Hallowe’en was so different back in the Mesozoic Era when I was a kid.I know everyone my age says that, but since you’re the one reading this, let’s you and I take a late October stroll down memory lane together and remember those days. Wanna? Me too.
For one thing, we actually dunked for apples. As I think back on that action I get a kind of eeeuuw feeling—all of us kids ducking our gross faces into a giant tub of water with floating apples to try to snag one for a promised prize, with just our teeth. The kids who hadn’t gotten braces yet on their Bugs Bunny incisors usually won that one although the rest of us complained loudly about the unfairness of it all. I had (and still do have) semi buck teeth and so learned how to shove an apple against the side of the cauldron and snag it before I drowned, and would happily haul it up and out harpooned on my front teeth, hair and shirts dripping, gakking up water and apple, all to win a bag of stale corn candies obviously saved from last year. But, after all is said and done, it really was fun.
Then the parents had another apple game. What was it with all those apples back then? Oh yeah, it was apple season. This time the apples were suspended on long strings from a door frame and we kids, hands behind us, had to grab the fruit with just our teeth. Again, the pre-braces adolescents won that one hands,OK teeth, down. They just butted the apple until it swung hard and they pierced it in midair with those large teeth. Again first prize was another bag of stale candy corn.
Next on the list of hilarious fun? Guessing how many marshmallows were stuffed into a big jar. The kid who guessed the closest won the marshmallows. Back in the day, sugar was supposed to be good for you, remember? We were expected to eat a whole lot of it so we’d have energy. Ah, those sweet-laden halcyon years.I sorely miss them.
And oh, the crème de la crème of Hallowe’en night games was for all the kids to be blindfolded and certain things were placed beneath our noses. The one who could sniff the identity of the greatest number of those things got the best prize of all —a dollar! Some of the things under our noses would be peppermint, banana, peanutbutter, lemon, dirt, Palmolive soap, Jergen’s lotion, liver, rope, paint, Brylcreem, Dad’s Cutty Sark, an onion, Mom’s Sherry, coffee, Uncle Charlie’s beer, Rinso, and more. By the time I’d inhaled the aroma of all of those items I quite nearly –- well, I’m sure you know. I held it in. But all these years later, I still remember how oddly difficult it was to identify those every-day things while blindfolded.
Oh, did I mention we were in costume? We were, and some of us were pretty creative. Lots of old sheets with holes in them so we could see and breathe of course. We wore our grandfather’s top hats and old tuxedoes, our grandmother’s old evening gowns and flowered hats, and we covered our faces with make-up and our necks and arms with costume jewelry. We made up clown outfits and put on our father’s old military uniforms---anything at all would make a good costume, only they all had to be made from things we already owned, and we worked on them for weeks. Buying costumes? Totally unheard of.
Back then we weren’t “kids wearing costumes”---we were “ragamuffins” which are defined as persons in ragged and dirty clothing. The definition had evolved into kids who wore crazy costumes for Hallowe’en. A parade down Maine Street in the afternoon would have been arranged and we proudly marched, all secretly certain our home-made costumes were better than everyone else’s. The best one, decided upon by a small group of extremely cranky adults, was rewarded with a free dinner at the local hamburger joint and a whole lot of furious glares and “I’m gonna getchu” mutterings from the other contestants.
And while we all understood that Hallowe’en was supposed to be deliciously scary, no one costumed themselves with plastic hatchets stuck in our skulls, or bloody swords piercing our hearts or as flesh devouring Zombies or famous serial killers or walking-talking-screaming tombstones or dripping bloody-toothed Great White Sharks, or murderous space aliens. Nor did anyone wear horrifying realistic rubber face masks one could not see out of or breathe into. I guess our costumes back then by comparison were pretty bland.
We youngsters also didn’t take gigantic empty pails and pillow cases out into the ‘hood to get filled with candy after ringing a doorbell and demanding largesse. No, back in our day, if you wanted a reward, you had to do a trick to get the booty, and it could be almost anything. Non-destructive anything that is. Dancing, reciting a poem, showing cat-in-the-cradle string tricks, reciting the times tables, especially the 9 ones, reciting the Gettysburg Address, stuff like that. For reasons I’ll never fully understand, I’d confront the families in their doorways holding the candy, or doughnuts, lollypops or whatever, and I’d sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” to them.I was cute and curly-headed back then, and really milked it, letting my not-so-great singing voice wobble endearingly while grinning up at the adults with what I just knew was my most adorable Huckleberry Finn buck-toothed smile. It all paid off—these kind folks would listen to my warblings all the way to “And may all your Christmases be whiiiiiiiite!” (A tiny sob here worked well.)I’d be rewarded with taffy or chocolate kisses or Chiclets, and yes, more apples. But best of all were the Indian Head pennies those kind folks gave out. Oh how I wish I’d saved those. Had I done so, I’d be living in ----well somewhere expensive. And warm.
We never did any damage to homes or cars, except for soaping a few windows and maybe wrapping just one roll of TP around a tree or shed or something. Shooting out street lights with Daisy Air Rifles was for Juvenile Delinquents, but not us. Oh no.
Some parents made their children give up their candy to kids in hospitals, but the smart ones hid a stash somewhere—pockets, an old tree trunk, shoes or boots. Not that they didn’t want to be kind to kids in the hospital, but they reasoned if those kids were sick they probably should not have been fed candy anyway, so they were actually doing them a kindness.
We’d then head finally for our respective homes, exhausted and happy, and we’d put our ragamuffin outfits in a box in the attic for next year, even knowing we might be too big for them the following October. And we secretly feared we might eventually even be too big ourselves for any beloved Hallowe’en shenanigans. But never in our hearts. No, never in our hearts.
Contact LC at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her newest book “Queenie” is at local bookstores and on Amazon.