It is Halloween 1959, or thereabouts. The neighborhood of tidy red brick houses under the tall pine trees is like many that were quickly thrown up after WWII when the GIs came home, got married, and started families. We, my older brother Bob, and I, have already raked the leaves into a pile, jumped in them all afternoon and finally had a bonfire.
We are fidgeting, waiting for it to be late enough for trick-or-treating. We have made our costumes, with help from Mama, from items dug out of closets, the rag bag, or the attic. No store-bought costumes for us. We are scornful of those and wouldn’t be seen dead in them. Instead, we pull on Daddy’s old worn-out suits, tie them on with rope, flop around in his big shoes, use a charcoal briquet to create our beards, and examine ourselves in the mirror. We tie bandanas to long sticks, sling them over our shoulders and become hobos. We are clowns, gypsies, spacemen, or cowboys, depending on the year.
One memorable year, Halloween falls a week or so after the neighborhood bullies beat up my brother. His black eyes are spectacular! He dons boxing gloves and a sweatshirt labeled with magic marker “CHAMP”. I have a bucket of water, a sponge, and a towel around my neck as the trainer. We have the best costume in the neighborhood.
We have our big brown paper A&P grocery bags for candy. Being optimists, we are sure the smaller size bags are not enough. Our sister Ruth, older, and a terrible asthmatic, stays home to hand out candy with our parents.
Finally, it is dusk, and we venture out, find our friends, and run pell mell from house to house, shrieking “trick or treat!’ and grabbing candy. We live in the South, so we quickly become hot and sweaty. Make-up runs. Masks make it hard to see, so they quickly get pushed up on our foreheads. The thrill of racing across dewy grass in the dark, of imagining night-time monsters, is electrifying. We and our friends quickly finish all the houses on our block and venture farther afield.
Bob is three years older than me, so he is the leader for the night. He knows the house rules. We can’t cross the four-lane. We can’t cross the railroad track. We can’t go past the football stadium. But that still leaves oh so many houses! After the first rush of excitement, we slow down, and study each house before we venture up the sidewalk. Is that the house where we got apples last year? Forget it. Oh, here’s the house that gives out baggies of popcorn; that’s worth it. We skip the crabby old couple across the street who don’t answer their doorbell each year. We spread intel to our buddies approaching houses as we are leaving. “They’ll let you take a whole handful! Hershey kisses!”
By the end of the evening, we are plodding, no longer running. Our candy bags are delightfully heavy. We trudge home, thirsty, hot, and jubilant. Costumes are shed, and candy is poured out on the living room carpet. The negotiations begin. For some inexplicable reason, Ruth, who never trick-or-treats, loves the worst candy, so we happily give her the Bit o’ Honeys, Mr. Goodbars, tiny raisin boxes, and PayDays. We have a longstanding agreement: Bob gets my Almond Joys and Mounds, and I get his Reese’s butter cups. I don’t trade my rare candy necklaces (remember the elastic string with pastel candies like sweet tarts?) for anything. Tough discussions follow over the relative value of tootsie rolls, tootsie pops, bubble gum and various chocolates. None of us want the licorice; it is too awful, we all agree, and unceremoniously dump it in the trash. We are allowed to eat all the candy we want on this night only, washed down with ice cold milk.
Full, tired, and happy as clams, we go to bed and fall asleep immediately. If there are tummy aches during the night, we know they are worth it.
And so, the years pass, each Halloween different, yet the same. And then there is the last year we go trick-or-treating. You remember that year for yourself, I know. We are too old to go but can’t stand to give it up. Bob has already stopped, going instead to spend the night with friends and probably get into some hijinks we don’t want to know about. I am trick-or-treating with my friend, Mary. It is 1966, we are 13 and awkward. The Beatles were just on Ed Sullivan, and we taught ourselves to play guitars. So, we wear suits and carry our guitars. Mary has a Beatle wig. I, (to my permanent chagrin) have a Beatle haircut. We strum guitars, sing, “I wanna hold your haaaand” and stuff the offered candy into our pockets. We feel a little silly, so much taller than most of the trick-or-treaters, and stand around on the sidewalk, trying to be cool. We go home early.
Trick-or-treat vanishes into nostalgia, only to be revived years later. Cleaning out our parents’ house, I come upon the cracked old boxing gloves in the back of a closet, and I am immediately transported back to my childhood and the magic of Halloween.