The hoopla last week about trick-or-treat night was a bit ridiculous. Not to say there wasn’t good cause for concern about little children getting drenched and looking more like drowned rats than little princesses and super heroes, but when I was a boy we wouldn’t have thought twice about going trick-or-treating in the rain.
It was a different time for sure. My family (Mom, Dad, me, and my older brothers and sister) lived out “in the sticks” on a gravel road that was more dirt than gravel. Going to town was always a big deal, and all the more so when it was to beg for free candy.
Mom and Dad would turn us loose in a neighborhood well known for giving lots of chocolate bars. We would race from house to house for three or four hours, only stopping when people began turning off their porch lights and shouting through the door, “You kids need to go home, we’re all out of candy.” Reluctantly, we would make our way to the appointed pick up location and head home to inspect our loot.
Inspecting our loot consisted of pouring our candy in big piles on the floor, always being careful not to let the piles touch. Then we would sort, count, and sometimes trade for our personal favorite kind of candy; but we never parted with chocolate bars. Remember, this was long before the days of bite size bars.
I don’t know if Mom and Dad helped themselves to our candy after we went to bed, but we each had enough to last for at least a week or more. Finally, the last piece of bubble gum would be unwrapped and chewed for several days (resting on the bedpost at night) until our jaws would give out and we would have to throw the gum away. One reason we enjoyed Halloween so much is that this was about the only time we had candy all year long, which probably explains why, when I went to a dentist for the first time in my life at age 18, I only had two cavities.
In those days most Halloween costumes were homemade. This was especially true of poor families like ours who couldn’t even afford a dime store gorilla mask. My brothers, sister, and I always dressed as hobos. This required very little preparation because most of our clothes, gifted to us by the Salvation Army, were sufficiently tattered and torn to require very little modification. All we had to do was roll up one pant leg, let half a shirttail hang out, smear some soot on our faces, and tie a rag to the end of a stick for a knapsack.
Of course, instead of a rag tied to the end of a stick, I carried an old backpack, which brings me to the story of the great Halloween candy caper.
It was Halloween night, 1954. I was 8 years old and a seasoned trick-or-treater. This meant my older brothers and sister no longer had to take turns holding my hand to be sure I didn’t get lost or, worse yet, ran over by a car. Somehow. I had managed to lag behind my brothers and sister, and so it was that, as I was walking up the sidewalk to a house, three older boys jumped out from behind a tree and the biggest boy said, “Give me your candy, kid.”
I don’t know what came over me – maybe it was a sugar high from having already eaten a handful of candy – but whatever the reason, I suddenly felt more like Superman than a poor little hobo. In a voice as calm as Clark Kent’s I said, “Oh you think so, do you?” Then, holding up my backpack with the top open, as though I was handing it to him, I said, “I dare you to look inside.”
This caught the boy off guard and for a second he just stared at me, but then, figuring I was bluffing, he leaned over and stuck his face in my backpack to have a look. As he did – just like I had done with the bear at the old oak tree in Half Acre Woods – I shoved the backpack completely over his head, then grabbed the straps and pulled him to the ground. The boy started thrashing around, but instead of letting go I jumped on his back and held on tight like a cowboy riding a bucking bronco with a sack over its head.
About that time a little old lady came out on the front porch to see what was causing the commotion. Her sudden appearance startled the other two boys so badly that they dropped their sacks of candy and ran off. Squinting into the darkness from the edge of the porch, the little old lady shouted, “What’s going on out there? You boys better go home.”
“It’s okay, we’re just playing, grandma”, I shouted back to her. The big kid had stopped thrashing around so I pulled the backpack off his head, which sent candy flying everywhere. He apparently believed she really was my grandma because he jumped up and ran in the same directions his friends had gone.
The little old lady decided everything was okay and went back in the house. I quickly gathered up as much of the candy as I could find and put it back in my backpack, then picked up the three bags of candy the boys had left behind and headed on down the street to look for my brothers and sister. By this time they had missed me and had come back looking for me. When they saw me carrying three bags of candy plus my backpack full of candy they all said in unison, “Where in the world did you get all that candy?”
“Well, I proceeded to tell them the story exactly as it had happened but before I could get it all out my oldest brother interrupted and said, “It sounds like another one of his little brown lies. C’mon, let’s go home.” And so we did, but when we got home they were all jealous because I had four times as much candy as they did.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.