Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Halloween Story

I've written elsewhere about the power of words, the effects they can have on people. Sometimes even one word can exert a powerful influence.

Take, for example, "Begger's Night" on the Halloween when I was eight years old. Our mothers took my younger brothers and several cousins door-to-door through the neighborhood. The treats were the usual boring items--peanuts, apples, oranges, and the occasional miniature candy bar. At one point my oldest cousin (a year older than me) said, "Let's skip the next house."

Wow--"skip" a house? That sounded cool--so cool that I had to say it. "Yeah, let's skip this one!" Wow--we would be doing something! And so we did. We waited on the sidewalk as our mothers took the little kids up to the house's door, feeling decidedly older.

A few seconds later, we weren't feeling older (nor wiser) at all. My brothers and cousins came dancing down from the house's porch, cheering, "Look! They gave us Three Musketeers bars--the big ones!"

Sure enough, these people weren't messing around--no fruits and nuts here! They had dropped a full-size Three Musketeers bar into each bag. (And make no mistake about it: Three Musketeers bars were serious candy bars back then. Each one was the size of a cigar box!)

"We wanna go back," my cousin wailed. "Oh, no," our mothers replied. "You said you wanted to 'skip' that house, and skip it you will"


Bonnie said...

OH yeah? Halloween fun? Get this one.....

We had FULL RUN of College Corner, Indiana/Ohio when I was a kid. Nothing bigger than a hamlet, the state line zipped down the middle of the place. Most streets and alleys had a light every basketball court's length away from each other. A rural place: hogs and corn fed all of us in a direct, or less than that, way. No parents escorted us on our Halloween raid of the village. The worst it got was older siblings forced to let younger ones (costume usually trailing) tag along. Mortifying. Our costumes wore the dim cultural differences that reflected that invisible border line between families and traditions.

In 1955 there were no miniature candy bars. Candy for Halloween in our hamlet consisted of goods that were little in the first place--much of the same stuff we bought after school with pennies at the local candy shop. Mary Jane's, Tutti Frutti, Root Beer Barrels, Bubble Gum, Stupid Suckers.

Occasionally there'd be a house with apples. Okay, thanks.
There were the "stuck with nothing" retired Methodist bachelors dropping a single penny into each of the bags. Uh, sure, thanks.
Slightly more innovative were the half dozen raisins twisted up in waxed paper. Mmm, trick or treat!

Running like banshees through the town as we did, word spread quickly as to which house to avoid (grouchy old lady, mean dog, lights out).
Skipping had to happen in order to get to the heart of the Halloween; the coveted, almighty grand offering by 2% of the community that really got into the All Hallows Eve spirit. (Religion in this community pulled tight ranks on conservation and moderation in all things. Halloween was no exception, bud).
Word spread like the flame inside a jack-o-lantern as to the amazing house with REAL treats. The crazy middle-age, well-intending neighbors who caught temporary insanity due to witches eve.

No mini bars in this domain, nope. Sweet success would be enormous, still warm popcorn balls featuring made-from-scratch caramel.

Tired old folks who ran out of candy would give QUARTERS to the last bunch of us. We thought they had lost their minds, had momentary guilt, and finally reveled in the autumnal glory.

Brownies (and not from mix) wrapped in foil, chock full of walnuts and icing on top were much better than the more frequent sugar cookies. They turned to sawdust at the bottom of the paper bag by our nights living-room floor dump out.

The mother of all Pumpkin Night prizes (and we DID NOT anyone but
our most intimate friends) WERE the full size candy bars, passed out by neighbors we thought must be secret millionaires living right beside us and had never said a word at church.
These bars were Milk Ways, Hershey Bars, Zeros, Almond Joys, Black Cows, or Tootsie Rolls.

The exhaustion and exhilaration by night's end of Halloween was the biggest reward. Not as much what we had in the bag, but how we got it. (Cheaters rode bikes, parking at the end of a street, walking on foot, faking being hard at work).

21st century Octobers beckon me to realize what matters more than some things in these disconcerting and rushed times. A rush to having it all, taking short cuts, not saying thank you, much of what we achieve ready for us in a flash.

The full size candy bars were the UNEXPECTED rewards for our efforts.
That's what made them so wonderful. Not their size.

Michael A. Banks said...

Ah..popcorn balls! I didn't mind getting pennies, as they did add up to a nickel rather quickly.

This reminds me: there were always grinches who stayed home with their lights on and didn't think we could see the blue-ish glow of their TV from outside....