It wasn’t about costumes or the candy, but looking back, my first Halloween memory was of my father handing out quarters to all the trick or treaters that rang our doorbell. This was pre UNICEF days, so it was kind of a big deal. The value of that 25¢ is now worth approximately $2.20, and he was handing them out like candy… sorry I couldn’t resist. But once the word got out, we would have a steady stream of kids coming by, some of whom circled back multiple times.
However, I myself have no actual memory of ever going trick or treating, but do recall hosting quite a few Halloween parties in our basement. That meant it was time to break out the 45 RPM records, the sure to bleed black and orange crepe paper streamers, and lots of handmade decorations. I was living in Philadelphia at the time, and unless your mother could sew, you were pretty much limited to a do-it-yourself costume. And with just a bit of imagination, there was never a shortage of hobos with a bandana pouch tied to a stick, ghosts with eye holes that never seemed to be quite in the right place, cowboys and Indians with bows and arrows and toy guns, and of course witches and queens with all the appropriate accoutrements. But what we didn’t have in the way of fancy costumes, we tried to make up for by using plenty of our mother’s otherwise off-limits make-up.
On the other hand, my older brother would be out with his friends celebrating Mischief Night. This involved copious amounts of toilet paper, eggs, shaving cream, and lots of pissed off neighbors the next morning. I’m not exactly sure who or what they were targeting, but the day after there were always neighbors gathered on the sidewalk complaining about the damage to their cars. I think my parents hid in the house on those days hoping no one would come to the door holding buckets of tar and feathers.
Around the same time in Florida, my husband’s experience was totally different. When he and his two brothers went out trick or treating, it was much more of a candy gathering competition. The biggest fight was always over the Atomic Fire Balls, the Necco Wafers, the Bazooka Bubble Gum, and the infamous wax lips. I mean who doesn’t love wax lips?
But then trying to get a slightly more recent perspective, I asked my younger son (now 28) what he remembered about Halloween. Fully expecting to get that look that says, “You can’t be talking to me,” he surprised me with an immediate and visceral reaction recalling how his extremely politically-correct elementary school suddenly forbade anything resembling military attire. He never really recovered from what he considered to be a personal afront.
He also lamented the downfall of the full-size candy bar in favor of the namby-pamby bite-size Halloween treats, but then went on a riff about the treat givers themselves, and their method of delivery. Somewhat of an expert on the subject, he described the two contrasting styles. First, there was the full throttle distributer. They would answer the door with a basket full of candy, and generously extend it so you could pick and choose all of your favorites. All you had to do was jostle your fellow trick or treaters to get to the good stuff. The other group of distributors held their containers close to their chest as if they were protecting the crown jewels. Then they would stealthily take one single piece and slowly drop it into your bag. I’m quite certain they were the very same people that eventually gave out mini boxes of raisins and toothbrushes.
Sadly, not only are the full-size candy bars gone these days, but so are the homemade Rice Crispy squares, caramel popcorn balls, and apples, with or without razor blades. But no Halloween would be complete without at least mentioning candy corn. I always loved their slightly waxy taste, and three distinct levels that you can bite off either from the top down or from the bottom to the top. While I realize it may be a conspiracy theory, I am totally convinced that the same unsold candy corn has been in circulation since the fifties. I can only hope that my grandchildren will continue the tradition of biting off the tiny white tips of those very same candy corns… and loving it.