Trick Or Treat!
If I was nine years old today I would do what I did then in 1955. I’d rub some burnt cork on my face for a beard, make an eyepatch from a piece of fabric from my mother’s sewing supplies, and tie a red bandana around my hear – Instant Pirate!, and then I’d go annoy everyone in the neighborhood for some candy.
But I’m not nine years old, so my plans are different.
Over time I have noticed some changes in the way that Halloween is “done.” When I was a poor kid growing up in a small steel mill town we all made our Halloween costumes. Maybe there were ready made costumes available in the stores, but nobody I knew had money for such things. For most of my Halloween years I was either a pirate as described above or a Hobo – which was pretty much the same as the pirate minus the eyepatch. The red bandana was filled with crumpled newspapers and tied to a stick to be the hobo’s bindle. Clever, no?
There were no organized parties put on by the churches, schools, or groups like Kiwanis. Those things didn’t begin until parents got scared to let their children out on the streets at night. That fear came a few decades later. In my youth the older brothers and sisters would shepherd the smaller kids from door to door until they got tired or their paper bags or pillow cases filled with candy.
Even though Terre Haute (That’s French for, “Who gave us chewing gum?”) is a smallish town (60K people and 2 million crows) there are at least three “Haunted Houses” charging admission so that costumed adults can jump out and say “Boo!” at the customers. I wish I’d thought of that 50 years ago. I’d be spending Halloween in Bermuda. We didn’t have these professional Haunted Houses when I was walking around looking like a nine year old hobo. We just had some houses you didn’t go to. Not that they were haunted or anything like that. They were just the homes of grouches or crazies. Every neighborhood had at least one. Unfortunately, ours lived right next door. She was a combination of both sorts – a crazy grouch who yelled at all the kids and threw water at us from an upstairs window – at least we thought it was water, but there were stories… We were glad when she moved away when I was 10, even though she stole our pet cat (Hogan) when she left.
There was an age limit of Halloweening. Once you hit 12 you were expected to retire the eyepatch and bindle. If you had younger brothers and sisters you were now assigned escort duty. If you didn’t escort the young ones you stayed home and manned the door, passing out the candy.
There were exceptions to this rule and everyone knew it. Some kids who were well into their teens would come “Trick or Treating” to your door. These kids weren’t being greedy. It was common knowledge that they were the poorest of the poor and rarely got any candy at home.
A couple of years ago at my 50th High School Reunion I had a conversation with one of those kids, now grey haired and stooped. We spoke about those days and she began to softly cry as she talked about how the candy that she and her siblings collected might be their only food for a couple of days. Even after all those years her pain was still that close to the surface.
So, when I see the little Monsters, Princesses, and Super Heroes coming down the street I actually do smile, but I remember the Halloweens of my childhood and I wonder if that little Wonder Woman or Spider Man is going to have something more than candy when they get home.