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Remind me again that we're progressing!
Oh, sure, we have computers. Men on the moon at times. All kinds
of hi-tech stuff. Shucks, before long, we'll be able to destroy
the whole world just by pushing a couple of buttons.
Almost as sad, is the fact that today's
youngsters will never be able to view the world the same way we
did in the more innocent times. Halloween, for example, to us
kids coming of age in the 1940's and 1950's, would never work
the same today. It probably never will either. Something happened
over the last 50 years. Folks have become more paranoid and perhaps
rightly so as the nation has become more volatile and confusing.
Things in some areas have turned a full 180 degrees. I'd guess
traditional trick or treat night is almost fading into oblivion
in some places. Yes, please remind me again that the world is
better off today than a half-century ago.
This two-week long event was my personal
favorite. Yes, even better than Christmas. Halloween is a blip
on the radar screen in these rush-rush days. In all communities,
it's regulated to two or three hours tops, usually on a school
night. Kids visit, grab their treat, and, hurriedly, go next door.
One really can't blame them. After all they
have to cover as much ground as they can in the time that they're
allotted now. Today's world is such that their parents even have
to follow for safety's sake. I recall that the only bigger dude
out there back then was our older brothers. They'd be in small
gangs. They'd appear, stop us, and demand a little candy. It was
a small price to pay. They'd vanish back into the darkness. They'd
seem to hover nearby regardless of where we were. But, we felt
safer just knowing they were in the neighborhood.
They'd be doing the "trickin"
part while we had the "treatin" portion covered. I guess
it was a "rite of passage" since it would be our turn
later to keep watch over our little brothers and sisters. It was
the American way.
On the first week, a bunch of us costumed
tots would trudge in masse up the country road to every house
on the one side for a couple evenings. Then hit the other side
the next few nights. We'd go through the same routine down the
'pike for the next three or four evenings. Even farmers who lived
on back roads were targets. See, we had all the time in the world.
It was a time when everyone knew the neighbors no matter the distance.
We little gremlins were in the spotlight and the main show for
those two weeks. Television didn't exist. Everyone in North Sewickley
Township, Beaver County, was on alert these days. Even strangers
Homemade candy in that time was looked at
as "manna from heaven". Fresh fudge was a real coup.
Today, they're the first items tossed out. I'll never forget the
times we'd pump our little legs up this long, long hill to visit
one farm house. It was like the end of the rainbow to us - a real
pot of gold! The four older girls who lived there had as much
fun as we did. They'd make homemade hardtack, several kinds of
creamy fudge, popcorn balls, glazed and caramel candied apples.
Some larger families and farmers we "snuck
up on" could hand out only apples, oranges or gum. We didn't
care and happily tossed those goodies in our bag too. We had one
neighbor who, year-in and year-out gave out treats that didn't
really thrill us. A toothbrush and toothpaste!
This writer is mindful of one elderly and
frail lady. She was a widow and lived by herself back this lonely
gravel road. She'd invite us in, give us our treat, chat awhile
and then offer us a bonus of Wrigley's if we sang, did a little
dance to the music on her Philco radio or told a funny joke. It
wasn't much. But, it was our very own "American Idol"
(or at least, it gave us the same feeling). As I near her age
these days, I look back now and think she just enjoyed the company.
The "Idol" thing was merely her method of prolonging
our stay. Really, what's more fun than a gang of kids? I feel
cheated in this world.
To most of us, coming up with a costume
was a big part of the fun. We'd raid the attic, Mom's closet,
Dad's garb, the basement or our own toy-boxes to see what we'd
pretend to be. Half the enjoyment was the challenge of seeing
who could be the most creative. A lot of us would tie a red kerchief
to a used mop handle, fling it over our shoulder and pretend to
be a hobo.
Others would don a cowboy hat, strap on
their guns and holsters, pull a red bandanna up over their nose
and announce they were a stagecoach robber. They'd blend in with
guys like the Lone Ranger and the Durango Kid. Another may put
on Dad's good hat, tote a toy tommy gun and wear a suit coat like
a gangster. Boy scouts were a hot item - especially since most
of us were. If a child couldn't afford a mask, Mom would come
to the rescue with an old bed sheet. I think we all stood for
a few minutes while Mom marked and then cut out the eyes. Presto,
a ghost was born.
This brings me to our masks. Remember those
little black ones? Like the Lone Ranger wore. They were a staple
in everyone's Halloween decorations. Little girls would wear them
the most. Looking their cutest, they'd dress up as all kinds of
professionals: Housemaids, grandmothers, spinsters, schoolmarms,
nurses, and if both outgoing and brave, soiled doves. Hey, it
gave them a reason to get in Mom's cosmetics.
Others carried violets or pansies and were
dressed like a bride. Parents would make crowns out of cardboard,
slap some gold paint on them, and Gerri was a queen or princess.
Another popular dress was a star-studded horseback trick rider.
And, we all remember the angel. Wearing a white dress and wings
made of wire coat hangers draped with tin foil. Bums, hobos, three
blind mice. Anything 'round the house was susceptible.
We'd save our home base until the second
week. It was a "family thing". They were as happy to
see us as we they. The treats were just a vehicle. We'd talk to
one family for a half-hour. We weren't in a hurry. A standard
comment went like this, "So, you're Jim and Mary's second
boy. My, how you have grown from last year." A good time
was had by all.
And, Beaver Countians can't forget the great
Halloween parties we had. It was usually held in a black and orange
decorated basement. Some of the more common games were "pin
the tail on the donkey", "spin the bottle", "bobbing
for apples", "apple on a string" and "Daisy
Mae". Following this, we'd be seated and blindfolded. The
host would tell several ghost stories and, to make them seem more
real and imaginative, items would be passed around that we could
feel only. Remember, we're masked. How about that peeled grape
that we quickly passed on when we were told it was the eye! And,
that raw liver? Did it feel like the heart or what? That gizzard.
It felt so much like we thought a brain must feel..
Another thing I'll never forget are the
hay wagon rides. The teams of horses would plod along slow and
easy on dark back roads. We'd pass a graveyard and the driver
would suddenly yell "HO". If one squinted, you could
make out the tombstones under a moonlit and starry night. There
weren't many cars and this was off the main road. You're all alone!
The waggoner would whisper some ghastly
tales about those buried there. We'd be peering into the trees
to make sure no ghost formed. Meanwhile, we wouldn't realize that
the driver pulled back gently on the reins. It was now time for
the horses to add another dimension and get into the act. They'd
snort, whinny and prance around as if they'd seen a ghost or some
other unworldly creature.
Every ride ended with a bonfire and corn
roast. Never tasted better corn than that wrapped in aluminum
foil and buried under the fire.
So many people have become fearful today. Maybe someone will jumps off the wagon before it stops. Injures his ankle. The parents then sue the farmer who has no insurance. The farmer loses his farm and livelihood. A kid burns himself. Same story. A child becomes dizzy so he/she trips over a chair playing "pin the tail on the donkey". Same outcome. That's only a few. I don't even hazard to guess what the game "spin the bottle" might spawn today. This is one of the reasons why many of these traditions are fading away. Fears of these outcomes have changed so many things in our lives---like Halloween. Shakespeare said it best in "Romeo and Juliet" - "Good night, Good night! Parting is such a sweet sorrow."