Sunday, November 1, 2009
Before Things Got Dangerous
In the early 1950s things weren't exactly hopping in our part of western Iowa in regards to prosperity. But things were getting better. We had just moved from one farm to another. The house was larger and this time we had electricity. We'd been living with kerosene lamps for lighting, but now we had real light bulbs in the ceilings. And electrical outlets (at least one per room). A year or so later, we got indoor plumbing, a real bathtub, toilet and sink. And a double-wide kitchen sink in a metal cabinet. Things were looking up but money was scarce as hens' teeth. We had the essentials but we didn't have a lot of extras.
Soda pop and candy were luxuries. So we were quite interested when the "town kids" at our new school explained to us "Trick or Treating". People just gave you candy! All you had to do was dress up in a costume and knock on doors, yelling quite loudly "Trick or Treat". Candy! Lots of Candy! And so we joined the hordes.
Our costumes were pretty simple. One year my mother purchased a pattern and made a nifty clown costume for me. My brothers mostly dressed up as either a ghost or a hobo. The "ghost" wore a pillowcase or part of an old sheet with holes cut for eyes. The hobos sewed a couple of red patches onto their jeans and slung a stick and hobo bag over the shoulder. What appeared to be a scraggly gray beard on my young brothers' hobo faces was actually burnt cork rubbed into the skin. A corn cob dragging from the corner of the mouth served as a 'seegar'. We were an admirable bunch on Halloween!
You need to know that we lived in a time when the Mars candy company had just introduced a large 3-Musketeers Candy Bar. And sold it for a nickel. Five cents! The novelty of this most recent version of the 3-Musketeers bar was that it had two indentations in the chocolate-covered nougat which allowed the buyer to divide the candy bar into THREE pieces - one for self, and one for each of two friends. Imagine that! Three kids sharing one candy bar and calling it fun!
So costumes aside, the REAL purpose of Trick-or-Treating was CANDY. We didn't get a lot of candy. So on Halloween our real INTENT was to bring home CANDY. And Lots Of It!
Rain, sleet, or snow, darkness of night - nothing stopped us. My oldest brother, barely a teenager, thought he was "too old" to be knocking on doors so he stood down the sidewalk, behind a tree, out of the street light, out of sight. In his hands he carried a large grocery sack. We, on the other hand, carried small "lunch-bag" size paper bags which we held out to each resident, yelling "Trick or Treat!". When our small bags looked too full to induce sympathy on the part of the adult at the door, we ran to Brother and dumped them in his larger sack. Once again we were pitiless kids bearing empty bags begging for a healthy dose of sugar.
We made certain to visit the home of every doctor in town...they gave out Real Candy Bars. No single sticks of gum from them! No, sirree, they were generous to beggars on Halloween.
The street lights barely lit up the streets. Any leaves remaining on the trees rustled in the wind, blocking the light, and adding to the dusky darkness. It was difficult to see anyone more than a house away but we knew there were kids everywhere. We could hear their voices, their footsteps, their laughter. There were no parents tagging along. No adults carrying babies in costume. No cars pulling up to first one house, then another, watching their kids carefully for fear they might come to harm. No, it was just kids, and the town was overrun with little heathens, running door to door, begging for sugar. They were running fast for the evening ended all too soon. You got what you got while you could get it and then headed home to check the loot.
When we returned home the candy was dumped out on the dining table and equally divided. The coveted items were the candy bars. Then smaller pieces of wrapped candy. Sticks of gum (seldom a full package) were okay and acceptable. Popcorn balls were yummy...if the little housewife had used enough sugar. Apples? Eeeah! We each had one drawer in a dresser as our own (imagine that...one drawer!) and it was there that we stashed our own horde (right alongside our piggy bank) that would last us for weeks.
I bet you think I'm older than dirt.
Not yet. Maybe next year.