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Haunted by Ghost of Halloween Past
Halloween is just around the corner, and at the risk of sounding like one of those self-absorbed, navel-gazing Baby Boomers® who thinks everything was better when he was a kid, I think it was better when I was a kid.
Why? Well, how about popcorn balls, for starters?
Gather ‘round, kiddies. Uncle Mike is going to tell you what it was like back before the Needles-In-The-Milky-Ways/Razor-Blades-In-The-Apples panic took over the local evening news in late October, when a third or more of a kids’ Halloween haul would be homemade.
There would be cookies of all descriptions; doughnuts plain and sugared; all types of candy, including several interpretations of my personal favorite, peanut brittle; and, of course, popcorn balls – volleyball-sized asteroids of crunchy, fresh-popped corn held together by sweet, sticky caramel.
Add to this the usual assortment of little candy bars, bags of candy corn, suckers, taffy and gum, and you had a kid’s dream food pyramid – sugar from the base to the peak. It was a mother’s despair and a dentist’s delight. More than one tooth doctor, assessing the damage done by a potent combination of unpopped kernels and extra-sticky caramel, was able to look into a kid’s mouth and see a new swimming pool for the backyard.
OK, so much for treats. What about costumes? I think the costumes were more fun when I was a kid. I came from the golden age of the Ben Cooper costume, which consisted of a mask which looked only vaguely like the intended character, along with a flimsy rayon jumpsuit that sorta-kinda looked like the intended character’s clothing, but which always included a helpful legend emblazoned across the chest so you had a clue as to what the costume was actually supposed to represent.
What made them great was the selection. You’d go into the dime store in October and an entire aisle would be lined, floor to ceiling, with boxes and boxes of costumes, their masks staring blankly through the cellophane window in front. A kid could spend hours just going through the selection, imagining the possibilities, dreaming of the impression he would make on Halloween when he showed up as Superman or Zorro, Bugs Bunny or Bullwinkle.
Not that it made any difference in my house. We were homemade costume people. Not only that, we were hand-me-down homemade costume people, meaning that at some point we all had to wear the witch costume my sister Vicky pioneered in 1955. Boys included. I’m STILL working through that one.
OK, so maybe the costumes weren’t better after all. Although at their worst they were better than what I see now, living as I do in a neighborhood where pillowcase-toting (florals are popular) people in their twenties come up to my door on Halloween night, demanding candy, without so much as an attempt at a costume.
And on reflection, I’m starting to think the homemade treats weren’t all that good, either. Some were, of course, but let’s face it – not everyone can make a decent popcorn ball. A lot of that stuff went straight into the trash can after one taste.
You know what? Maybe it wasn’t better when I was a kid. Maybe it just feels that way now, because I see kids having all their 21st Centuty Halloween Fun, shouting and laughing and skipping down the street, and part of me longs to be a kid again just for one night, to join them. In a store-bought costume.
© 2007 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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