Looking Back: Halloween

In their song, “Bookends”, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel said it best; “It was a time, and what a time it was. A time of innocence . . .”

I remember when October came, and the leaves began to change color. Our thoughts turned to Halloween: picking a costume, dressing up, parties, and going door to door in the neighborhood collecting treats. The holiday wasn’t the retail event that it is today with specialty candies and eerie stuff filling the store shelves 2 months before the day.

Costumes were wide ranging. Clowns weren’t frightening. We dressed up as Emmett Kelly, the hobo clown with Barnum and Bailey’s Circus; Killer clowns hadn’t been created in our world. We had Roy Rogers, Dick Tracy, Superman, and hundreds of others that we chose from, but they were the movie heroes; we didn’t do villains. There were ghosts, witches and a few wizards.

I remember dressing up one year for a class party at my school. There was a new student from Poland in our class that year. He didn’t seem to understand how we celebrated this holiday and what we were doing dressing up. On the day of the party we had a slew of princesses, hoboes, cowboys, and one wearing a paper bag. It wasn’t an ordinary paper bag; it was one from the dry cleaners that was used to protect your clothes as you took them home. As I look back at that costume, I feel a twinge of guilt for our mocking and laughter, because I now see it for the clever, brilliant creation by a family unfamiliar with our ways and unable to afford some store-bought creation.

At the parties we turned out the lights and put our hands into bowls of eyeballs (peeled grapes), plates of brains (cooked spaghetti) and other creepy to the touch foods. The real items these “fakes” imitated were on display when the party started. The girls would scream, and the boys gained a step up in status if they ate one of the eyes. It was a fun night for all.

Naturally, the most fun on Halloween was dressing up and going door to door in search of various treats. Some houses had freshly baked treats; others gave out apples or oranges. (I even remember one older woman who gave out carrots.) We would get together with friends and discuss where to get the best treats: “The lady in the blue house is giving away dimes.” (A dime would buy two big candy bars.) I think I was lucky to live in an apartment building, as I never had to travel far to fill up a bag with treats, and I always had more than my other friends at school.

I remember Halloween as a time when we laughed and had fun. We didn’t draw our curtains and turn out the lights, but opened our doors to our young visitors. For us, it was a night when spirits roamed free and full of joy. I don’t look forward to Halloween as I used to, but I do remember those innocent days of my youth.

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