Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween: costumes and candy

Like probably most young kids in Ambridge in the '50s, I loved Halloween.

What wasn't to love?

Cheesy costumes that came in a box and usually weren't much more than a printed flimsy synthetic fabric (What were those costumes made from? Nylon? Acetate?) with a neck opening that tied shut, and maybe was divided at the bottom for your legs if you were a boy. Stiff plastic or cardboard masks that made your face hot and sweaty, made it hard to see, and were held on by a string or thin black elastic. Well, "held on" wasn't exactly accurate. It was more like "kept the mask from slipping too far below your ears."

Or your mom would dress you in a flannel shirt, dungarees, tie a man's red "work" handkerchief around your neck, plunk a cheap felt cowboy hat on your head, and--ta-da!--you were a cowgirl.

Another option if you went to Doris Singer Dance Studios or Peggy Ann Studios of Dancing, was to recycle last season's recital costume and go as a puppy or "Suzy Snowflake."

If you went to Catholic school, maybe your mom would make you a lovely, detailed nun's or St. Peter's costume, which impressed the nuns and maybe got you extra points towards heaven.

And the always-popular fallback, especially for boys, was "hobo." What family didn't have some old clothes you could wear?

There was a costume party at school that involved eating goodies like on Valentine's Day, but didn't involve the pressure of wondering if you'd get Valentines. Changing into our costumes at school was incredibly exciting. Did we focus on learning anything on party day?

Then, after dark, trick-or-treating, going to house after house, block after block, coming home with a bag of candy that was getting almost too heavy to carry, emptying it out, and then setting out again for homes on blocks you hadn't hit yet, hopefully, this time without your younger sister because she was too tired to walk anymore and slowing you down.

While exciting, Halloween wasn't the big event it is now. There were no multimedia productions at houses with lights, and scary sounds, and animated figures, and fake fog. Homes were decorated with, perhaps, a few cardboard Halloween black cats or witches, and on your porch, the jack o' lantern you'd carved, lit by a candle that hopefully wouldn't set anyone's costume, or your house, on fire.

Halloween was a kids' holiday. Adults didn't get dressed up. They perhaps helped you carve that jack o' lantern and waited at the door to give out candy. If you were really young, and didn't have an older sibling to tag along with, an adult would go with you as you went door to door. But siblings were better if you had them because they went to more houses than parents thought necessary.

And moms would also totally ruin your Halloween costume by insisting that you wear a jacket over it because it was cold, and she didn't want you to get sick.

The sidewalks would be filled with bag-toting kids, and the air would be filled with their happy, excited voices. I'd start at my house on the 1500 block of Beaver Road and head north towards 16th Street. Beaver Road was a tough street to trick-or-treat on, because in my neighborhood, the houses on the east side of the street were far above street level, and I had to walk up a lot of steps to get to the front door. But, I did it because...candy!

I knew most of the neighbors on my block, and yet they never guessed who I was beneath my mask.

One neighbor I didn't know was an elderly woman who always seemed to be so pleased to see us and whose house always smelled like buttered popcorn and hot sugar. Every year, she gave out homemade popcorn balls and tiny bags she'd filled with candy corn.

I'd work my way north up Beaver Road to maybe as far as 19th Street, then make a left down to Lenz Avenue, then another left, work my way south on Lenz, maybe up 16th Street and back towards home to drop off a load of candy (and my sister), then go out again, hitting the homes on 14th and 15th Streets.

Finally, long after I'd set-out, the streets, which had earlier been packed with trick-or-treaters, were beginning to empty, porch lights started to go out, and I was cold despite the jacket my mom forced me to wear. The quieter night seemed spookier than it had been until then--were ghosts real?--and I'd head towards home.

My dad would help us sort our loot. There was always enough to cover the kitchen table that seated six, and sometimes we had more goodies than could fit on it.

There would be an apple or two (really?!), small boxes of raisins (meh), maybe some packages of peanut butter filled cheese crackers, and Indian brand pumpkin seeds, OK because I liked them. Sometimes there would be a few pennies or even nickles (yay!).

And there was always a religious tract that ended up on our bags every year. Clearly not Catholic. This would not please my Catholic mom. Maybe if it had been a Catholic holy card, but Protestant proselytization? In our Halloween bags?! Our Catholic Halloween bags? And now on her Catholic table in her Catholic kitchen? Not acceptable!

My dad would have the candy sorted by type. First the candy bars. Big full-sized 5-cent bars. I was always happy to see Clark bars--my favorite; Zagnuts, not chocolate, but still yummy; Mallo Cups; Sky Bars; Reese's Cups; Hershey bars, with and without almonds; Mr. Goodbars; Crackles; Butterfingers; Nestle Crunches; Mounds; Almond Joys; Snickers; Milk Ways; Three Musketeers; Baby Ruths; 5th Avenues; Heaths; Milkshake bars; Paydays, also not chocolate, but I was a fan; Chunky bars which I generously allowed other family members to have because I didn't--and still don't--like raisins in my candy.

There would be many rolls of Smarties, which I usually ate while deciding which candy I would eat; Lifesavers: butterscotch, Pep-O-Mint, Wint-O-Green, and Cryst-O-Mint; Necco Wafers, I liked the brown (chocolate) one the best, wasn't fond of the purple (clove); Chick-O-sticks; Dum Dum pops.

Bags of Whoppers and M&M's. Boxes of Good 'N Plenty; Mike and Ike; Boston Baked Beans; Hot Tamales; Cracker Jack (they had good prizes then.)

And if that wasn't enough to make a dentist cry, there was candy that was both sweet and sticky: Tootsie Rolls, big and small, and Tootsie Pops; BB Bats; Bit-O-Honey; Chuckles; Sugar Daddy suckers; Black Cow suckers, which were like a Sugar Daddy, only better, because they were covered in chocolate; Jujubes; Jujifruit; Turkish Taffy; taffy kisses.

Maybe the sugared gum we'd gotten would help clean our teeth? Teaberry; Black Jack; Beemans; Beech-Nut; Juicy Fruit; Wrigley. At least we'd have fun pulling sticky gum off our faces when we tried to blow big bubbles with Dubble Bubble; Rain-Blo; Bazooka, which came with a comic strip.

I usually finished up the candy around the Christmas holidays.

Good thing we had to walk everywhere to burn off all those calories.

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