When I was growing up in the 1950s in Ohio, things were a lot simpler. At least that’s how I view it. The small towns I grew up in and spent my time playing outside with neighbor kids were quiet and safe. I never heard of much crime, but then we didn’t have all of the TV channels blaring it at us 24/7 and filling our minds with all sorts of bad stuff. There were only three channels on our first TV.
We watched local programs, folksy stuff by today’s standards. Or we would listen to radio program such as The Lone Ranger, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Fibber Magee and Molly, and The Shadow. They made us use our imaginations to put ourselves into stories with our heroes or just made us laugh. Those were fun times.
When Halloween rolled around, there was always excitement and anticipation about going Trick or Treating. We never had much money to buy costumes as people do now. In fact, I can’t recall any stores in our town that sold such things. Maybe there were, but it wasn’t big business as it is now.
My brothers and I made up customs. Usually just a Lone Ranger type mask, someone’s oversized coat, a floppy hat, baggy pants, or anything we could find around the house that made us look “different” enough to fool the people we visited to beg for candy. Of course, everyone knew everyone else so it wasn’t much of a stretch to guess who we were. But it was fun anyway.
As I got older, I became the escort for my younger brothers. We would pick two or three streets to visit and make our rounds before heading home to see what goodies we had in our sacks. We never worried about anyone putting anything dangerous in our bags, it just didn’t happen. We trusted people to be kind, and since we knew everyone, we never thought that sort of thing was possible.
The weather was always cool or crisp, as we used to say. Some years it would be downright cold and others just cold enough to see your breath. The fall leaves provided a sort of music, as kids walked thru them and shuffled along the sidewalks from house to house. Sometimes the moon would be full and bright, giving just enough light to walk without a flashlight in hand. Other times, it would be dark and windy, adding a sense of mystery to the night. What was hiding in those shadows behind the bushes?
When I became a parent, it was fun to see my girls get excited about going out trick or treating. We had as much fun getting them into costumes and seeing the excitement in their faces as they went door to door around the neighborhood. It was a good time for neighbors to chat and maybe get better acquainted. There was always a big candy dump when they got home to inspect the contents of their sacks and way too much candy was consumed before going to bed. Mom and dad had to set rules about how much they could eat at any one time.
Along the way, Halloween got to be dangerous. People started putting all sorts of nasty things in kid’s sacks. I don’t know why some people think this is a good thing to do. If they don’t like trick or treaters, why don’t they just put a sign on their door saying “No trick or treaters”, or “We don’t have candy?” Or just turn off their lights so no one will come to the door? I don’t think I would let my kids go door to door in this day and age. I would probably look for a community Halloween gathering put on by a church or other civic group that was much safer.
As an adult, I never had the urge to attend any type of grown up Halloween party. It’s just not something I feel comfortable doing. But my present wife is much different. Halloween is her favorite holiday, a chance to be goofy and have fun. She talked me into going to a party put on by her real estate office one year when we lived in California.
I went as a hillbilly, dressed in a pair of red long johns, a beat-up hat, a corncob pipe, and a wooden rifle I cut out of a 2×4. I cut a patch of thick black “hair” from an old blanket we had and taped it to my chest to show above my long johns. She went as a hunter dressed in a pair of my hunting camo’s, a pair of my boots, a goofy hat, and carried a teddy bear. That was my first and last adult Halloween party.
The world has gotten crazy or maybe more appropriately cynical. Things that used to be fun and enjoyable seem to have been tainted by hate and anger. People act as if they are entitled to do whatever they want at the expense of everyone else. They have little tolerance for getting along with their neighbors.
As a kid, the most I ever heard anyone complain about was people soaping car windows or maybe a front door window of a house with a bar of soap. It was a big deal, and my parents warned me I had better not do such a thing. Now, people have turned to running around neighborhoods shooting out car windows with BB or pellet guns. I was a victim of this just last week as were two other neighbors. At $400-500 a pop for a car window, that’s a lot to bear for anyone. Certainly a lot more than a little hot water and elbow grease to wash off a little soap from a window.
I certainly view holidays in a different light now days. The magic of my youthful vision is gone, replaced by the monotonous commercials and hoopla blasted at us throughout the day. I don’t enjoy the holidays much anymore – they are just another day. When I think back to how I used to look forward to them, it makes me sad. Sad to think such beautiful times of the year have turned into commercial dog fights to make a dollar. The idea of family getting together, kids having fun trick or treating, or going out and cutting a real tree for Christmas seems to be all but forgotten.
Halloween this year will be a quiet one for us. We haven’t had trick or treaters for the past three years in our neighborhood. The local Catholic church puts on a big party each year that draws most of the kids in. It’s safer and most of my neighbors are retired anyway. At least the kids have a safe place to go. I don’t think the memories will compare to my childhood, but that’s life. Things change.