my lower lids and made seeing almost impossible. The nose holes were too small to be useful and I remember sticking my tongue through the small opening for the mouth until it was sore.
Finally, the big day (or night) was upon us.
Evening shadows arrive in mid-afternoon when you live in a canyon in southeastern Arizona, creating an odd mix of clear blue sky with no visible sun, compelling you to turn on the house lights to cook dinner or do homework. But it’s a great time for Trick or Treating when you’re a kid—dark enough to provide ambiance but light enough to scare away the monsters.
I don’t ever remember mothers shadowing kids while they plundered the neighborhood for booty. If the porch light was on, the house was fair game. If it wasn’t, kids knew not to bother them. My sister and I would knock on the door, yell “Trick or treat” and open our pillowcases. We’d feel the soft thud of candy hitting the bottom and run on to the next house, never stopping to see what we’d gotten.
We’d go home and empty our haul onto the bed after we’d hit all the houses we could. There were full-sized candy bars—not those “fun-sized” ones you can buy today—and other goodies like popcorn balls, suckers in cellophane wrappers, Pixie Sticks and Kraft Caramels (I saved the more valuable chocolate ones for later).
One old woman usually gave us a more practical “treat”—a new pencil. I was grateful for whatever I got and the pencil was a curiosity, not a disappointment. But the perspective that comes with age recently provided some insight. She had lived through the depression when everything was scarce, so a new pencil was probably far more valuable than any bit of candy.
One year Halloween was cancelled because a murderer had escaped from the county jail, accosting a woman in her home for a meal before moving on. Or maybe that was a schoolyard rumor started to spook us. Like many memories, the truth doesn’t matter as much; it’s the story that counts.
But I got older and the annual ritual lost its appeal. Trick-or-Treating became something the little kids did. Having a surly adult glare at you and say, “Ain’t you a little old for this?” accelerated the process. I wouldn’t prowl neighborhoods again until I had kids of my own.
Halloween is one of the few childhood experiences that doesn’t bring baggage into adulthood. We accept Halloween’s passing without regret. It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown doesn’t affect me in the same way as A Charlie Brown Christmas. There is no Polar Express moment, bursting into tears on the first reading, mourning the irrevocable loss of innocence and wonder.
It was a good run while it lasted. I celebrate Halloween now by sending obnoxious noise-making Halloween cards to other people’s kids. It’s good to be the big person.
Photo credit (C) Can Stock Photos