When I think back to my trick-or-treating days as a kid, my memories strike a contrast with the door-to-door invasions we think of today. We didn’t need to try to emulate some celebrated entity with our costume.. Yes, there were outfits you could buy at the 5 & 10 made of thin, satiny material that looked stitched together in a hurry compared with my grandmothers’ sewing. They coordinated with the plastic mask seen through the cellophane window of a black and orange cardboard costume box, revealing the character you could become if you donned the contents.
No doubt, guises like Superman or Snow White waited in those boxes, but there wasn’t the multitude of costume choices spun from movie or television characters that we have today. If you wanted to be a cowgirl, you didn’t have to look like Jessie from Toy Story 2. To be a big, bad pirate, you didn’t need to look just like Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean. We used clothes we had around – an old bandanna around the head or neck and an old pair of gold earrings. If we didn’t have a toy sword, we carried a long stick from the orchard. So it didn’t look like a sword, so what? Maybe we had a peg leg and needed a cane.
The wonder of it was, we didn’t have to be anybody. Turning into a simple ghost was as easy as throwing on an old sheet. There was no need for a Casper-like face. The point was, you hid who you really were so the neighbors would really have to guess.
Another difference back then was that we wouldn’t have dreamed of trick or treating at the home of someone we didn’t know. That’s what made it fun to be disguised. There was actually a chance you could be found out when we stood in costume at a neighbor’s door, waiting for them to guess.
We used our imagination for a personal touch. Our family owned a couple generic rubber masks that would work with a lot of disguises. One year, my grandmother walked the neighborhood with us wearing one of those masks, a beat-up barn coat and straw hat, work gloves and old boots looking like a tramp. She was barely 5 feet tall so she fit into our group of kids.
That may have been the most fun we ever had because no one could guess who Grandma was. When she’d finally
lift the rubber mask, her ruddy complexion all pink and sweaty underneath, neighbors would shout “Oh my God, Marie!” While the rest of us giggled, Grandma smiled, pleased with herself.
The houses I visited near my home were spread out by tenths of a mile or more. It took some time to hike to even a few, but it didn’t matter. Our treat bags were generously filled because preparing for the few kids who might show up for Halloween in our neighborhood was fun. Many treats were homemade – cookies, popcorn balls, Ruth Burton’s caramel apple slices on a stick neatly wrapped in waxed paper bags.
And we could keep and eat those homemade goodies because we knew, well, the people who made them. Now, shamefully, we’re warned to throw away anything that isn’t sealed by a manufacturer. A large part of our Halloween customs has become so de-personalized that the fun I experienced as a girl is lost. I guess that’s partly due to the mobile society we’ve become.
Luckily, on our street in Columbiana, most neighbors know each other well enough to say, “Have your kids stop for trick or treat. I’ll have something for them.” Thankfully, my girls have enjoyed part of the Halloween experience I knew, but if they have to move away to find work, I doubt that their children will. It’s too bad the personal touch is becoming rare on both the tricking and the treating ends.