Random Thoughts

Trick or Treat Revisited

... Halloween was an innocent holiday in the forties

by Ann Robbins Talbot

Halloween has changed over the years. But trick or treat is still the highlight of the holiday. We just have a different perspective on the safety of children.

Way-back-when Halloween costumes were for sale, but in my house, we created our own. That limited us to pirates, ghosts or medical personnel. In New England we had to account for cold weather, meaning jackets had to go under the costume or be an integral part of the overall effect.

The worst part was the obligatory mask. The stores all had a selection of full-face masks made of stiffened cloth. They looked great on the rack, but wearing one, breathing through one, and talking through one needed practice. Eating was out of the question. You had to push the mask up on top of your head to get a taste of your treats. If you were wearing a hat as part of your disguise, this was impossible. As the evening wore on, the area around the mouth tended to get damp and the stiffening disappeared. Each mask got more grotesque. Perhaps it was supposed to happen that way. A few years of wearing a cloth mask led most children into choosing an across-the-eyes-mask a la the Lone Ranger.

We did not need a special container to gather our treats. A pillowcase or a paper bag would do. The food did not need close examination when we got home. No razor blade had ever been embedded in an apple in those days. Lots of neighbors gave apples or homemade treats like brownies or popcorn balls. Everything did not have to be wrapped. Dozens of sticky hands dipping into candy dishes was never considered unsanitary. Children shared their loot with parents or made trades with siblings. I always traded off my licorice for good old once-a-year candy corn.

Neighborhoods were safe enough to travel around without a flashlight or parent. We were invited into each home to model our costumes with no thought of problems. We were the scary ones, not the people who lived in our area. Our favorite house was on Ravine Road. The homeowners had a huge clock collection. We would congregate outside their door just before seven o’clock so that we could hear all the clocks chime at once.

The trick aspect of Halloween seemed to travel to a special evening – Cabbage Night. Doorbells must have been constructed differently because you were able to make the bell stick in the ring position with a common pin. My speed was usually ring-the-bell-and-run. One neighbor neglected to bring her clean sheets in from the clothesline – a wonderful target for too-late tomatoes. As a teenager we congregated in downtown Melrose where we found a little car, probably a Volkswagen, parked by the curb.  Putting all of our young muscle to work, we reparked it between the glass display windows of Newhall’s Shoe Store. Was that the same Halloween that 7-6 was painted onto the Wakefield High School front doors in Melrose Red?

I am happy to have outgrown Halloween parties where one was obliged to eat a donut hanging from a string. And how about bobbing for apples, the most over-rated game in the world? Now, once a year, I drag out my son’s black graduation robe and make some kind of costume to greet the children in my neighborhood. A wig and a plastic mask usually does it.  This year I have purchased a black hood with a red demon face smiling a ghoulish grin that I hope is mildly scary. In order to get to my front door, you have to brush against a bunch of ugly rubber bats suspended from my trees with fishing line so they look like they are flying.  That is the limit of my decorating. Part of my celebration comes on the day after when I find a creative use for leftover candy. This year I will try a layer of cut-up apples, a layer of broken up mini-candy-bars put into the oven for a bit. Happy Halloween!


October 3, 2008


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