Halloween has changed much over the years. Halloween Trick or Treating in my neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri growing up in the 50’s and early 60’s frequently featured homemade baked goods like cookies, cupcakes, brownies, Rice Krispie treats, popcorn balls and more — all carefully wrapped in cellophane, along with apples, candied apples, homemade taffy, the occasional orange, banana and assorted nuts, and lots of pennies and other loose change. Some homes offered apple cider to refresh, or hot chocolate on especially chilly nights. Bubble Gum, Tootsie Roll Pops, Tootsie Rolls, Wax Bottles, Caramels, Jaw Breakers (always a favorite of mine!), Sugar Daddies, jelly beans, candy corn, Milk Duds, suckers and boxes of Cracker Jacks helped fill out the treat bag. Not to mention the truly treasured prize, of course — candy bars. There were only two sizes of candy bars then — ‘Full Size’ and the ‘I Need Help Carrying This One Home Size’.
Of course, every stop required us to come inside the house and perform in the living room — tell a joke, tell a story, sing a song, dance, do a trick or do “something” to earn our Treats. Somersaults were always a big hit for the littlest kids to do. We had to work for our candy and treats. “Knock Knock” jokes, while usually not earning the highest performance awards of a candy bar, were always reliable in a pinch to rescue the situation when the strange kid in front of you stole your best joke or trick, so the astute Trick or Treater always kept a few in reserve just in case.
Orange you going to give me some candy?
Although that particular one did run the risk of getting you an orange instead of a Baby Ruth. But a good “Knock Knock” joke could usually be relied on to be rewarded with at least a popcorn ball. If the household had just heard the same joke three times before you arrived, you were probably doomed for pennies, though. And it did happen occasionally, as hot new jokes seemed to cycle thru the neighborhood in a given year. “Better tell me another one son, or it’s three pennies for you. I just heard that one five times before you got here! What else you got in your trick bag?”
Trick or Treating done correctly was literally a performance art, requiring lots of pre-planning, preparation and dedication. And on Halloween night, it was a process that could not be rushed if anticipated rewards were to be realized. A good performance took both time and dedication to the craft. On a successful night, multiple stops home might be needed to offload full bags and then head back out for more. Candy bars were the real sought after prize, of course!
It was good to work together, not only in your group so everyone had their own unique performance art for the night, but also coordinating with other groups on the street, as it could save a lot of time. “Don’t bother stopping here, Jim. Old lady Jones is already out of candy and dumped pennies in our bags. Haskins has still got Snickers.” Forewarned, time could be saved to head towards the high rollers still handing out candy bars and cupcakes. By 6:30, everybody on the street knew which house was giving out what, which naturally led to candy bar homes running out before the Bazooka Gum, safety suckers and fruit houses. When you spied groups of kids running towards a particular house, you knew to hurry there next. When you saw kids walking down the driveway shaking their sacks and hearing “thump, thump, thump,” you knew they’d been fruited. So unless really hungry for an apple, best to pass that one by and come back later. Chances were pretty good they’d still be open for business at nine.
Can’t speak for others, but on a few occasions I was treated with Silver Dollars. Honest-to-goodness, better-than-Musketeers Silver Dollars! Which was without a doubt at the same time the awesomest but bothersomest treat one could receive, being simply too special to spend and convert to candy. I still have them in the back of a drawer tucked beneath underwear for safekeeping. Same silver dollars, not the same underwear, of course.
Costumes were usually homemade, wholly or at least partly made by the kids themselves. Big-footed clowns, cowboys and Lone Rangers with masks, knights with aluminum foil helmets carrying cardboard or wooden swords and shields, Indians in feathers and war paint, policemen, miniature firefighters, princesses, angels, red caped devils complete with garden pitchforks, army soldiers in their fathers’ oversized WWII and Korean War gear, scarecrows stuffed with straw, and ugly-nosed witches with brooms. A few Tinmen but that was a hard costume to pull off without a lot of help from parents. Along with many a hobo, most patterned after Red Skelton’s famous “Freddie the Freeloader” character at the time. And the obligate number of white-sheeted ghosts floating over the sidewalks, of course. Skeletons were fairly rare in those days, because that was mostly a store-bought costume that neither kids nor parents wanted to admit to having to resort to. We talked about them a lot in name, but no one ever knew what a Goblin really was to make a costume for it. It was just a creature of myth and folklore that we did not want to run into on the street that night, because chances were good it wouldn’t be a kid in a costume. Ghosts with eye holes were generally considered pretty safe to approach, though.
Clearly the most outstanding costume I remember was when the older, bigger and “I’m-better-than-you-are” neighbor kid across the street’s father made him the scariest and true-to-life realistic Headless Horseman costume since Ichabod Crane galloped on a plow horse thru Sleepy Hollow, complete with dripping blood around the collar and a glowing pumpkin carried on a stick for his head. Apparently, his dad had worked on it all summer in the garage, keeping it a secret from the neighborhood. Yeah, every block had one of those kids. Looking back on it now, he rather sadly always went out on Halloween as a group of one, by himself with his father in tow. Sometimes I wondered if he might have been happier in a white sheet with the rest of the neighborhood candy scroungers. It was hard to tell, even back then, if a jerk was alone because he was a jerk or a jerk because he was alone. Whichever, receiving double rations from almost every house, the Headless Horseman made a record haul of candy that year that no one ever came close to matching and that we never heard the end of! Runner up for best-ever costume was the same kid the year before, a square-headed Frankenstein costume his dad whipped up complete with bolts coming out of his neck and walking on platform shoes and getting double-treated again. Jerk.
Trick or Treating certainly isn’t anything like it used to be. Many more costumes come off racks in the store rather than homemade with love nowadays. Kids in our neighborhood look at you like you have worms crawling out of your ears (which might actually be a good look for Halloween) if you ask them to do anything beyond hold their bag open to toss the candy inside. Some don’t even hold the bag open, expecting you to bend over and do that, too. And regrettably, there are all the safety issues that never crossed anyone’s mind in our time. And most curious of all, candy now comes in “Fun Sized”, which try as I might I still don’t see much fun in it.
Times change. But the little kids trick or treating aren’t seeing the night thru our memories, and are busily having fun and making memories of their own. Want to make a special memory for a little princess or cowboy? Give them a full sized candy bar and watch their eyes light up! Although, you better be prepared for the onslaught up the driveway when the word hits the street! Some things never change.
Happy Halloween to everyone! Please keep an eye out for the little Trick or Treaters in the streets and keep everybody safe. Thanks as always for stopping by for a visit! — Jim (and Red!)
For some more reading fun, check out “The Adventures of Little Red Bear” on Amazon. Old-fashioned, Family-friendly Adventures and Fun for All Ages!