Monday, October 01, 2007

October 1. Halloween is coming!

Halloween. The first celebration I can remember was the year I started first grade. For whatever reason we were privileged to get store bought costumes. Mine was a black cat. I had a black and white molded mask with tiny cut outs for eyes and a slit where the mouth was. It was held tightly in place by a thin elastic band that twirled strands of my hair into knots, and eventually out of my scalp. The plastic apron/dress was printed with a black cat body. It had stiff rolled plastic ties at the neck and waist.

I can't remember what we wore underneath our plastic 'dresses'. It didn't matter that it was sprinkling or cold, the plastic worked well as a raincoat and insulator! I remember the white cotton socks I wore made their way under my heels and the back of my shoes made a nice slapping noise as I walked.

These were the days of "Get home before the street lights come on!" and Halloween night was the one exception to that rule. We left the house at dusk and didn't come home until each of our pillow cases was full and dragging along the sidewalk. We would go out alone, sans parental supervision, with the only instruction to get back to Gramma's house at the end of the night's adventure.

We hit every house we could. Block after block, candy galore! Apartment buildings were the mother load. There was a town law enforced for apartment dwellers. They had to provide home made goodies or cold hard cash in the form of pennies. Apples, both caramel and cinnamon candied, hot pink popcorn balls- which were a 60-38-2 mix of popcorn, Karo Syrup, and 'old maids' to keep you on your toes while eating. One false bite and you could lose a tooth. Cookies, brownies, pumpkin breads and cakes, taffy that had been cooked on a stove, hand pulled and covered with butter before it was wrapped in waxed paper, cupcakes, and whatever else they could conjure up. If they didn't bake, they had to cough up pennies. This was the LAW. At least it seemed that to us.

WE. LOVED. PENNIES. Yes, this was also the golden era of penny candy and we knew that the more pennies one got the more candy they could buy the next day down at the 'Red and White'. Kits, BB Bats, Dot Buttons, Mary Janes, Sugar Babies, Bit-O-Honey, Peanut Butter Crunchies, Black Crows, Brown Cows, Laffy-Taffy, JuJuBees, you name it. If someone landed a nickel we would literally scream with delight.

By the end of the night I had broken skin at the nape of my neck, a small bald spot, blisters from the ruching socks, and bloodied knees from not being able to see where I was walking, thus slamming into the curb on several occasions. Not only was the mask blinding, but also difficult to breathe in; and after an hour or two, the stench of my recycled breath was choking me slowly to death.

Early the next morning we would walk 6 or 7 blocks down to the 'Red and White'; and with raucous reverence, peruse the options. The store clerk knew us, and he knew why we were there. This is the store we were sent to on errands to pick up 5 cent white bread, cigarettes (Marlboros, filtered), or hard liquor with a note. More times than not, the clerk would explain that there was a "sale" on bread or cigarettes (or whatever), and that we had "earned" a piece of penny candy with our bread purchase. He was the originator of the "Gift with a purchase" marketing strategy. We loved him. I am sure he pitied us. So the four of us, aged 4 - 10, were made loyal consumers of the 'Red and White'. We would take our time making our choices and he kindly bagged each collection separately.

I would always buy the chocolate 'Kits'. I was nothing if not practical. They came four pieces to a pack. In my mind that was four times the candy for the price of one! That, and I was a sucker for the uniformity and consistency of the tiny little squares of rock hard taffy. I was impressed by the tiny waxed paper squares and their white lines made by strict folds. It was like a bonus. After I ate the candy I had a symmetrical stack of tiny origami papers. They were akin to gum wrappers, which held a distant second place in my heart. I also noticed how the unwrapped taffy squares would stack only in a certain way. Each one had a lip made from the soft candy pressing itself to the next and then formed into the package. I would finger the sharp little edge and play with the taffy before finally succumbing to temptation and popping it whole into my mouth to be sucked for as long as possible. "How many licks does it take?"

Someone would always get a roll of rainbow coloured dots on paper. I liked the pink ones. I would never eat a yellow. Big brother had a penchant for JuJuBees, which I avoided like the plague. I am sure he was pleased to not have sharing issues over them! Each of us had a method for consuming the haul. One sibling was a miser, another a glutton. It didn't matter, we would share if cajoled enough.

In those mid 60's years our world was filled with turmoil and confusion. But we found strength in each other, and in the kindness of strangers from apartment buildings and behind candy counters. Hope came in little deposits, like finding the dimple on a discarded pop bottle, to be redeemed another day in the future. And redeem it we did. Four siblings, born into strife and want, we managed to hold onto one another, nurture each other, and find ways to let each other know there was an amazing future for all of us.

Now Halloween comes around and it is my turn to be benefactor. Little ones do not go from door to door alone anymore. In my neighborhood children are rarely seen. Mom and Dad take their charges to the school carnivals or church festivals. Too many creepies to worry about now. Halloween brings brisk evenings with an occasional laughter filled porch. Open doors reveal three to five large teenage or older young men, dressed in goth clothing or with some form of school garb drenched in "blood". A chorus of baritones "trick or treat!" across the threshold with looks of demand and pillowcases (ah, a commonality!) opened to receive the night's goal. I toss a few treat sized candies into the bag and shut the door.

But wait... high pitched giggles gather around the dim light and a door chime rings. Mom and dad begin the prompts and encourage their cowboy and angel to go to the crazy lady stranger and accept her offering. They say "thank you" and leave in excitement. You see, our house has a LAW. Pennies and nickels don't have the same effect they used to; and a home made treat will only get tossed in the rubbish. So anyone under the age of 10 gets a full sized bar and a grab into the snack sized bowl.

You gotta love those Halloween police.

add to sk*rt


Rynell said...

I loved this Halloween account.

Full sized candy bars for the kiddos-- Yippy! I wish my 3 young ones could trick or treat at your house. They would definitely squeal in delight!

My first Halloween memory is wearing a plastic Holly Hobby costume (I can still smell and feel the plastic--likely toxic!) and getting homemade granny goose popcorn balls and (not caramel) apples as treats.

The Pea said...

I never adored hallowen fully untill I brought number one into the world on Halloween morning. Now I love it, I make evey costume, and I love to take them out to a nice "safe" trunk or treat in the church parking lot.

Sally said...

You are such a good writer. I wish I took the effort you do on my posts. Yours are really worth reading. I felt like I was there with you.

s'mee said...

Rynell, I would have DIED if anyone gave a 'real' candy bar. Now that it is just Thor and I -and the fact that the numbers are few- we can afford to indulge the little ones. I hope your little people bring in a good haul!

Pea, I have always enjoyed Halloween, just not the scary ax-in-the-head stuff. The trunk and treat is a good way to have fun, we have one here too.

Sally, I'll take that compliment from you, thanks! wow.

Hollywood said...

We are so lucky to live in a community where the streets are CRAWLING with kids on Halloween. It's seriously 1950's-ville where I live. I wish the whole penny-candy tradition has survived as well!

and here is the link to that Cake song I was telling you about!

Lisa M. said...

I love you-

That's just all I have to say-

Oh, and I prefer a snickers please.

s'mee said...

Hollywood, we have a small community where the kids all go (if they can convince their parents to go there) close by. But other than that nope. You are lucky.

Lisa, you too! And I have a box of 'em waitin' right here!

chronicler said...

Okay, your description is the one halloween I didn't get to participate. I remember you guys coming home with a really empty sack for me and stating people just didn't believe the ill sister thing. But everyone shared anyway. I would pick that year to spend 5 months in bed. Store bought costumes and all. Hey, as I think about it, that's probably why you guys got store bought, only had to buy three.