Things have changed a lot since I was a kid, oh so many years ago. First of all, costumes were for rich kids and sissies. We wore old clothes and blacked our faces with burnt cork for Halloween. There was a practical reason for this since the custom of the time was to fill old socks with flour and mercilessly pound each other until we looked like the ghosts of Christmas past. Also, marking each other with colored chalk, egg throwing and shaving cream pies in the face were popular Halloween activities in the neighborhood.
In those days, trick or treat really meant something. Anybody who was mean enough to begrudge us a piece of candy was very likely to have a stick stuck in their doorbell so it rang continuously. Egging or toilet-papering their house or car was another consequence. A few years ago a group of cute kids came to our door and recited the requisite "Trick or Treat". I jokingly said "trick" and they looked at me with confused faces. Of course I forked over the candy, but not before bemoaning the fact that these unimaginative children were taking all the terror out of Halloween.
My friends and I would have thought we had died and gone to heaven to be able to trick or treat in a neighborhood like ours. Kindly people wait with sack-sized treats and are happy to reward you when you come to their door. The surprising thing is we hardly get any visitors on Halloween. Maybe a few tots who do it more for their parents' gratification than their own; the older kids can't be bothered. The few who do ring the bell are dressed in street clothes and look so bored you want too invite them in to play some video games to restore their spirits.
I can remember like it was yesterday coming home after a night of trick or treating. No parents escorted us; no police cars hovered nearby to protect us; nobody warned us against lunatics who put razor blades into apples and gave them out as treats....we just roamed the streets in our homemade costumes ringing bells and hoping for the best. Candy was never plentiful in our house, not for any nutritional reasons, but anytime my poor mother tried to keep some around, I would search it out and devour it, pretty much like I do today. Opening that shopping bag and gorging ourselves on Mary Janes, Baby Ruths, Three Musketeers Bars, Marshmallow Twists, and even that crappy Candy Corn that makes its appearance around Halloween was the reward for a hard night's work.
As I get older, the mind slips. I can't remember things I meant to do; I ask my wife the same questions over and over; peoples' names and faces escape me. But there must be a place in the mind where treasured memories are stored. A place where things that were so important at some point in your life are kept like carefully wrapped antiques, to be brought out and enjoyed over and over again. Halloween nights in Brooklyn in the 1950s occupy an honored place in that vault.
(Originally published 10-31-09)
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