Halloween is almost here, as evidenced by the bags of candy clogging the aisles at the grocery stores and the fact the Hallmark Channel already has kicked off its Christmas movie marathon.
Given this year’s general strangeness, some people think Halloween isn’t going to happen. I disagree. The trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood have dwindled down to almost nothing, but people will still be dressing up and celebrating somehow. I know in our house we celebrate by buying the same amount of candy we purchased when we actually had trick-or-treaters, only with the tacit agreement that it will be consumed just by us, not witches, goblins or mini Darth Vaders.
I must say I miss how Halloween used to be when kids wore homemade costumes with store-bought masks that completely cut out all peripheral vision. We canvassed the town in groups of two or three and the only grown-ups we saw were the ones answering the front doors and doling out treats. Every so often a dad might walk his kids around the neighborhood carrying a shot glass so he could get a treat of his own, a trick that didn’t raise a single eyebrow. If anything the other dads were jealous they hadn’t thought of trick-or-treating for shots first.
For hours and hours we rang doorbells while enjoying the sensation of being grown up enough to be out in the dark on our own, passing along tips to other trick-or-treaters about which houses were handing out full-size candy bars and which were handing out boxes of raisins or worse, pencils. Nov. 1 saw classrooms full of tired, cranky students with stomachaches, but that was part of the deal. We made it through the day knowing a pillowcase full of candy was waiting at home for a little more hair of the dog that bit us the night before. Dentists must have always loved Halloween.
Of course, there was a dark side to those days too, in the form of neighborhood weirdos who came out from under their rocks on Halloween. A friend of mine recalled one man in her neighborhood who passed out potatoes wrapped in pages torn from Playboy magazines every year. Neither my friend nor her trick-or-treating pals were particularly traumatized. They unwrapped the potatoes, shrugged, and threw them and their wrappings in the nearest garbage can. That this person was able to hand out his personalized Halloween treats year after year tells you something about life in those days, namely that kids didn’t bother to tell their parents about what kind of inappropriate treats they got and parents didn’t think to ask.
Another weirdo surfaced at a Halloween party my freshman year in high school when around 20 guests went trick-or-treating together. One of the houses we approached was a ranch house with a big picture window. In the big picture window was a teenage boy wearing a trench coat. He waved to us. Being friendly girls, we waved back.
“He must be dressed up as a spy,” one of us guessed.
“Or a flasher,” someone else said, making us all giggle.
Well, guess what? He was dressed up as a flasher and it wasn’t a costume. He opened his trench coat, and after a moment of stunned silence, everyone began to laugh, a reaction I’m sure he hadn’t expected. Still laughing, we waved again before continuing down the block.
Trick-or-treat as we knew it pretty much ended the year some creep slipped a razor blade inside an apple. All of the sudden parents started monitoring Halloween candy, kids weren’t allowed out of the house alone, and Oct. 31 became a lot less fun and a whole lot more scary.
Of course, we can’t go back to the old days and it’s obviously better that weirdos wrapping potatoes in pages torn out of a girlie magazine and passing them out to small children are reported to the police or at the very least leaned on by every single parent in the neighborhood. And we should have reported the teenage flasher because he must have had some serious issues his parents needed to know about. I’m not sure if there was a more “live and let live” attitude back then or if everyone I knew had the attention span of a gnat. Maybe a little of both.
So for better or worse, Halloween’s not what it used to be. For me, Halloween has become pumpkin-shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups, a scary movie and early to bed since there are no ringing doorbells to answer. It’s not nearly as exciting as it once was, but at least no one in our house wakes up with a stomachache. Or a potato.
Nell Musolf is a freelance writer living in Mankato with her husband and two dogs. She can be reached at [email protected].