By Sue Moynagh
Halloween! My favorite holiday in my favorite month! I just love seeing the decorations- carved jack- o’- lanterns, the orange and black crepe and lights festooning porches and bushes, fake spiders in their webs, the little plastic ghosts swinging from low tree branches- all the great, imaginative, creepy- crawly decorations in windows and front yards. This day, or should I say this season, brings back so many fun memories. October meant planning of costumes, anticipating trick or treat, and of course, watching horror movies. It was a great way to bid farewell to fall and welcome in the winter season.
You knew Halloween was coming soon by checking out the store windows and displays. By end of September, bags of candy had little haunted house, ghost and skeleton pictures, and store displays advised you to stock up early. God forbid if you ran out of candy on the big day. Then the costumes went up for sale, along with decorations for home and parties. The shelves were full of plastic jack-o’-lanterns, bats, black cats and witches on broomsticks.
My cousins and I focused on the costumes. Costume selection was very important. If you were a girl, you could be an ugly old witch, a cute animal, Cinderella, fairy princess, or ghost. Boys were cowboys, monsters and superheroes. If you were very imaginative, you came up with something on your own. One year, my grandmother made a Little Red Riding Hood costume for me. I rouged up my cheeks and bought a mask that covered my eyes only. Remember those masks? They were scratchy, one size fits all contraptions that were held on by elastics that pinched the skin and pulled the hair. Those of us with glasses had more problems. The masks would not go comfortably over the glasses, but Frankenstein’s monster or Cinderella with glasses? No way! You either ruined the look of the costume or stumbled along blindly in the dark.
As Halloween drew near, TV stations ran the old horror movie classics with Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, werewolf and other ghoulish characters. Most of these films were black and white and starred Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price and Lon Chaney, Jr. These films had crude special effects, but they also had some underlying message that was lost on us kids. We were scared, but enjoyed every minute of it. I don’t care for modern horror pics. Too much blood and gore and no plot.
I did not attend any Halloween parties except for the small ones given at school by the Mothers’ Guild. The younger kids wore costumes and paraded through the upper grade classrooms. Then of course, we got pastry, soft drinks and candy. There was a contest for best costume, but usually most of us bought our costumes at the same downtown department stores. The wealthier kids stood out with their expensive, more imaginative outfits and always won the prizes. But it was great fun anyways.
Trick or Treat was the highlight, of course. My cousins and I usually went together, and started immediately after supper. A big problem arose every year. Some Catholic Churches had October devotions in the evenings on weekdays and afternoons on weekends. If Halloween fell on a weekday you had to go home, clean up, and sit in church for the service while anxiety levels rose. Would there be any candy left for us? After service, we raced home, donned our costumes and resumed our candy quest.
When we were very young, our mothers accompanied us from house to house. Everyone knew everyone else back then, so we trudged along, block after block while our mothers selected which apartments we could visit and which to avoid. It was great walking through the crisp, colorful leaves that covered walkways. The smell of burning leaves scented the air and on occasion, a full moon lighted our way. We joined a veritable army of kids and parents making the rounds.
My cousins and I were never allowed to do tricks, but some kids soaped windows and threw eggs at houses. We carried huge brown bags for candy collection, and we grinned in anticipation as the bags became heavier. Another big problem presented itself. October weather is usually very chilly and that meant coats or jackets. No one would see our costumes! Our poor parents had to hold the coats while we went into the houses, teeth chattering in the cold autumn night. When we were too old for costumes, we took our younger siblings and cousins out in place of our parents. I made out pretty good, though. I found that if I stood at the bottom of the stairs looking pathetic, the lady of the house would make sure to slip me some candy for my efforts. I did as well as the little ones.
It’s a shame things had to change. We never have kids anymore so I don’t even bother buying candy. The neighborhood is not too safe so parents take their kids to better areas or even into the towns, that is, if they even bother with the holiday at all. I still watch the old horror classics or read a good Stephen King novel, and I love to see the houses that are still decorated for Halloween. Too bad, they don’t know what a great time they are missing.