As a kid, I loved Halloween — maybe even more than Christmas. It was a magical time when you could dress up, wander the neighborhood at night without your parents, and get outrageous amounts of candy by simply uttering three words. I still like it quite a bit, but adult Halloween and adolescent Halloween are worlds apart.
As a kid you knew that, for all intents and purposes, Halloween is the gateway to Christmas. Sure, you could say Thanksgiving is actually the gateway to Christmas, but every kid knows Thanksgiving is just a lunch stop on the trip from October 31st to December 25th.
These days, it’s not uncommon for Halloween decorations and Christmas decorations to be sold side-by-side, further blurring the actual seasons’ boundaries — which is a shame. I’d prefer each holiday be fully delineated so that you can properly enjoy each, but capitalism has a way of ruining good things. I won’t be surprised the first time I see a holiday crossover, such as a skeleton Santa or a jack-O-lantern in a manger. Trust me, they’re coming.
When I was a kid, October was probably my favorite month: the crisp fall air, apple picking, fresh cider, and the general melancholy that comes with everything dying around you. (Maybe my depression started earlier than I first realized.) But it was Halloween that made October so great.
Once the calendar flipped from September to October, I got down to business planning my costume. Should I be a hobo or Dracula? Maybe a hobo Dracula. Or maybe a ghost. OK, maybe I wasn’t the most creative kid, but my costume options were generally limited to what we had around the house.
I don’t recall ever getting to buy a new costume growing up. The only options were one of my sibling’s hand-me-downs or something we could throw together with stuff around the house. My mother was creative and talented enough to have sewn me a costume, but I’m sure by the time I rolled around as kid No. 5, she was generally over all that. I do, however, recall one time she helped me make a costume for my Cub Scout Halloween Party at our school. I was to be a scarecrow. I don’t recall much about the costume other than she got a whole bunch of corn stalks and wrapped me in them. I think there were plastic birds involved too, so actually I was to be a bad scarecrow. In the end, I was really more a bundle of cornstalks than anything else. I could have easily been confused for a duck blind.
All I really remember about that night was realizing I couldn’t sit down in the car. The stalks were too rigid to allow me to bend. So, my father lifted me up and laid me down across the back seat. They might as well have dressed me as a murder victim rolled up in a carpet because that’s how I felt. I couldn’t move my arms or see anything. I went into full panic mode. I was hyperventilating and crying and begging them to get me out of the car. I recall their loving attempt to calm me down.
“It’s only three blocks. You’ll be fine.”
Is it any wonder I hate MRIs as an adult?
Normally, as soon as October hit, we were allowed to get out the Halloween box which spent 11 months of the year jammed into a small cupboard over one of the closets in the basement. By the time I was in the picture, the box consisted of a few plastic pumpkins, a number of costumes or pieces of costumes that had once belonged to my older brother or sisters, and a Disney LP called Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House, which was a Halloween-themed sound-effects record. Man, I loved that record.
To show you just how awesome this record was, let me give you the track listing.
- The Haunted House
- The Very Long Fuse
- The Dogs
- Your Pet Cat
- The Unsafe Bridge
- Chinese Water Torture
- The Birds
- The Martian Monsters
- Screams and Groans
- Thunder, Lightening and Rain
- Cat Fight
- A Collection of Creaks
- Fuses and Explosions
- A Collection of Crashes
- Drips and Splashes
- Things in Space
I can’t remember if my favorite was Dogs or The Dogs. (Looking at the album now, it does kind of seem like the Disney crew was phoning it in when it came to Side Two. As a kid though, I found both sides of this album to be awesome.)
I remember how excited I was when someone tall got the Halloween box down. It wasn’t like some Halloween elves had filled the box with new and exciting stuff since the previous year. There were the same hard plastic — usually cracked — masks with eye holes that didn’t quite line up with your eyes and nose holes that didn’t line up with anything, with a single piece of elastic approximately the diameter of a human hair barely hanging on to one side by a sharp staple — the staple on the opposite side having broken off long ago. There were the same musty-smelling costumes and the same plastic jack-O-lanterns missing their handles. It didn’t matter; it all felt new to me.
Most, if not all, of the few costumes in the Halloween box had belonged to my sisters, which is why I always ended up being a hobo or Dracula or maybe a ghost. Still I loved looking through the box each year.
Once, when I was maybe five or six, I found a princess costume in the box — possibly Cinderella, I don’t recall. My mother asked me what I wanted to be for Halloween, and with zero hesitation I told her I wanted to wear the princess costume. I remember her telling me matter-of-factly, “No, boys can’t dress as girls.” (In her defense, I’ll just say that A: She was born in 1929, and B: She was wrong.) I was stunned. Me dressing as a princess was a brilliant idea! NO ONE was going to know it was me on Halloween night, and wasn’t that the point?
I pleaded my case to no avail.
“Wouldn’t you rather be a hobo or Dracula? How about a ghost?”
I don’t recall what I went as that year, but I doubt it could hide my disappointment. Though, that dissipated once the candy started flowing.
Oh, the candy!
You have to understand, when I was little, “fun size” candy bars were still a fairly new thing. (Now there’s a brilliant marketing move. I can just imagine that meeting:
“Gentlemen, we need to come up with a catchy name for these tiny candy bars that are a quarter of the size of regular candy bars.”
“How about ‘Disappointment Bars’?”
“No, no, no! It’s got to be something that’ll make the kids happy to receive them on Halloween instead of wanting to egg your house.”
“Um, ‘Fun Size’?”
“I don’t now who you are young man, but I’m going to make you the Head of Marketing! Johnson, you’re fired! This young go-getter is taking your job.”
“I am Johnson, sir.”
“Oh, right. Sorry about firing you, Johnson. I’ll be sure to have HR give you a fun-size severance package.”)
As a kid, it was still common to get full-size candy bars. Of course, it was also still common to get popcorn balls, apples, pennies, and wax lips.
“Here kid, have this wickless candle shaped like a pair of lips to gnaw on. You may notice the faintest flavor, but you’re actually just imagining it. Whatever you do, don’t swallow it. OK? Enjoy!”
Wax lips actually weren’t the worst Halloween candy though. In my mind, that title was reserved for those nameless black and orange wax-paper-wrapped peanut-butter candies (and, I suppose, anything black-licorice flavored). Those black and orange wrappers just contained disappointment, as far I’m concerned. Still I ate them, mostly because they were untradable. The thing about Halloween candy is it’ll all get eaten, even if doing so makes you sad or angry. You earned that crappy piece of candy, it’s all that’s left in the bottom of your bag, and Christmas is still seven weeks away. Choke it down.
You could always rely on other kids to tell you where the best candy was… and the worst. It was like hundreds of little ghouls and goblins dishing out Yelp reviews.
“You have to go to the Coopers’ house. They’re giving out full-size Snickers wrapped in ten-dollar bills.”
“And make sure to skip that green house.”
“Is that the house handing out apples with razor blades inside?”
No, that’s the house next door. The green house is handing out those orange and black candies.”
When I was little, I’d go out with my sisters carrying one of those plastic jack-O-lanterns. Depending on my age, we’d either just trick-or-treat on our street or we’d do both our street and the next street over. Usually my jack-O-lantern would be full to the brim. I even remember stopping back home at times to empty it before going back out. When I got older, I went out with my friends, and they taught me to not mess around with the plastic pumpkins. They used pillow cases, and they’d hit at least three streets. We’d get home with enough candy to put a moose into diabetic shock. It was glorious.
Before my sister Susan got too old to go tricker-treating, we’d come home, dump our candy onto the living room floor, sort it, and get down to the business of trading.
“I’ll give you a Mounds bar, a Clark bar, four Bazooka bubble gums and this handful of loose candy corn for a Reese’s, those two little Milky Ways, and six Pixy Stix.”
“Are the Bazookas as hard as rocks?”
“You’ve got a deal!”
Naturally, our parents tried to limit us to two or three pounds of sugar per day, but we’d always find a way to sneak more. I know some kids who would hoard their candy like some sort of Halloween preppers, but that was never me. The full-size bars were gone in two days. The fun-size, a couple days later. By the end of the week I was down to the sad candy — hard candy, anything with coconut, gum, and those damn black and orange things. By Day 10, it was all gone — along with the now rotten (or smashed) jack-o-lanterns and the Halloween box. The magic was bottled up and put away for another year.
Onward to Christmas!