October 31, 2023 at 12:05 a.m.
Guest Columnist

Halloweening In The Boomer Era

TAMMY WILSON | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

When I think of jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treat, I’m a child in our small farming community. It’s the 1950s, and for at least a week before Oct. 31, farm families load costumed kids in the bed of their pickups to make the rounds.

One night in particular involved what dozens of costumed young people who descended on our front porch. Some of the merrymakers were well beyond grade-school age—big enough to soap windows, push over privies and raise all sorts of Cain. So far as I recall, they didn’t choose us    

About supper time one of the Halloween evenings, two sisters turned up at our front door. I was maybe four or five years old, and was asked to “go to the door.” We had a large bowl of candy and the girls, far older than me, kept reaching for more. I didn’t have the wits to cut them off and the sisters knew an easy mark when they saw it.

Luckily, the general store was still open, and my mother dashed out to re-stock our candy supply, leaving my older brother in charge of the front door.

Where I grew up, trick-or-treating often involved a guessing game. Because everyone knew everyone else’s kids, adults were obliged to make a guess who was in what costume. Children were not supposed to leave until they’d revealed who they were. Some adults, like the general store manager, would play along and pretend not to recognize who some of us were, such as the little mouse on his front step. It was me, in a hand-me-down Mickey costume with a gauze mask.

The school carnival came around every October, complete with a cake walk, ring toss, bobbing for apples (yes, lots of germs), fortune teller, a spook house with fake cobwebs, and a costume contest.  It was all great fun.

Some 60 years later, I still remember some of the costumes that clever mothers created for their children. One was a dancing cigarette pack made from a large cardboard box. I remember it as a Lucky Strike. My brother says it was a Chesterfield. But research on You Tube shows it may have been inspired by an Old Gold commercial on the “The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour.” Think “America’s Got Talent” with tap dancers and accordions.

“Cathy,” the girl wearing the homemade cigarette pack, wore black leotards and had an eyehole cut out of the front. If she didn’t take top prize, she should have.

The day after Halloween, was a time to hear about all the mayhem that had gone on the night before. Did the yard get rolled with toilet paper? Were pumpkins smashed? Did cars get egged? Were the church privies still standing upright?

Call it reckless, but I don’t remember parents ever accompanying children on Halloween rounds unless the child was very young and/or needed to be driven from one farm to the next. Few kids wanted to be seen with parents on trick-or-treat night. Playmates roamed the neighborhood together. Older kids accompanied their younger siblings in search of Tootsie Rolls, Mary Janes and Double Bubbles.

If you were very lucky, you might happen upon a house that gave out boxes of Cracker Jack or homemade treats such as cookies, popcorn balls or brownies wrapped in waxed paper. 

My parents, who were never partiers, held down the fort while we kids made the rounds, making sure we got home by 8 o’clock, 8:30 at the latest. Outdoor displays might include cornstalks, pumpkins, black cat silhouettes, stuffed witches or scarecrows. There were no fake werewolves, cemeteries or bloody babies in the front yard.

Even so, I remember an “operation” game staged in our church basement during a Halloween party. Participants were blindfolded and challenged to pass around olive eyeballs, Vienna sausage toes, limp spaghetti intestines and a filled water balloon pretending to be a liver. If I remember correctly, the player who guessed the most “body parts” won the game.

---Tammy Wilson lives near Newton. Contact her at [email protected]

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