That’s just me hangin’ out by the jack-o’-lantern waiting to go trick-or-treating. It was 1961 and I was 5 years old. (Notice the dog face to the right of the pumpkin. I wish I could say this was a ghost dog that appeared when the picture was developed, but it’s nothing like that, it’s just our dog, Lassie.)
My mom had taken me to the five and dime store to buy my costume.
The options were an entire head to ankle outfit or just a mask. Big, plastic faces of cowboys and nurses glared at me. I stood in awe of pirates and Yogi Bears. When I saw this mask of a dark haired queen, I knew that was the one I wanted, even though it didn’t include a gown. With a glorious mask like this who needed a gown?
1961 may have been only my second year of trick-or-treating. When you’re only 4 and 5 life is still showing you new things…and I loved this new thing. A few days before Halloween my dad would cover the kitchen table with newspaper and I’d watch him carve a jack-o’-lantern. We’d find a stubby old candle for the inside then set Jack outside by the front door. When October 31st arrived we would light the candle. My mom placed a large bowl of candy in the front entry. I remember lots of Butterfingers and Milky Ways. Apples were on hand just in case we’d run out of the good stuff. As soon as it was sunset our doorbell would ring and we’d hear mask-muffled voices shouting “trick or treat!”. It was officially Halloween.
My mom would keep track of how many kids came by and write the number in her diary. She’d tell us how many there had been the year before. It was a steady stream of trick-or-treaters for several hours. Kids came in from the country and nearby smaller towns.
Those first few years I went trick-or-treating, around 1961, one of the parents from our group of neighborhood playmates would go with us. The days get dark early in late October in Minnesota. On a regular night we’d be heading for bed but this night was special, we could stay up later. And not just stay up later but be outside in the dark, running through the neighborhood like a pack of puppies! It was wonderfully strange to be outside in the dark. The stars looked clearer and the air seemed fresher.
Our town was divided by the railroad tracks. We stayed on our side with it’s dead end dirt streets and the primarily retired population living a small houses. It was a quiet end of town. Very safe. If a house had the lights on, and most did, we knew they were handing out candy. Tiny Tootsie Rolls, single pieces of gum, bite sized candy bars, cheap no name suckers and sometimes cookies wrapped in waxed paper were tossed in our bags.
“Trick or treat” we’d yell at a door. Homeowners would answer with candy in hand. They seemed to enjoy the night as much as us kids. Sometimes the lady of the house would call the husband from the next room to come and see how cute we looked. It was the first time I saw some of those older neighbors up close. Close enough to see the color of their eyes and hear their voices. I could peer into their homes and see the wallpaper and remnants of supper. Us kids always said thank you then bolted through the yard to the next house. Gypsies and spacemen with their bags of candy passed us in the night as we crisscrossed over driveways and flower gardens.
Before we knew it, our gang had covered our end of town and it was time for us wee ones to call it a night. Back home I’d spread out all my candy to see what I had collected. I didn’t like Baby Ruth bars then so I gave those to my mom. My parents allowed me keep the bag of treats in my room. I’m sure they didn’t know at night I’d eat Sweet Tarts under the covers. I would think about how wonderful it had been for us kids to rule the world for a few hours.
For the next few days all I could think about was eating that candy. I kept it in my closet and it was polished off in no time. I’d put on the dark haired queen mask and pose in front of the mirror.
By the time I was 10 I was putting more effort into my costumes. Usually movie stars or a 1920’s flapper or some type of woman wearing makeup. With the boundaries and curfew expanding, my friends and I would go, with no parents, to the other side of the tracks where the bulk of the town lived. That’s were all the doctors and big wigs lived. Their pretty wives handed out full sized candy bars. Many homes put up decorations.
A few years later came the Halloween parties for us teens hosted by churches and community youth programs. But my favorite Halloweens were the first few when it was all still new to me.
All I needed was a mask, a bag, and a few good friends running into the night and owning it. Something I certainly can’t get away with now.