Hallowe’en, as I remember it anyway, was all about the good stuff: popcorn balls, caramel apples, enormous chocolate-chip cookies, and all of it homemade. There was a lot of candy, of course. Too many Dum Dum lollipops and too few Tootsie Pops, an overabundance of Mary Janes and Necco Wafers and an insufficient supply of Chunkies and Butterfingers. No one complained though, and no one thought about whether the treats were safe. Everyone carried a UNICEF box. All year my father collected pennies in a huge jar he kept on his bureau so that he could satisfy the cries of “trick-or-treat for UNICEF!” We children juggled Hallowe’en bags and UNICEF boxes, wishing we had a third hand in the scramble at each door.
In my neighborhood in Cleveland Heights, there were a couple of prime destinations, most of them households with moms that baked. One year a ghoulishly charismatic vampire handed out the candy. We fearfully inched forward, took the candy with trembling hand, and bolted with his baritone bwah-ha-ha-haaaaa echoing in our ears, helpless with hysterical giggles.
Our costumes were rarely very interesting. Tramps and bums were standard because dad’s old shirts and a little charcoal on the face was all it took. There were efforts to be princesses I think. The best costume I ever wore was devised from a blue velvet gown, an old bridesmaid’s dress of my mother than had been relegated to the dress-up heap. My mother stuffed the extra space fore and aft so that I vaguely resembled a woman of questionable reputation from the 1890s. She smeared my mouth with scarlet lipstick and sent me on my way. My sister and I wandered from home to home not attracting particular comment, until one homeowner took a second look, hauled me into her living room shrieking with laughter and calling out to her husband (more or less), “Oh my gawd, Harry, you have to see this!” Finally, I thought, someone who recognizes my glamour. It was years before I grasped the true nature of that glamour.
In my memory, it was always damp darkness and the smell of decayed leaves. We were told to be careful of cars but I don’t remember seeing any cars. We roamed to the far corners of our neighborhood and the big boys and girls of eight, nine and ten were placed in charge of the little ones. No parents chaperoned us—at least mine did not—and our liberty was almost as intoxicating as the overload of sugar.
I have carved the jack o’lantern that will signal to trick-or-treaters that there is candy to be had in our otherwise quiet
cul-de-sac. My Tattooed Boy is due any time with the tray bearing a skull that lights up and tells bad jokes. I’m pretty sure we bought way too much candy. We always do, but my students will pounce of the leftovers next week.
Trick or Treat!