I think the dressing up was the best part, and keep in mind, these were the days when costumes were conjured up out of your own closet and your parents’ closet. And sometimes Grandma’s. Sure, you could go and buy part of your costume, but these were a bit pricey because they weren’t made like they are now, with materials that can also line your garbage cans. No, these were made from actual cloth, which meant they were made to last through many consecutive Halloweens. All that was really available was the standard cape which could be used for multiple costumes: vampire, witch, fortune teller, magician, etc. Most of your costume was gathered from items around your house, which made the thrill and ingenuity of the holiday all the more challenging. Nothing was pre-made for us, nothing pre-packaged, and if we wanted a scary costume, it was up to US and not some Walmart mask to make it happen.
These were also the days when there were Halloween Specials. Most people think of Charlie Brown and sometimes Garfield, and these were not aired once but multiple times in the season because there was no such thing as DVRs. Even though we all had copies of them recorded off the wooden TV complete with commercials with Halloween themes. Anyone remember McDonalds and the Chicken McNuggets in their monster costumes? Yes, you do. Admit it. And what about Pizza Hut’s Pizza Head and the Vampire Pizza Cutter? You remember it well. Our Halloween Specials really were special because they were awesome. Nothing CGI or computer-generated stuffed with “clever” pop-culture references. The Muppet Babies, Smurfs, and Alvin and the Chipmunks were drawn by hand, thank you very much.
Also what doesn’t seem to exist in this new day and age was the simple pleasure of this one night of borderline anarchy. We roamed the neighborhood as we pleased, feared a grounding enough to know not to get into too much trouble. We didn’t think about poison; we knew not to talk to strangers and what to do it they did talk to us. The night was ours and we ruled it. There was no guide, no instructions to tell us how to have fun.
My Halloweens were marathons. My mom was hardcore about the candy. My neighborhood was just the first course. Next was my grandma’s neighborhood and all the other surrounding ones. This always involved the car and multiple pillowcases. Plastic pumpkin trick-or-treat buckets were laughed at. We were in it to the bitter end. My mom would drive us around all over town where people would set up homemade haunted houses and hand out cotton candy in a front yard caldron. We would stay out long enough to have people open their doors half-asleep, telling us to go home already. Nobody called the cops. We only tee-peed people we knew. In the dark shadows, we were pirates. We were dangerous. We owned the world.
During the course of the long night, we stopped for half-time. We would dump out everything we had so far and traded, scarfing as many Kit Kats and Reeses as possible to gear us up for the next candy round. And there was no rationing, no making sure each of us had equal pieces. No way. If one person got a Butterfinger at one house and the other got one of those nasty black or orange caramels, that was too bad. The best you could do was trade something undesirable for something slightly more desirable if you happened to know a sucker, but it was tough bananas if you didn’t. I was lucky enough to have never liked Tootsie Rolls, so they were my go-to candy to trade for a Hershey Bar. We all had our favorites, and these were divided into three piles: the best (Butterfingers, Kit Kats, and Reeses), the next-best (Snickers, Now-N-Laters, lollies, Nerds, and those knock-off Nerds—you know what I’m talking about). And last of all, the reviled candy: circus peanuts, gum, and anything healthy that one neighbor always gave out, like breath mints and self-help tracks. These remained in our pillowcases until March.
And there were no rules about “only two pieces of candy and brush your teeth afterwards.” We ate as much as we wanted, sometimes threw up, and learned our lesson.
Until next Halloween, that is. You can't break great traditions.