There are certain headlines and articles that I simply pass over when reading the newspaper, due to lack of interest or the fact that they don’t concern me. However, one such headline recently caught my eye. The headline announced that a community in Virginia had passed an ordinance that imposed a ban on trick or treating for children over the age of 12. The article went on to say that three teenage boys were being held for the shooting of another teen while they were “trick or treating.” The more I tried to search for more information about the event, the more similar events I found throughout the country. What a sad situation.
Having to ban teenagers from “trick or treating” was never necessary when I was a child. It almost became a rite of passage to be able to stop going door-to-door and begin being an “escort” for the younger kids. The thought of violence was wasn’t even a consideration. Good Lord, if we started any trouble, our parents would be the ones killing us!
Today in my office, one of my co-workers had a visit from her 4 year old daughter. This precious red-headed little girl was proudly wearing a plastic fireman’s hat. I asked where she had gotten it, and she told me a fireman and a fire truck had visited her pre-school today. Trying to hold her attention while her mom gathered some papers off of her desk to take home with her, I asked her if she had decided what she was going to be for Halloween. Her eyes grew as big as saucers with excitement, and she quickly informed me that she and her younger brother were going to be crayons. She was going to be the red one (of course) and her baby brother was going to be a “gween crayon.”
That very brief conversation with Kim’s little girl took me back to my own childhood and reminded me of how excited I would get anticipating Halloween. Planning what you were going to dress up as for Halloween was such a big thrill. I would think about it for weeks, trying to come up with the “perfect” costume that would scare everyone! Would I be a ghost, a monster, a Martian or maybe that scary Creature from the Black Lagoon? Half of the thrill of Halloween was deciding on your disguise.
By the week before the big event, I’d be so confused about what to be. That was about the time that my personal “reality check lady,” MOM, would step in and announce that I would be wearing the clown costume that my older brother had grown out of. A clown. How humiliating. And so went my childhood, my youthful attempt at creativity squashed by the reality of thriftiness! I was forever destined to be a living rerun of Halloween Past.
One event would always take my mind off of my costume issue each year. I always looked forward to carving a pumpkin with my dad at Halloween. He wouldn’t necessarily get the biggest pumpkin he could find, but I never remember being disappointed with its size. Dad would always do the cutting, and Stevie Joe and I would be the ones who had to dig into the slimy interior and remove all of the pumpkin’s “guts.” I can still remember the smell of fresh pumpkin “innards!” We would all discuss what the best and scariest face would be for the jack-o-lantern. Even though we would discuss different ideas, ours always looked the same. The simple fact was that my brother and I were never permitted to wield a sharp knife to carve it ourselves. Dad would always be the carver. We would sit and stare at Dad with every cut he would make. He really had an artistic touch and the pumpkin would always turn out very special. He wouldn’t be content with just putting a candle inside, but would often rig up a small lightbulb to light our jack-o-lantern instead. We’d place it at the top of our porch steps and religiously light it each evening at Halloween.
Once I had accepted my fate of forever wearing a hand-me-down costume each year and turned my attention to the strategic planning phase of Halloween. Along with my brother and cousins, Paula and Karla, the days before Halloween were spent planning our “attack” on the neighborhood. Which streets would provide the largest bounty? Which house had historically had the best treats and which would only give you those items that were low on the desirability spectrum? Chocolate bars and dimes were high on the list while apples and popcorn balls ranked rather low in my book. Of course, our strategy was often revised during the actual event since we would often discover a “mother lode” of treats at an unexpected residence.
Part of our plan was always to leverage the youngest member of our band of hunky trick-or-treaters, my cousin Karla. She was small, cute and a natural performer. She knew how to work the crowd and turned on just the appropriate amount cuteness, sweetness and innocence when the neighbor opened their door. Her curly blond hair left them defenseless and we were always bound to get a few extras in our bag as a result.
The area that the four of us would cover would be begin at Martin Street and would cover all points west over to Taft Street in West Mifflin. It included Thomas St, Mellon St., Iowa St., Ohio Ave., Texas Ave., Main Ave., Vermont Ave., and Highland Ave. I counted how many homes were in our “trick-or-treat zone” by using Google Maps which gives you satellite images of the homes. I was amazed when I counted nearly 200 homes! This number is pretty significant, since it was very rare that a home wouldn’t have their porch light burning to welcome the neighborhood kids.
Once we began our “mission” on Halloween evening, there was not stopping us. Just like a swarm of locusts, we would bravely walk up to every door and loudly announce “Trick or Treat?” Our bags would pop open and the goodies would be dropped in. Of course, we would all be making mental note of what we received and decided whether would return later or even attempt to go to their back door via the alley behind. I’m sure they knew what was going on if we did decide to go to their back door, but they never let us know or fail to give us another treat.
There were times when we were less than happy about a particular neighbor’s offering. However, we would NEVER be disrespectful or so rude as to say anything that would make our displeasure known to the grown-up. Our parents would kill us if they heard that we did. When our group’s youngest member, Karla, had just started going out with us on Halloween, we came upon a house that was giving out apples. Unfortunately, Karla was a bit too young to understand what the rules were. When she say an apple being dropped into her bag, she quickly and loudly blurted out…. “Yuck! An apple!” My sentiments exactly, and who better to express it? It still brings a smile to my face when I think about it.
By the time we had completed our route, we were all exhausted. During the course of the evening, one bag for candy was rarely enough. We someimes would need to run home for another bag or two as they became overloaded. Perhaps the hardest part of the evening was the return home from the top of Mellon Street. Carrying what seemed like a TON of candy, we would drag ourselves and our bags of candy back home.
You would think our night would be over, but that was not the case. After we got home, Dad and Mom would plop us in the backseat of our car and would then proceed to chauffer us around to every relative’s home to continue our Halloween escapades. With the size of our hunky family, this final part of the evening’s celebration would net us some extra special goodies! Of course, the time it took to visit all my relatives was considerable. After we knocked on their door and received our treats and displayed our costumes, Mom and Dad would have to converse with my Aunts and Uncles for a bit. The conversation usually lasted until we started whining or tugging on their clothes to get going or “idemo” as they say in Croatian.
Only after we had completed the rounds to all of our relatives could we finally return home and focus on one our most enjoyable tasks. My brother and I would go to separate areas of our living room and proceed to “process” all of the candy we had received. Processing meant dumping all of your goodies into a big pile and then separating the items into unique little groups of like items until all of the candy was matched with like kinds. This process took a while, but eventually we would end up with a neatly organized array of sugary treats in front of us.
The next, and most important task was to begin trading negotiations with my brother. Although I am told that it is un-American, I have always hated peanut butter. The taste and smell have always repulsed me. As a result of my disdain for peanut butter and all things nutty, the trading process was pretty clear cut. Steve and I would trade plain treats in return for nutty treats on a unilateral basis. There was never a need for discussion or argument. He’d get the my Snickers and I’d get his Milky Ways, Peanut Butter Cups were traded for 3 Musketeer Bars, and so on. The apples always went to Mom and our small penny candy items were joined together and stored in a brown paper bag for use in lunch bags throughout the fall and winter months. Popcorn balls were tossed out (sorry) and candy apples usually went to Mom or Dad since they enjoyed them so much. If there were any homemade treats, they were tested by Mom, not unlike the Royal Food Taster in days of yore.
Beside the candy treats, we would also have collected a few coins and some small novelty items. My favorite of the small items were the paper tattoos that you could moisten and place on your arm. When you peeled off the paper backing, you would be left with this really neat design on your arm. The design was usually an anchor, a cartoon character or even the classic “Mom” tattoo. Some of the other little toys we’d get were whistles, tiny yo-yo’s and an occasional Asian Finger Trap made of woven bamboo.
We were only permitted to have one or two pieces of candy on Halloween evening. She knew that we would be a bit too “energized” had we consumed more than one or two. As it was, by the time late evening rolled around, we were WAY too tired from our excursions to do much of any else. We would be so tired, that we didn’t even complain when we were told it was bedtime. Besides, the next day was my birthday, and Mom wouldn’t have the heart to deny me a few extra pieces of candy!
Allowing hundreds of children roam the streets after dark, often unsupervised, was never an issue. We were safe. The though of harming any of the children never crossed anyone’s mind. After all, we were all part of the village that raised us! We were home.