Trick Or Treating In The ’60s

We’re getting ready for Beggars’ Night in Columbus, but that’s just part of what has become an increasingly big, and prolonged, celebration of Halloween in America.

In German Village, we’ve already had an adult trick or treat night that gave “grown-ups” a chance to don costumes, act like kids, and go to designated locations where they could have special drinks and eat Halloween food.  If you turn on your TV, you’ll see lots of commercials about preparing special Halloween-themed foods, decorating your house with spiders, fake cobwebs, and other scary stuff, and making or buying elaborate get-ups for your kids.  It all reflects the reality that, every year, Americans spend more and more on Halloween.   

f22c4ef1e347c837bc8f82d4dbf0581aIt was . . . different during the ’60s.  Halloween was almost exclusively a kid’s holiday in those days; I don’t remember adults being very involved or all that interested in participating themselves.   Most of us kids came up with our own costume ideas and made them ourselves, because there weren’t a lot of other options — you could buy a cheap costume from the local store, but it was impossible to see or even breathe in the hard plastic mask with a slit for the mouth and little holes for the eyes that was always of the package, and the flimsy bodysuit part of the costume was ripped to shreds almost immediately unless you stood perfectly still, like the unfortunate kids in the photo above.  After one year where I, too, went as Batman and wandered around with a sweating face, unable to see or make myself heard clearly, I decided that the homemade costume route was definitely the way to go.

I don’t remember much about the costumes I made, except that they were pretty simple.  One year UJ, Cath and I went as three of the four Monkees — I think I was Mickey Dolenz, my favorite Monkee — but our costumes didn’t matter much because it was unseasonably cold for trick or treating that year and Mom made us bundle up to the point you couldn’t see our Monkee outfits, anyway.  One year I was a pirate, one year I donned a jersey and went as a generic “football player,” and another year — I’m embarrassed to admit — I went as a “bum,” putting on some beat-up clothing, a battered hat, and smearing some of Mom’s mascara on my chin to give the appearance of unshaven beard stubble.  The hobo outfit was common in that pre-PC era and was an easy costume to make and blessedly mask-free, but I’m guessing that nobody goes trick or treating as a “bum” these days.

That’s one of the many ways in which Halloween has changed since I was a kid.  One thing that hasn’t changed:  kids still want chocolate to put into their trick or treat sack.  No apples or popcorn balls, please!

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The Halloween Balloon

IMG_5114Every year, Halloween seems to get bigger and bigger.  What used to be a holiday for little trick or treaters and some juvenile delinquents back in the ’60s has become a huge retail money-maker, with billions of dollars being spent each year on costumes, candy, and decorations.

On Saturday Kish and I were down in German Village with our Bahamian buddies, and there were costumed people everywhere you looked, even though Halloween and Beggars Night don’t officially arrive in Columbus until October 31.  Throngs of zombies, superheros, and cultural figures lurched from bar to bar in search of a good time.  Halloween has become a week-long excuse to party, dress up, and act out.

That’s all fine with me, so long as the little kids get their chance to go door-to-door for candy, and I can carve a few jack-o-lanterns to greet them on their way to our door.  When you think about it, Halloween is one of the few remaining times where parents let their kids out of the house to roam freely and ask complete strangers for food.  It’s good innocent fun, and I expect most adults remember it as such.  No wonder so many grown-ups like to dress up and relieve a little of that childhood Halloween magic!

Halloween Art

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The 2009 pumpkin walk

I like carving pumpkins.  Hey, I even like hollowing out pumpkins, using a big spoon to scoop out the gunk and seeds and stringy wet orange threads, and then scraping the insides until they are dry and white.  When you prepare a pumpkin correctly and scrape it out thoroughly, the resulting carved jack ‘o lantern will glow with a very satisfying inner light when a candle is placed inside and lit.-4

This year we did our carving Wednesday night, with the help of our neighbors, Dave and Amy Taylor and their daughters, Grace and Jane — as well as a host of other neighborhood kids.  -8We have some good carving implements that are serrated but not sharp.  They are perfect for kids to use in carving the soft tissue of a ripe pumpkin.

All of the kids got to carve a pumpkin or two and let their creative juices flow, and even Dave and Amy got into the act.  I carved two jack ‘o lanterns myself.  Why not?  How often do any of us get to do something even mildly artistic?-3

-5This year Kish got an interesting selection of pumpkins — some were your standard pumpkins, but there were a number that were almost like gourds, with thick skins and warty, pebbled surfaces that were not easy to carve.  Still, they spurred your imagination, as you thought about how to incorporate the warts and raised surfaces into your finished product.

-2After we were done, I set the pumpkins out to dry.  The next night was trick or treat night in New Albany, and we filled the jack ‘o lanterns with votive candles, lit them, and placed them by our door, on our stoop, and along the pathway to our door.  We ended up with a pretty impressive pumpkin walk that garnered a few compliments from our visitors.

“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.

A Tricky Indicator

The most recent consumer confidence survey was discouraging, but if spending for Halloween is any kind of indicator, people may be becoming more bullish.  Tonight is Trick or Treat night in New Albany, and our neighborhood is festooned with fake spider webbing, scarecrows, styrofoam tombstones, hanging bats, skeletons emerging from the ground, and screaming skulls.  If the weather cooperates — and it is supposed to — it should be a fun night for the kids.

Last night we had some neighborhood kids over and carved pumpkins for the Webner house jack ‘o lantern walk.  We’ve got about 12 carved pumpkins and we will position them on the walk to the front door, for a lighted path for our trick or treaters.  I’m hoping to get and post some photos of our pumpkin artwork.