Happy Halloween everyone! For the first time in years, people around here will be celebrating Halloween on October 31st. When I was a young trick-or-treater, Halloween was always celebrated on October 31st – regardless of the day of the week. Nowadays we seem to celebrate holidays when it’s convenient to do so. When I was working full-time, it was nice to get the three day weekends, but now that I’m a crotchety semi-retired senior citizen, moving holidays around simply gives me something else to complain about.
Notice the phrase “Trick or Treat” has two parts. When we were young, we took it literally. For a week or so preceding Halloween, we’d go out every night and pull tricks on people. Then, on Halloween night, we’d put on costumes and, like little angels, go to many of those same people and ask for candy.
The tricks we pulled were basically harmless. Unlike our parents, we didn’t go around knocking over outhouses. Truth to tell, had the outhouses been there, we probably would’ve knocked them over. Without outhouses, we had to find other forms of amusement.
The most common prank among our gang was what we called “Tick-Tack”. We would quietly sneak up to someone’s front door and either ring the doorbell or bang on the door. Then, we’d be gone in a flash and hide behind bushes or a parked car to watch the people open the door to find no one there. It was akin to calling a phone number at random and, as soon as the person answered, hanging up. There was no caller ID back in those days, so it was next to impossible for the person annoyed by our pranks to do anything about it.
Phone pranks were another of our favorite pastimes – “Is your refrigerator running?” “Why, yes it is.” “Don’t you think you should go and catch it?” Amazing how easily we were amused. “Do you have Prince Albert in the can?” was a question we’d ask shopkeepers… over the phone, of course.
Another popular prank of the time was taking bar soap and writing or scribbling across people’s nice clean windows. There was no permanent damage. The victim simply had the annoying job of cleaning up after some thoughtless child.
As for the ‘burning poop in a paper bag’ trick, we had heard of it but never tried it. None of us wanted anything to do with a paper bag full of excrement. Surprisingly, we were also concerned that it might cause a fire that could get out of control. We didn’t want to be responsible for such a thing.
The Halloween costume is another thing that was very different when I was growing up. Some stores had begun carrying a few items, but most people made their own costumes. Come to think of it, most masks being sold in those days were the kind the Lone Ranger wore; they covered the eyes and nothing else.
One year our older brother was stationed in French Morocco and sent us Fez hats as souvenirs. They immediately became the key portion of our costumes for that year. Mom made us robes from old sheets and we burned corks to rub on our face – it was a modified black face; we did not sing minstrel songs.
Another year I decided to be a football player. I had an older brother’s jersey and helmet. I made shoulder pads out of a cardboard box. I had the only squared-off pads in the history of football. Another time I borrowed one of my brother’s navy uniforms. I don’t know if it’s still true, but back then, a sailor’s pants did not have a fly. Instead, there was a flap that was closed with thirteen buttons. I learned very quickly that I had to plan well in advance before heading for the bathroom.
The highlight of my costumes was the year I decided to be a coffee pot.
Our neighborhood merchants held an annual Halloween parade and presented prizes for the best costume. I was sure I would win something with my coffee pot. I used a large cardboard box, added a spout and handle, painted the entire thing white, and quickly discovered how difficult it was to walk. Worse yet, I could carry my trick-or-treat bag, but I couldn’t reach out with both hands to open it.
Not only did I fail to win a prize, but, not being able to see very well, I tripped several times. Once on the ground, I was like a turtle on his back. My brother and friends had to help me back to my feet. Needless to say, they were not pleased with me. At every house they had to help me stick out my bag for the treats, and then walk beside me to catch me before I hit the ground.
One final thought on Halloween: Back in those days, we were given homemade cookies, popcorn balls, fudge, and candy apples, and there was never a question about whether or not it was safe to eat.
I’m not sure how the razor blades in the apples stories got started, but I’d be willing to bet that the original tales were urban legends. The few serious cases I’ve read about were instances of a parent trying to poison a child and using Halloween candy as a cover-up.
Unfortunately, we can no longer trust the basic goodness of people. While I’d guess that one hundred percent of the treats given out this year are safe to eat, I’d still have to check my child’s loot very carefully. What a shame!