Remember when “trunk – or – treating” was not a word?
I don’t know which I looked forward to the most. Odd things, like that uniquely sweet smell of flame blackening the inside of a hollowed-out pumpkin. Or that cozy sense of community as parents greet each other on the sidewalks while young tricksters collect candy from neighboring homes. Crunching through the leaves blown around the lawns. Clouds passing across that beautiful October moon. Endless supplies of chocolate…
One of our family’s heart hinge highlights was gathering our bounty onto our floor at night’s end, oohing and aahing that, once again, Halloween worked. The world had cooperated! Mom creates the costumes, Dad does the trick-or-treating vigil, neighbors keep candy stashes well-supplied, and vehicles slow down for ghostly pedestrians. That’s a lot of teamwork for one synchronized calendar day!
We children loved sorting through our behemoth mound of sweets at the end of an evening well-spent. We labeled the piles: Lollipops, Bubble Gum, Chewy Things, Candy Bars, “Sucky Things” (which I later learned is called hard tack), and Popcorn Balls. It was a given that popcorn balls belonged to Dad. That was his pay for taking us out in the first place, he told us, and we were glad to oblige. In our particular neighborhood, one family even handed out comic books! That was kind of fun, too!
Remember that mystery saltwater taffy wrapped in orange or black wax paper, with no markings? You knew that was going to the discard pile!
The Halloween I remember best was when our father walked us back to our own house after trick-or-treating…and our home had been transformed! Our creative mother had found some black fur and balled it up into a giant spider that lowered itself from a string as we approached the door. We **eeked!** and stepped back. When we did so, our living room curtains opened up very slowly, seemingly by themselves. Behind the curtains was a hideous witch face, glowing with eery blue lights. Even Dad seemed surprised, and when dads are surprised, kids go nuts! Cause Dads pretend like they already knew everything.
After that, our home became the go-to Haunted House. We started off a little skittish that first Halloween, because inviting masked goblins into your home can do that to a family. We had recordings of wonderful howling noises. Children had to step inside for their candy, view the sheet-covered furniture and the skull candle with melting red wax. In the bottom of the candy bowl, hidden in semi-darkness, was cooked, squishy spaghetti noodles. Word-of-mouth travels quickly among Halloweeners, and every year got busier, bolder and more expensive. But Mom and Dad were terrific sports about this. If we could conceive of the idea, it would be accomplished. One of our last years, our “spookhouse” even held a talking head, which was my little sister sitting beneath the table with the “leaf” gapped open. Only her head could be seen. We’d wrapped aluminum foil around her neck to look like a cake platter. Then the round cake lid was tilted slightly across her painted face. She could hold so still for so long! Then when someone reached for a candy, <<<BAH!!!>>> She was alive! Scaredy-cats would run for their lives. One of ’em even left their pillowcase of goodies behind.
In the days before zombies were cool and before clowns made death threats, in a time when “terror” was a light-hearted Halloween word, there was a children’s day. It was a family day and a friends day and a community day. It was called Halloween.