When I was a kid, while there was talk of razor blades in apples and poisoned unwrapped candy, it was still the norm to go trick or treating on Halloween. Or should I say trickortreating because we said it as if it was all one word, and frankly, I didn’t understand either “trick” or “treat” in this context; I knew only that candy was going to be extracted. We played no tricks.
I loved it all. The costume. The unusual privilege of a night trek – supervised by an older sibling when we were little – on a cool October evening. The excitement. Examining the haul at night’s end. Sadly, examining was pretty much the extent of the fun with the candy. After selecting one piece each, my siblings and I had our loot confiscated by our mother (the kill-joy who was forever going on about “rotting your teeth” and who “pays the dental bills”) and never directly accessed by us again. Had I any sense, I’d have been sure to have hidden a stache of candy or minimally EATEN a bunch of it whilst on our outdoor excursion. Nope, not me.
Many other kids roamed the town at will with their oversized pillow cases crammed full of candy, but we were permitted only a short range. Not only did we never tote pillow cases, there’d have been no point, given the modest amount of goods we could expect to accumulate. Mecca was apparently the apartment complex down the road because all the savviest, greediest kids bee-lined to them since they could hit a dozen doors in a matter of minutes. These kids knew their time management. I doubt I need to say apartments with strangers were definitely NOT in our permitted zone.
There was one particular house in the neighborhood that was also verboten. It was never explained why it was off-limits, but every year our mother made a point to tell us not to go there. Till the one year she didn’t. I’m sure it was an oversight, she simply forgot to include it in the list of rules & regulations for our jaunt. My sister and I were considered old enough to take our little brother and go without older-sibling supervision and were for once, opportunistic enough to take advantage of our mother’s omission. There were much creepier houses and people we visited on Halloween who were considered acceptable (for instance, anyone who belonged to or attended our church, no matter how otherwise weird, demented, scary, or otherwise troubling, was always okay).
On approaching the usually-forbidden house, we saw the lady sitting just outside the door with her candy. She was delighted to see us and knew who we were. I remember the candy as being good stuff, not cheap and scanty. Maybe she noticed we never came by other years, or maybe not. All I know is to this day, given her pleasure in our visit, I’m glad we went there. Come to find out years later, the woman was an alcoholic and that was why our mother told us not to go to her house for trick or treating. The whopping irony of this is that prohibition wasn’t exactly practiced in our own house. Okay then!
One summer, on a trip back from the neighboring state my parents hailed from and where many of our relatives still lived, our family stopped at a roadside market to buy apples. In addition to a bushel of apples, there were free apple masks for us kids. Apple masks you inquire? Oh yes, seriously. They were simple illustrated cardboard creations, with eye and mouth holes cut out and an elastic band attached to go around the back of the head. Not high-tech but we kids were excited to get this unexpected gift on a boring apple quest.
That year, my sister and younger brother came up with our own idea – our older sisters & mother usually had a hand or more in our costumes – to use the masks and go as a matching trio of apples. Who else would be going as apples? We dressed all in red, donned our masks, and off we went. Those apple masks…they were a problem. Being a flat piece of cardboard, they didn’t stay in place well and slid around. Worse, saliva and breathing dampened the inside area around the mouth opening, so that over the course of the evening, the cardboard became moist and started to shred. This was not a pleasant sensation. Finally, we were most insulted when a neighbor exclaimed over the “little tomatoes!” Tomatoes?! We were apples dammit. Sheesh.
I’m not sure how old I was when I stopped going trick or treating. I hadn’t gone in some years, when I talked my best friend into going out when we were 16. See, I had these masks… No, not the surely long-gone apple masks, but plastic green Frankenstein masks I bought for fun. We dressed in big, black overcoats and clunky boots to accompany the masks. (We weren’t going to be the sullen, unimaginative teens who show up sans costumes on Halloween demanding candy.)
It was a great time and the evening went off mostly without a hitch. If asked by a homeowner how old we were, I pleasantly said “ten,” offering that we were big for our age. People good-naturedly went along with it. Except one house. We were surprised when a boy we knew – a popular, “cool” kid one year older – answered the door. He wasn’t having this “ten” business and demanded to know who we were. He wanted the masks off. We giggled but got uncomfortable. We were both out of our league with this boy, someone too popular to even speak to either of us under normal circumstances (so deep ran this feeling that once, years later, I about fell over when this young man said hello to me in passing on the sidewalk).
We didn’t want to be outed from our Frankenstein disguises. In fact, we wanted the hell out and literally ran away across the lawn into the night – I don’t remember if we got any candy first or not. I hadn’t counted, however, on my telltale hair, noticeably blonde and recognizable, paired with my Irish best friend’s thick dark hair, showing from behind, and most certainly giving us away. Because with a superior, somewhat triumphant tone Mr. Popular called after us, “Oh, I know who you are…” Busted.