The Halloween Grinch
Well, it’s that time again. Another Halloween is approaching and I am dragging out my Halloween Grinch costume. I hate Halloween. No, I really do. And I just spent about $60 on Halloween candy which shows how conflicted I am about this.
Why? On the morning news-talk shows today it was announced that Americans will have spent $ 9.1 billion on the “holiday.” This was up from $ 8.4 billion spent last year. The money is spent on costumes, candy and decorations. That is a lot of money for something that has morphed from a celebration of Saints to an orgy of sugary excess and weird costumes.
Where does my abhorrence begin? Let’s take a ride in the way back machine.
In 1940s Brooklyn Halloween was different. There were two odd customs that came out of the wherever they were kept during other days of the year that struck fear into our hearts. The first was the practice of sneaking up behind someone and yelling Halloween while marking the back of their coat with chalk, preferably colored chalk…which I am told was hard to come by. The second was even more evil. It began with the same yell of Halloween but instead of a stick of chalk, the perpetrator would hit your back with a sock filled with ground chalk. There were three problems here. The first, it hurt. The second, defacement of your coat and the third was being held responsible by your parents for allowing this to happen. I mean what did they want me to do? Carry a baseball bat? Start fights? I mean, I had to behave as a good student of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Grammar School.
You might ask if I even entertained becoming one of the chalkers…I did think that if I had chalk and showed it in my hand, it might be a deterrent. I tried. It didn’t work and, to top this all off, I put the chalk in my book bag and was dumb enough to own up to it when on Halloween, we were asked at OLPH if any of us had chalk. I got into trouble. I had to go to the dreaded principal’s office where it was rumored that Sr. Audrey had a cat –o-nine-tails. I didn’t see any cat-o-nine- tails, but I did get chastised big time and had to have my mother bail me out after school which did not sit well with her, my father or the crowds of relatives that held court on behaviors of all related offspring on 55th Street. There were a lot of negative head shakes and eye movements and stares when my name came up for more than a month. For the child, nearing Christmas, this was an ominous situation.
There was the gate thing. We had a decorative iron fence in front of the house. The fence had a gate and on Halloween, it was customary for roaming thugs to steal your gate. My father, being of a sound and tricky mind, would remove the gate and hide it under the stoop. That didn’t deter my worry practiced mind from fitful sleep on All Hallows Eve, seeing awful characters surrounding the front of our house in search of a gate. Would they try to get in the house with bags of chalk? I had a vivid imagination.
We did not dress up and go door to door, trick or treating. That was what we did on Thanksgiving. My mother would dress us up in rags, dirty our faces with burned cork and give us old pillow cases to go house to house asking “Anything for Thanksgiving.” Most of the time we came home with fruit. Even now that seems to pale in the face of the loot that kids bring home today on Halloween. It was all very disappointing.
Halloween became far more charming after we moved to Lake Carmel where the chalk thing was unheard of and where people did go trick or treating. We had about 10 neighbor children come to the door.
My dad would make some decorations out of scrap wood and turn on the porch light. Mom would make caramel popcorn balls and wrap them in cellophane, tied with a ribbon to give to the Halloween callers. Everyone smiled. No one tried to steal anything. It was nice.
The years passed and I settled in with my spouse in Marcellus. I can remember our first Halloween on First Street. I had purchased a few bags of candy and our neighbor, Dr. Daly, cautioned us to buy more, a lot more candy. We were young then and we didn’t believe him. We ran out of candy in 15 minutes. We turned out the porch light and hid in the darkness until the threat passed…memories of the gathering of gate stealing thugs with chalk transmogrified.
We learned our lesson and in succeeding years bought a lot more candy to satisfy the growing hordes of Halloweeners.
I say “we” but it was me who stood outside in cold, or wet or whatever weather for hours handing out the loot. I detested it. If there were any good points they were the costumes that I made for the children so that their father could take them around trick or treating … while I stood on the porch in the wet and the snow and the cold and tried to accept that young mothers with babes in strollers said they were trick or treating for their little ones. Sure they were. Grumble.
Kids grow up, customs change. At one point, my son joined the other over the top Halloweeners on First Street and decorated the porch with scary webs, skulls, bats, eyeball shaped lights and played Carmina Burana amidst faux mists created with dry ice. A veritable production that scared the little ones but failed to deter the mothers with strollers. He has moved out of town, so that is a past tense description of our porch. Our Halloween décor is now a lit porch light.
A few years ago, I handed the scepter of hander out of goodies to the man of the house. He seems, in his fright wig and cape, to enjoy it. My contribution is now the purchase of more than 2000, yes 2000 pieces of candy, which go fast. He begins handing out candy when it gets dark and ends his job around 8 p.m.
I am inside, maybe watching TV or reading a book, muttering something about how much I dislike this whole thing…except for the fun my children had and, now, my grandchild have, dressing up and getting more candy than they can consume in a year.
I remain, unbowed, the Halloween Grinch. Bah….humbug.