Ah… October in the great Northeast United States. What a wonderful month. There is crispness in the air. The leaves are turning into nature’s beautiful hues. The days are getting shorter. One can smell the wood burning in the fireplaces and fresh, hot apple pies in the oven. The baseball season is coming to an end with the World Series and the football season is in mid-stride. Some days you need a jacket and other days none at all.
And then, October ends with a kid coming up to you and demanding candy! Before you know it, it’s Halloween, when children across this great land go begging for candy. Thank God the little ones still dress up and say the time-honored, “trick or treat,” but as the older kids come up, they don’t even bother saying “trick or treat,” they just demand candy. They don’t even have the decency of dressing up… not even a lousy mask. Aghhh, kids!
Let me take you back to a time when Halloween was for kids. When kids dressed up and neighbors opened their doors for the little buggers to take as much candy as they could. When Mom took your candy (the ones you didn’t want) from the over-filled pillow case and gave them out because she ran out of candy.
As you know, I grew up in the small town of Maple Shade, New Jersey (you got it made in the Shade!), and the 60’s early 70’s was the place to be for Halloween. The celebration started the night before on Mischief Night. The Township held a Halloween Parade down Main Street (yes, Maple Shade has a Main Street) with marching bands and kids all dressed up (they still hold the parade today). I was about 11 and remember my sister, who was about 15, taking me with her friends to see the parade.
Before the parade, all the kids went to Ace’s Field, where there were four baseball fields. They split into two groups and then, without much fanfare, just started pelting each other with eggs and shaving cream. The local ACME would run out of eggs that night! Can you imagine… over 1,000 kids having a giant egg fight and the police would just drive by to make sure everyone was behaving, which they were, except for the few brave souls who threw their eggs at the police cars. Try doing that today – SWAT teams would arrive! There was also a giant bonfire. At least the police knew were all the kids were. After we were done, we went to the parade and laughed at the kids covered in egg and shaving cream. Now that’s entertainment!
The next night was Halloween. All the houses were decorated. Back then, the little kids bought their costumes at the 5 and 10 (or otherwise pronounced, the five and dime store), for a couple of dollars. Costumes back then were policeman, cowboy, princess, or ballerina. Nowadays that costume costs $60 at the Halloween Store. The older kids would make their own costumes. One of my costumes was a bum (that’s what we use to call them back then), which consisted of finding your father’s old work pants (rolling up the pant legs) and a shirt, stuffing a pillow for a stomach, getting black make-up and rubbing it on your cheeks to make a 5 o’clock shadow, wearing an old hat and smoking a plastic cigar. You couldn’t wear that costume now… it’s not politically correct (thanks to M.T.’s friends)
I was also the Mummy – for about 15 minutes until all of the gauze and toilet paper fell off. But my favorite was a wounded Revolutionary War solider. Fake gun, fake blood, my sister’s black boots, but it was easy to maneuver in. When the time to go out came, it is not like today where you see a few kids walking together, with parents in tow, but a mass of kids… 15, sometimes 20, all walking together from house to house. Most houses were open and the people happy to give candy out. There were many that had little tricks of their own, like the house that had three horror characters (Frankenstein, Wolfman, and Dracula), sitting in three chairs that you had to pass to get to the door. Two were dummies, one was not. Of course, you kicked their shins to see if they moved… no movement, they were good. Once you got your candy, then the real one would jump up and scare the beejeebies out of us. Of course, we would tell the next group which one was real, but they were smart, they kept switching the dummies with real people. That was dedication.
After tramping through the neighborhood, we would make our way home and sort our candy. While we sorted, Mom had some soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for us. My favorite candies were 3-Muskateers, Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, Almond Joy, and red licorice. I couldn’t stand Reeses. After the candy was sorted, the make-up taken off, and food in our stomach, we would nestle down and watch the classic horror movies – Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula, and of course, Frankenstein Meets Abbott and Castello.
If Halloween landed on a Saturday, then we were in for a real treat… Scream In, Horror Theater, or Mad Theater (they used all three names) featuring Dr. Shock! He would come out of his coffin, pick up his little daughter, Bubbles, and provide bad jokes, horrible magic tricks, and show a horror film. It was great.
Today, most houses in the neighborhood just don’t open the doors anymore and are all shut in and locked down like Fort Knox – lights off. Too afraid, I guess, or just don’t understand the concept of Halloween, if they are from another country. School Halloween parades (sometimes called Autumn Parades) don’t allow any fake weapons or “inappropriate” costumes, whatever that means (thanks again to M.T.’s friends) and everything is too regimented and organized. Some townships cancel Halloween or make the kids go trick or treating during the day. It seems that the classic horror characters are not scaring the kids, but real live idiots.
Halloween is no longer for the young. It has turned into a billion dollar business. Costumes are expensive and many are too risqué for children. But deep down inside, us adults want to remember a time when we were young and experienced the ghoulish and exciting antics on Halloween night. Oh, well… trick or treat everyone!
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