Just the other day, BoomerCafé contributor Erin O’Brien of Redondo Beach, California, was browsing through a “dime store” (as if such things still exist) for Halloween candy to hand out tonight. And it reminded her of the good old days when her role wasn’t to provide the candy …. but to collect it.
Homemade costumes were “the best,” our parents tried to convince us one year, but they didn’t come in a box at the dime store with those cool plastic masks with the tiny eye-holes and elastic string in the back that you ended up wearing as a hat because when they covered your eyes they made your face sweat.
So my younger sister and I set out to work on our project: creating costumes using Dad’s old blue Oxford shirts, cargo pants, and round-toed black boots which flopped when we walked. Cutting scraps of material from Mom’s sewing box into quilt-sized squares, we stitched ornamental patches randomly on our long sleeves and cuffed pants. We called ourselves “hobos” in homage to the brave and adventuresome men who traveled by train, in our naiveté not realizing they were homeless.
For the finishing touch, our dad gave us each a “five o’clock shadow” by lighting a cork over the gas range, waiting until it cooled, and “painting” our chins and cheeks and just above our lips with the charcoal tip. My sister and I giggled, because we were unrecognizable to ourselves in the bathroom mirror except for our long hair. In our father’s short black raincoat, my sister’s lavender beret, and also sporting a five o’clock shadow, was our smiling little brother, whose feet barely showed beneath the raincoat. Dad prepped him to introduce himself by saying, “I am Pierre Pigeon” in a French accent if anyone inquired.
Pillow cases in hand (which held a lot more candy than paper grocery bags; there weren’t plastic ones yet), we set out in the dark, with the street lamps to light our way. My sister and I, along with our friends three doors down, were allowed to trick-or-treat unaccompanied by our parents as long as we stayed on our block.
Our neighbors, the Clarks, gave out full-size Clark bars. Sometimes in the darkness I tried to catch a glimpse of the treats as they were tossed into my bag to see what I could look forward to, although we had received a stern warning from our parents not to eat anything until we got home.
I always felt sorry for the folks who gave out the little red boxes of Sun-Maid Raisins, because I knew their house was going to get egged. Too bad; they were just thinking of our health.
When we got back to our house, laughing, with our cheeks stinging from the cold, we obediently spilled the contents of our pillow cases onto the carpet in the front room to be inspected for safety by my dad, so that anything that might have been tampered with could be tossed. It did not escape unnoticed that he set aside the little boxes of Milk Duds as payment for this service. I considered the entire routine pointless, and actually a waste of perfectly good candy. About a third of our loot was tossed, candy we had earned by walking both sides of the block, to every single house.
Afterwards, trades were negotiated with my sister and brother: I liked Brach’s caramels, she liked Boston Baked Beans (candy-coated peanuts), and my brother was the only one I knew who liked black licorice, like in Good & Plenty.
Bazooka Bubble Gum resembled the pink erasers at school, and Neccos looked and sounded like “nickels” to me. If your Pixy Stix bent, in the bottom of your bag it left a pile of sugar. No fragile peppermint Candy Cigarettes, white with pink embers, in my bag this year but Mom was not a fan of them anyway.
I hoped to make the candy I had left last until it was time for candy canes at Christmas, or at least as long as possible. I immediately went to work finding a hiding place for my stash.