Growing up, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays: it was a way for a normal kid to be just a touch bad, or to be a super hero just for an evening.
I remember one glorious Halloween night, 1958, it fell on a Friday; the moon was full and rising low in the east, the air was crisp and cool. It was the last year that I would go trick or treating. After all, the next year I would be in high school and too cool to beg for candy at front doors in the neighborhood. At thirteen, I was leaning towards being a zombie instead of Superman. As usual, I had to create my costume, not too many of us kids had store bought costumes back in those days. There was a pile of burned twigs in the back yard from the pile of ashes from last Saturday’s raking of the yard. It was perfect for putting on my face to gather that undead look. There were some oversized clothes in the rag box and an old fedora lying around that completed the desired look. I was ready to haunt.
And haunt, my brother and I did. Those were simpler days when nearly every house in the neighborhood participated. This was long before rumors of needles and razorblades spoiled the innocent fun of Halloween. We didn’t even bother with a roll of toilet paper or a bar of soap for the non participators, which was a waste of precious plunder time. We didn’t have any parental restrictions that were the norm in previous years so we ranged far and wide screaming like banshees all over Lake Shore. (Note: gentle reader, the annual obligatory reference to “banshee” has been met for 2015.)
The candy harvest was the best it has ever been, and in fact was the best of my lifetime. Several times, we had to return home to deposit our loot and grab fresh paper bags for the next run. Hour after glorious hour the pillaging continued. If my memory serves correctly, at the end of the night, both my brother and I had 3 grocery bags full of treats. Even after the mandatory sharing with my sister and baby brother, there was enough to last us till Thanksgiving. All I can say is that it was a good thing that we had fluoridated water back then or I would have a toothless grin today.
The next year, Halloween fell on a Saturday, and for the first time, instead of trick or treating; there was a Halloween party in the old church hall. By this age, I was well aware of the opposite sex, but I was unprepared for the girls in my class unrestricted by school uniforms. This was the first time that I saw many of them in makeup and outfits that revealed anything between the neck and the knees. I can tell you, that the temperatures were cool but my buddies and I were sweating like stuck pigs. We were surrounded by loveliness dressed as anything from saints to characters in “Three Penny Opera!” The boys were totally outgunned that year. Our “last minute lash up” costumes simply did not meet the challenge. Oh but you can be sure that there was a lot of slow dancing going on that night. Who can beat dancing a “belly rubber” with a girl in a genie costume? OMG, they really did have belly buttons!
The rest of my high school years, Halloween fell on school nights so there were no parties to go to and I was now too old to go trick or treating. But I was not about to give All Hallows Eve a rest. So I hung a sheet over a basketball placed in a branch of my Mother’s favorite tree in the front yard. To get to the front door, the kids had to walk within a few feet of my makeshift ghost.
But I didn’t leave it there. I just had to take it to the next level. I placed a speaker under the basketball and ran wire back to an amplifier in the Florida room that served as our bedroom. I would peer through the partially opened jalousies, and as a group of kids approached, I would say “Oooooooooo, what do you want, kiddie?” I usually got the response I wanted, a quick start, then lots of laughter as my victims realized what was going on. I was careful to startle kids that were above a certain age. However, one group approached with a little one hidden in the middle. It took me 15 minutes to calm that poor little girl down by dismantling my “ghost” and showing her how it all worked. The next year, she was ready for me; running right up to my work of art and pulling the sheet off the basketball. I feel certain that she would have become a “Ghostbuster” if she had been given the opportunity.
For the past 40 years or so, I’ve been on the other side of Halloween, handing out candy and treats to all the munchkins who roam the neighborhood. I’m sad to report that the annual count of “trick or treaters” is steadily diminishing in number. Last year you could count them on the fingers of one hand. The hooligans in this world have forced the kids into private, church or community parties where they can be safer. I think that is wise, but it is another “adventure” that we in the older generation enjoyed that is lost on today’s youngsters. That tingly anticipation of being out alone in the night with ghosts, goblins and witches whirring all around while searching for that goal of all goals; more candy than you can possibly eat. Oh MY!