Written by: Jeremy Baumhower
One of the slowest hours of the year for a kid is 5 PM on Halloween. It seemed the second hand of our living room clock would stop moving as soon as we were cleared to put our costumes on. A mustached Jerry Anderson, Jeanine Lauber and Stan Stachak would be on the television reminding kids of the various times and rules of the special “all-you-can-grab-candy-dash” while informing parents of the weather forecast of the following two hours.
It was always cold, if we were lucky it was dry.
There was nothing worse than wearing your winter coat and having to pull the already too small vinyl one-piece, one -size fits all costume over the top of it. The plastic mask with two holes for eyes and one slightly larger opening for your lungs to get air- held uncomfortably to your face and head with a rubber band.
The costume choices were limited back in the day; there was no Halloween stores, no internet, no Pinterest. Boys got to pick between GI Joe, Star Wars, Spider-Man or Superman. For the girls it was Barbie, Jem of the Holograms, maybe a Shirt Tale, or Rainbow Brite.
It was always a question as to what bad thing would happen first- ripping your costume or breaking your mask. My winter coat was GI Joe’s worst enemy that night, not Cobra.
The worst costume was always Casper the Friendly Ghost– the show hadn’t been on the TV for decades and I doubt it was ever liked. No kid in their right mind with pick being Casper on Halloween, it was the parent wanted their baby to be safer and to wear a brighter costume. I also felt bad for the children who had a plastic pumpkin to collect the night’s rewards; that contraption was the only thing worse built than the costumes we would wear. You could possibly visit 10 houses before that thin black strap would break.
At 6 PM the TV would give us the go-ahead and the dash would begin. We had two hours to fill our full-sized pillow cases with as much candy as possible.
My dad was always our chaperone working on an non-agreed upon commission. My mom was the designated person to stay back and hand out candy to those who knocked on our door– Something she still enjoys to this very day.
My West Toledo neighborhood was not built for Halloween. We had no sidewalks nor curbed streets– the lighting was inadequate. To obtain our goals we had to combat puddles, piles of leaves, slower and younger siblings who did not properly select a costume based on speed, but rather it’s prettiness. We battled tall grass, crazy dogs and sometimes… crazier neighbors.
Houses that are not decorated for Halloween can be scarier than ones that were in that neighborhood. It took courage to knock on the often poorly-lit doors, especially on those homes filled of neighborhood folk-lore where children were allegedly kept in the non-existent basements. We had no idea that every house was a ranch with no sub-dwelling- We were kids, we were stupid… but that night, we were brave.
The reward for our bravery and if we did our little song and dance, said “Trick or Treat”, would hopefully be a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup, Twix or a Kit Kat. Sometimes we would strike gold and stumble upon a home that gave away full-size bars. I remember the feeling of pure joy when you saw an old lady making it rain regular-sized delicious treats. I also remember the times we would strike out and get pennies, a toothbrush or worse… a coupon. What the hell is a kid going to do with a free ice cream? We couldn’t drive, we could barely ride a bike.Halloween was one of the very few times I was allowed to cross certain roads.
I couldn’t remember my times table or state capitals… but I could tell you which house gave what candy away on every street we ventured. Fantasies of revenge would fill our heads over the following nights of those who left their lights off. How dare they?
As we tackled street-after-street, and our stash got larger in size– new thoughts and fears would start to arise. Would someone try to snatch our bag of candy?
The neighborhood at McGregor and Clover is known for a lot of good things– providing quarterbacks and point guards for generations of Whitmer sports teams, a big empty field net to the then-recently built Library to hang out and “park”. It was also known for legendary bag snatching stories, all completely unfounded, where children would have trick or treated for one hour and 55 minutes only to have a squad of goons lay down a beating while taking your hard-earned bag. I later realized why my sister and I had always remain unscaved from such unprovoked attacks– my dad would be dragging a wagon full of beer while wearing his dirty work clothes, looking like one of the crazies I had mentioned earlier. Imagine Jason from Friday the 13th without the mask, having a slight buzz and soar feet- that was my dad, Dave.
The second slowest hour of the day was when Dave would play Candy TSA Agent and painstakingly over-evaluate every piece of candy that was placed in that 100-thread cotton sack. He was looking for needles, pin-holes, any clues of tampering. He would use this safety check processing time to get first pick of anything he liked in the bag; An un-negotiated cost of business that was repeatedly stated with every piece of candy his fingers touched. It was pure childhood torture.
Every year he never seemed to pick any of mine or my sister’s favorites. He would choose the awful Tootsie Rolls, Necco Wafers or Honey Chews, which was surprising because this man loves his chocolate and peanut butter.
After 20 years of Halloween as a parent, I now understand why my Dad never selected our favorite pieces.
After watching my children carry a heavy sack around a dark neighborhood for ninety minutes, all while being forced to say “hello”, “trick or treat” and “thank you” to countless weird-looking strange neighbors- my kids earned every single piece of candy that is tossed in their bags.
I am now the Candy TSA Agent, who painstakingly touches every Whatchamacallit, Red Vine and Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum. I have learned to take inventory of what child collected what piece and play Commissioner to facilitate candy trades . I’ve also become the Halloween Villain who informs my overly ambitious children that they cannot eat more than a couple pieces that very night and every day that follows. I am now the guy who puts their bowls of candy on top of the impossible-to-reach refrigerator.
The times and costumes may have changed… but Halloween has stayed the same.
Halloween’s ultimate “treat” is the quality time with your family; It’s carving pumpkins, costume selections, Linus waiting all-night in a Pumpkin Patch, classroom parties and school parades.
Halloween “tricks” us into being a good neighbor one night a year…. with the promise of smiling faces children hiding behind a plastic mask, reluctantly wearing their winter coat stuffed inside a vinyl costume, screaming “trick or treat”, with a parent pulling a beer wagon… with the hope you answer the door without a coupon in your hand.
Turn your light on because Halloween is an opportunity for you to be a part of someone’s memories.
To the nice lady at Airedale and Armada; Thanks for the full-sized Twix.