Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Hallow's Eve Tales

With all the theme specials on Discovery, History, etc. Channels, my Spidy-sense tells me that Halloween is...uh...tonight?!?!

This is sad. The 31st of October was once 2nd only to Christmas in my kid calendar when it came to getting loot.  H'ween was more FUN than Christmas, since I wasn't expected to behave. If I got food on whatever I wore it was of little import and usually added to the effect.

I recall a few memorable Halloweens. Ancient family pictures show my younger self dressed in some kind of gypsy gear with a long skirt and beads, my face smeared with lipstick raided from Mom's makeup table, eyes mascaraed, and an underlying expression of annoyed anxiety. Clearly the connection between dressing up and getting candy had not quite filtered in. I may have been wondering when I'd get spanked for getting into the makeup--which was forbidden at all other times.

Another picture was from one of the more profitable years in our family finances: I'm wearing  a store-bought boxed costume. If it's the one I remember, the costume was okay (except for the being flammable part), but the mask--a witch--was just too scary. I could wear it, but not look at it.

At 5, I survived a freezing cold H'ween in my first and only ghost costume. Mom refused to cut up an old sheet--apparently we USED those--but somehow I got something sheet-like with eye holes that looked similar to what I saw in a Little Lulu comic book.  Only the comic didn't go into the impossibility of keeping the eye holes over my eyes. Bundled into a parka--we were in Wisconsin and a blue Norther was blowing in just then--someone threw the sheet over me, and I spent my first real I'm-gonna-get-candy-and-party! Halloween running blind with a batch of other kids from house to house. 

The damned eye holes would NOT stay in front of my eyes, and I kept tripping on the hem and falling.  I should be grateful I wasn't left head first in a snow drift by the stampede of howling, freezing kids.  I recall being disappointed that there was no party with magicians and apple-bobbing. Little Lulu, my oracle for all things cool for kids my age, had got it wrong.

Another Halloween in Wisconsin was somewhat warmer. I was about 8 when my dad took me around. My big sister was 18 and elsewhere, attempting to get a social life. That year we actually had a house in a real neighborhood with sidewalks--just like Little Lulu!!

My haul of loot that year was legendary. The neighbors were generous, giving out real store-bought chocolate bars, not just cheap butterscotch hard candy and popcorn balls.

The area had a ginormous mansion in the middle, standing on its own grounds surrounded by a fence. It looked like something out of the scary movies I wasn't allowed to watch yet.  At my insistence, Daddy escorted me toward the place. In my kid's mind I was certain the size of the house was indication of the size of the candy. This joint would have to yield a full-size Mars Bar at least!

Dad waited on the sidewalk gate--there was a long, looong walkway, with stairs every few feet, leading up to the house, and I expect he was pooped and ready to head home to a well-earned beer. I made the climb, the house looming taller and scarier the closer I got. They'd gone all out for the holiday and had a loudspeaker with a creaky voiced woman talking about the kids she'd trapped in her cellar and would eat tomorrow.  Meh, I knew it was all crap. They had candy, dammit. I wanted that chocolate!

I reached the door. 

Rang the bell.

And waited. 

And waited.  

Annnnnd waited.  

If it hadn't been for the voice on the speaker I'd have gone back down. Other houses didn't answer, but those were always quiet.  There was candy here--ring the bell again...

The door silently opened. You'd think a creaking door would be scarier, but a silent door opening into blackness beyond the screen is much more scream-worthy.  

I couldn't see anything inside the darkness at first, then...a bit of movement--a bowl--yes! A big bowl! 

In a hairy the end of a hairy arm...of a gorilla.

Not a real one like I'd seen on those Three Stooges short subjects.  If this gorilla looked like THAT I wouldn't have been scared, but this was clearly a man in a cheesy monkey suit wearing a bad mask--and that was far creepier than any I'd ever seen on TV.  What the heck was wrong with this guy? Didn't he know Halloween dress-up was strictly for KIDS??

He bumped open the screen door, not saying a word.

I held my ground, wanting whatever mega-candy he had in the the bowl.  I held up my battered paper sack and said, "T-t-trick or treat?"  I didn't know my own voice. It sounded small and uncertain, as though the house had sucked away my gumption.

He slowly and silently reached into the bowl, picked up the treat, and dropped it into my bag.

As it fell in, I noted with much annoyance that it was a lousy penny-size bubblegum. A PENNY BUBBLE GUM??  I could have bought THAT myself!  After that long climb, facing up to the gorilla, with these clearly wealthy people living in such a massive house, and THAT'S all they give out?!?!?!??

Had the phrase "WTF" been around then I'd have likely said it. Instead, I looked up at the gorilla. "Gum? That's it?"

The gorilla was in no mood for lip from a crabby 8-year-old and ROARED.

I got his point and ran screaming down the long-stepped walkway and by the grace of God did NOT break my neck on the cracks. I slammed into my startled dad's legs, weeping and snarling about gum and gorillas. Dad was ready to go up and deck the ape, but I demanded to go HOME, and go home NOW. 

Just to show I'd not entirely lost my nerve I hit a few houses on the way back and collected more (and better!) loot. It sort of made up for the cheapskates in the big house, but from that point on I developed a great suspicion about the pretensions of the rich.

Yes, I chewed the gum, though I'd never been a fan of the stuff. It was hard as marble and likely left over from last year's half-price sales. Bloody cheapskates. If you can't do Halloween right, then don't do it at all.

It was also my first lesson that massive and sincere efforts often do not yield the reward one expects. It served well when I began sending out my first submissions to publishers.

Other Halloweens were less memorable. I turned to tricks over treats in one neighborhood when I dashed about with plastic fangs, my face covered with green eyeshadow, and a badly-made cape over all. I couldn't make up my mind whether to be Mr. Spock or Barnabas Collins that year and settled uncomfortably in-between. Knowing I was too old for the silliness, I hunched down and kept pace with the younger kids in order to get lost in the crowd. They ditched me, the scum, and more than one annoyed adult told me I was too old to be out.  Big deal, there were some teen-aged boys not far behind me, also demanding candy. Convince them, and then I'll go home.

Of course my real reply to that ageism observation was to paint their door knobs with bacon grease. I had a can and a brush artfully hidden in my loot bag. Houses that were shut tight and dark got that treatment along with the handles of their car doors. Clearly someone was home and ignoring the need to hand out candy to all us sweet (ahem) kids!

I'd just swabbed down a door handle and was petting a little kitten lurking on the porch when the homeowner drove up. Busted! I was ready to bolt, but he called that he had candy. He'd gone out to get more. He generously dropped some in my bag, and I felt bad about the greasy door handle. 

Which he didn't connect it to me.  How could he?  I'd been petting the kitten.  I'd get away with it!  

He climbed the steps, the kitten mewed, cutely, and he growled and kicked it off the porch.

WTF???  How DARE HE?? Poor teeny kitty!

He had more to be irritated about when he grabbed that greasy door handle and cursed. I melted into the shadows and waited. When I was sure he was well inside, I repainted the doorknob, gave his car handles the treatment, then dumped the rest of the can of grease onto his porch and smeared it around using the newspaper he'd not yet picked up.  THAT would teach HIM to kick helpless kittens!  Grr.  Hoping he'd break a leg, I scampered off.

That was my last Halloween as a door-to-door moocher of sweets. I didn't want to be too old for the fun, but it had finally happened. At least I went out on a high note as an advocate for stray kittens.  (No, I couldn't take it home, we had dogs who would eat it.)

I mentioned that this is kind of a sad holiday for me now. I'm home, but I leave the porch light off, choosing not to play. In my head and with my job it's Halloween every day. I leave official observances to the talented amateurs.

Anyway, there's not a lot of kids in the neighborhood, and the ones who come by are clearly MUCH too old to be running about. Here's a clue, kids, when you have to shave, legs or face, it's time to retire.

A few streets over, across the main road, is a playground park that the cops have to patrol, since the wilder unsupervised teens run loose there tonight. They're armed with things more dangerous than toilet paper and bacon grease. In past years they'd get drunk, do drugs, and shoot/knife each other. The cops are prepped for them, so it should be quieter now. It does spoil things for the little ones, who won't ever know the kind of Halloweens I had.

Some part of me DOES want to put on a costume and run out into the cool fall night, but I can usually sidetrack it with chocolate. The one good thing about being a grownup and answerable only to myself is I CAN get as much of the really GOOD candy as I like.

And hey, it IS Halloween. I shall indulge!

Do thou likewise!

I ain't 'fraid of no gorilla! Not this kind, anyway!


  1. Pat, if you need a smile on Halloween - a fanged smile, no less - listen to SAD Vlad and SPF1000 at

    Hope you like'm

  2. I Loved reading your Halloween stories, but then again, I love reading your writings anyway. I, with my Halloween candy sitting on my couch waiting, trying to catch any thrillers I could on the television, but no trick or treaters. I think in my neighbors are more into shooting each other. Again, great stories. Much love, Diane

  3. I think Teens can do go Trick or Treating, if they're in the spirit, same with adults. It's not just for kids, though people start thinking it is. So what I do is tell them they can have candy, as long as there's a costume on, and can say the words "Trick or Treat". If there isn't a costume, they have to accept the painting of the blood. I keep a batch of fake blood that we smear on uncostumed people. No blood, no costume, no candy. It tends to work really well. ;) Haven't yet had someone say no, or complain.

    I think people forget though, the "good old days" are the very days our kids are living. Someday they'll complain, "Back when I was a kid" like we do now. And they'll have their own rich tapestries for it, just like we do. If it was always the same, it wouldn't be half as cool.