Remember when Halloween was an official kids’ holiday? It started on the school bus that morning and ended late that night after you’d eaten so much Laffy Taffy that you barfed in Technicolor.
Halloween was rushing home from school, actually doing your homework, then bolting down supper so quickly that it made the dog envious. Halloween was purple dusk with a hint of smoke in the air and a fat, golden, harvest moon just peeking over the horizon and peering in your window as you smeared your face with greasepaint and imagined that you really were a pirate or a hobo or Frankenstein’s monster or some other equally creepy creature from last week’s episode of The Outer Limits. Halloween was your buddies hollering at you to hurry before the big kids hogged up all the good candy and people started turning off the porch lights. Remember? If so, you’re probably as old as Howdy Doody.
Halloween sort of fell on some tough times there for a while. It nearly faded away into the mists years ago when urban myths about LSD, crack and razor blades in candy made the rounds. Then some churches campaigned against it as sinful and devil-worshipping and turned it into “Autumn festivals,’ as if it didn’t amount to the same thing, since it was always on Halloween. In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, who never quite got over Linus’ with The Great Pumpkin: Good Grief!
The official holidas of ghosties, goblins, witches and other things that go bump in the night, not to mention Superman, Cinderella and the entire cast of Star Wars, is finally recovering from a dry spell when Americans were so scared and paranoid about the “dangers” of the holiday that they practically jumped out of their skins if someone shouted, “Boo!”
But the past few years have thankfully seen a resurgence to its heyday when Roy Rogers, Zorro and Cruella DeVille reigned supreme and every neighborhood street in America was mobbed by kids toting colorful goodie bags or plastic jack-o-lanterns from door to door chanting, “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!”
There’s a pecking order to Halloween. Just before dark come the toddlers and tykes dressed as bumblebees and fairies. A few visits to neighbors’ homes and then off to bed so that mom and dad can eat most of the loot. Then come the shuffling, giggling hordes of grammar school kids looking like central casting for Disney. Next come Halloween’s merry pranksters, the young teens and ‘tweens with Freddie Krueger and Jason masks. Gypsy girls and female punk rockers. Groups of grommet surfer dudes in baggies and flip-flops, board tucked under arm, goodie bag clutched under the other.
This coterie comes in groups of six or eight or more and each one of them rings your doorbell five times. When your open the door, they all smile like Eddie Haskell at Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver and hold their bags out while they try to stare around you into your living room as if you’re hoarding a truckload of Snickers and holding out on them. When they head down the steps, they glance back at you, elbow each other and snigger like co-conspirators and you wonder if they’ll go around the block, switch costumes and come back for more. And some of them do, thinking they really fooled you.
But the ones ya gotta beware of are the older teens. They dress in unsettling fashion with fake knives ostensibly penetrating their skulls from one side to the other, Grim Reapers so realistic that your check your pulse to make sure you’re not really dead, or ashen-face undertakers towing a casket with one of their party dressed as a corpse with coins over their eyes. They’re sullen and smirking and give the impression that if you don’t hand over the more expensive sweets that they might come back after midnight and TP your entire house – or worse. When they leave, you check to make sure that your lawn gnomes are still there. And not posed in, ahem, rude poses. Mmm-hmm. Been there, done that. Heard the neighbors laughing at me when I tried to separate them from their compromising positions before I could go to work.
My wife and I have worked hard to keep the Halloween tradition alive. I’m especially diligent because, and I’m proud to admit, I am a case of nearly 70-years-old arrested development. We line the walkway with jack-o-lanterns with candles inside, each sporting a different hideous grin. We greet every princess, troll or Batman and admire their costumes and let them select their own candy because I always buy wayyyyyy too much.
A few years back, recalling a sweet, little old lady in my own neighborhood who did it, we started making candy and caramel apples on Halloween, although I finally gave up on popcorn balls, which always ended up tasting like scorched corn syrup. Our initial fears that parents wouldn’t allow their kids to eat them proved wrong. Now the “candy apple house” is an annual Halloween hit. We even set aside some for the parents.
And because part of me still wishes he could go trick-or-treating and not get the cops called on him, I take my delight in pranking the kids. One year I dressed like a scarecrow and sat on the porch. My outfit was convincing that kids though it was just a dummy dressed as a scarecrow. I had a large bowl of candy on my lap and most kids treated the honor system accordingly. But just before I was ready to call it a night, a group of older teens tried to filch the entire bowl. I grabbed the candy thief by the wrist and snarled, “Don’t be greedy!” I didn’t know a Wookie could vault a porch rail so nimbly, run so fast or scream so loud.
One year, we were eating supper when a group of young elementary school kids came a-calling. I carried my plate to the door and announced, sadly, “I’m so sorry, kids, no candy left. But I do have some mashed potatoes, a porch chop, a little broccoli and corn on the cob.” They looked at me with sad puppy eyes and shuffled their feet. Before I could say I was just teasing, a solemn face dragon held out his bag and sighed, “Guess I’ll just have the corn on the cob.” They laughed along with me when I gave them each a full-sized Milky Way bar.
We anxiously await the annual parade of trick or treaters. I’d be depressed beyond words if it ever got canceled. Our candy and caramel apples will always be delicious. The candy abundant and varied, with none of the unpopular fare. The jack-o-lanterns will always be lit. And just in case the candy really does run out before the fun is over and the kids stop calling, the corn on the cob will always be crisp, fresh and sweet.
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