Halloween Past and Present

Halloween has come and gone. Since we were out of town, I didn’t have to buy candy, so I dodged a bullet. Leftover candy is irresistible. Even if I bought things I didn’t like… wait, who am I kidding? There isn’t much candy I don’t like. I did miss getting to see the little ones dressed up as mice or rabbits or bumble bees or whatever adorable costume they and their parents devised. But, it isn’t the same without little ones of my own.

So many memories of Halloweens past….

When our children were growing up, we decorated (to be more precise, Gary decorated). Gary usually picked a theme and he would create elaborate scenes. One year he got dry ice and set up a witch’s cauldron. He made a giant spider using black Hefty bags and wire hangers, painted tennis balls red for the eyes, and set it up on the lawn. The next year he made a giant spider web. That spider and web were re-used year after year until they fell apart. His decorations were clearly homemade, and there was a charm in that. Without our kids to amuse with his creations, Gary doesn’t bother anymore. I don’t blame him. I loved that he did it for all those years. The only decorating we still do is carving pumpkins – and this year we didn’t even do that.

In the past, we stocked up on candy for the many, many, many trick-or-treaters who rang our doorbell in our suburban subdivision that was perfect for scoring a huge haul. Every year I would buy at least 10 bags of candy and then Gary would pick up more on his way home from work – God forbid we should run out!

Gary, Leah, Dan and I each carved a pumpkin; we lit them with votive candles and put them on the front porch. Gary would roast the seeds and enjoy them during the week that followed. Leah and Dan had homemade costumes, too – again courtesy of Gary who could do wonders with a box. I think Dan’s favorite was his ATM machine with the bag for the candy attached inside from the slot where you could make a deposit. That box still sits in his bedroom closet. Leah’s favorite was dressing as a chewable grape Tylenol. Gary turned to his trusty cardboard boxes to make the pill and I supplied a Halloween-themed turtleneck. That one is likely in landfill somewhere.


Unfortunately, due to recurrent ear infections both kids were quite familiar with those little purple (but tasty) pills. Lucky for them, though, they were never sidelined for Halloween – I believe each was able to trick-or-treat every year until they decided they were too old for it. That was not the case for me.


Halloween was a totally different experience for me growing up in Canarsie in the late 1960s. My children waited until it was getting dark to go out. We had to be finished by the time it was dark. We rushed home from school, changed into costumes and out we went. It was not safe to be out after dark – not just on Halloween, but any day of the year.

I don’t recall ever carving a pumpkin. We may have had some decorations – perhaps paper cut-outs of witches or ghosts that hung on the front door.

My Canarsie neighborhood was good for trick-or-treating. The blocks were short, the houses were close together. Each time you climbed the front stairs, there were two doorbells to ring. None of that mattered, though, if I was sick. Somehow October was a cursed month for me, and it remained so well into adulthood. Invariably I had an ear infection and fever. Okay, not every year, I did get to go trick or treating sometimes, but it happened often enough that it became a thing.

On those occasions when I wasn’t able to go, I would dress up in my costume (most often as a princess), sit on the steps of our foyer and wait for the doorbell to ring. Since my grandfather worked in a bakery, he brought home giant cookies for us to give, but those were for friends and children we knew. Everyone else got a small candy bar.  One time an older boy who I didn’t know saw the array of cookies and he stepped into the hallway and grabbed a couple as I yelled, “Those aren’t for you!” He made off with them, there was nothing I could do. I was so upset I went in and told my mom I didn’t want to hand out the candy any more. I don’t know why that rattled me so much – some combination of feeling powerless and disappointment in humanity. That was just who I was, even as a seven-year old.

On the years when I had to sit out trick-or-treating, my brother Mark would carry a second bag for me. I’m sure that roused suspicions and may have earned him some unwelcome comments, but he did it anyway. I had a paradoxical relationship with Mark. On the one hand, I spent almost my entire childhood dreading his teasing, his caustic jabbing at me. “Your shoes look like canoes!” (a comment about my big feet) “You were adopted!” A barrage of remarks that would get under my skin immediately.

Mom or Dad would have to separate us multiple times a day.

“Don’t even look at him!”

“Go to your room and close the door!”

Mom still wonders how we all survived it.

On the other hand, though, he went trick or treating for me. Mark was often my protector. It was fine for him to harass me, but not for other kids in the neighborhood. If I tripped and fell over a cracked sidewalk, he would stamp on the offending slab as if to punish it for hurting me. And, for all the teasing, we would do stuff together. Our older brother Steven couldn’t stand our squabbling and preferred solitary activities or being outside with friends. That left Mark and I to watch wrestling or baseball or F Troop on TV, that is when we weren’t banished to our separate rooms.

Another Halloween has come and gone. On to the next holiday, stirring up more memories.

10 thoughts on “Halloween Past and Present

  1. I don’t recall too much about trick or treating except two things. One the year(s) that I did go I got a lot of candy. Second, I remember one home owner upon ringing their bell came to the door and after I said trick or treat he said “okay show me a trick”. I was not prepared for that request and ran off!!! Concerning the amount of candy I don’t recall having to be concerned with whether something may have been tampered with making the candy suspect for your health. In fact I remember getting small open bags that had a few candy corn and other treats in there. No concern as to whether you should eat or not. That all went away a few years later with various news report about people spiking candy with not such good things.

    Regarding stepping in between you and Mark to break up whatever you two had going on. The two of you must have dreaded the days when I was told to babysit both of you. I recall especially a couple times in Illinois when things got out hand and now recognizing my short temper of those days, the two you would must have been scared stiff.


    1. That’s pretty funny – being asked to do a trick. Fortunately I don’t recall that ever happening to me. I do remember the little bags of loose candy and I do remember when we had to check our kids candy because there had been reports of some sickos doing stuff to mess with it. And I do recall some fear of your anger, but looking back at it, I think you tolerated us pretty well. We’ll see what Mark says :). Thanks for sharing.


  2. Three brief comments:
    As a kid, my parents, really my Mom, did not approve of Halloween as it is a pagan holiday. To me, of course, the only significance it held was the chance to get free candy.
    As a Jew, we don’t decorate for Christmas so this was our chance to have some fun with that.
    As an old fashioned person, I always preferred the do it yourself decorations and costumes to the store bought variety.
    Thank you for the excellent post.


  3. What I remember most about Halloween is after we came home from trick or treating. Each year Ira and I would sit in one of our bedrooms, empty our bags, and trade candy with each other. Fortunately, we seemed to have opposite tastes in candy, so he would get all my candy with nuts, all the peanut butter cups, and all the candy corn. I would get all his candy with coconut (mmmmm, Mounds) and 3 Musketeers. Neither of us wanted the mini boxes of raisins. Those would usually dry up and need to be thrown away after a month, no matter how much Mom would try to get us to eat them (being a Depression baby, she hated wasted food). Ira would eat all his candy within a week or two. I would hoard my candy, eating one or two pieces a day so it would last for two months or so. I also remember the last time I went trick or treating. I was in my teens. My neighbor and friend Carol and I painted cardboard boxes to look like a pair of dice, cutting holes for our arms and heads. That’s the only time I made my own costume instead of buying a cheap one at a party store. Wearing the boxes got heavy on our shoulders after a while but we got so many compliments from people who handed out candy, we kept going. That was a fun night. Thanks for selecting a topic that prompted some good memories I haven’t thought of in a long time.


    1. Thanks for sharing, Laurie. Several people commented on trading candy with their siblings at the end of the night. That was one of the fun parts of the experience. Sounds like you also made good use of a carton – like Gary. Glad it brought back some pleasant memories.


  4. Love your choice of subject this week!
    Props to Gary for his imaginative and creative decoration and costume choices.
    Halloween was always a favorite holiday on the calendar. We lived on the feeder street in our suburban neighborhood, where the neighbors all knew us, even with masks on. My mother was fond of the boxed costumes with the flimsy polyester costumes and smelly plastic masks. We had handle bags that usually tore sometime during trick or treat, so as we got older and smarter we opted for pillowcases, which allowed for a much larger haul.
    Our neighborhood here is very similar. The boys would sometimes want a specific costume, or decide to make their own. There were some residents who went all out with their decorations, including haunted garages complete with smoke machines. Or the house where the dad had a Leatherface mask and chased the kids with a weed wacker. When it came to candy, the boys would separate the keep and the give away, except Jake who loved posing for a picture with his candy so he would know if his mother with the sweet tooth stole any of it.


    1. I would have been terrified of the guy with the weed wacker! Glad we didn’t have one of those in our neighborhood. Sounds like Jake was on the ball there! Thanks for sharing some of your memories.


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