“Bad Candy” And Guilty Feelings

I admit it — I loved Halloween and trick or treating when I was a kid.  When I was little, we lived in a great neighborhood for maximum candy collection — lots of small houses cheek by jowl in orderly, rectangular blocks.  We then moved out to the suburbs in a neighborhood that was a bit removed; we trick or treated at the 15 or so houses in the neighborhood and that was about it.  By the time we moved to Columbus, I was a teenager and thought I was too cool to trick or treat. 

During the heady Orlando Avenue days in Akron in the early ’60s, the trick or treating rituals were clear and inviolable.  You went out and ran from house to house as quickly as your parents would let you, carrying a pillowcase and looking to accumulate as much candy as possible.  Houses where people left a bowl of candy because they weren’t home were quickly identified and all candy confiscated.  The word spread like wildfire about houses that had “good candy,” like Butterfingers, or Snickers, or Peanut M&Ms, or houses that were passing out “bad candy” — like caramel apples, Chunky, suckers, “hard candy” or, God forbid, toothbrushes. (One of our neighbors was a dentist.)  Trick or treating routes were adjusted accordingly.  Then, when we were sweaty and exhausted and our costumes had begun to fall apart, we would go home, dump the contents of our pillowcases on the floor, and sift through the booty, separating the good from the bad and maybe giving a piece or two to a sister who was too young to go out with us.

I recall there was one house on Orlando where an elderly couple lived.  They always passed out homemade popcorn balls, wrapped in colorful cellophane and tied with ribbons.  We had to go there because they were neighbors and Mom made us.  We would take the popcorn balls, say thank you, toss them in our sacks, and then put them in the “bad candy” pile when we got home.  I didn’t like popcorn balls at all.  They were dry and dusty tasting, and nowhere near as succulent as, say, an Almond Joy.

Now, I kind of feel guilty about not eating those popcorn balls.  I imagine the kindly old lady slaving in the kitchen to make the popcorn balls, beaming with pleasure at the thought that neighborhood tots would savor every bite.  And her courtly husband carefully cut the cellophane and wrapped the popcorn balls, ignoring all the while the pain it caused his no doubt arthritic fingers.  How could I be such an ingrate?

Of course, no parent worth his salt these days would allow his child to eat homemade treats like popcorn balls, anyway.  But when Halloween rolls around I nevertheless think of those folks and carve a pumpkin in their memory.  Now Kish and I are the neighborhood couple with no kids in the house — and we make sure we have “good candy,” just to be sure.

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