What? You didn’t trick or treat?

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Because I grew up in a rural area where isolated homes were scattered across a landscape of fields and irrigation ditches, I never ran through the chill dusk of an October evening, yelling “Trick or Treat” on doorsteps decorated with jack-o-lanterns. Nevertheless, I loved Halloween and looked forward to it with anticipation because of the annual community party the good folks of Lake Shore hosted to entertain their children.

On October 31, my siblings and I bolted dinner and rushed through chores before dressing in costumes our mother made using her imagination and materials on hand. We admired our transformation into scarecrows, ballerinas and mummies then climbed into the car. Filled with excitement, we forgot to argue over seating arrangements, wriggling and giggling happily until we arrived at Lake Shore’s business district: a small grocery store with a solitary gas pump, an elementary school dwarfed by its playground and a brightly lit Mormon church of cream-colored brick.

Inside the church gym decorated with streamers of black and orange crepe paper, we joined a crowd of princesses, ghosts, witches, cowboys and hoboes to drink root beer ladled from milk cans frosted by dry ice, eat cupcakes piled high with orange frosting and watch cartoons shown on a bed sheet stretched across a corner.

Despite the variety of activities available for our entertainment — bobbing for apples, winning a pumpkin by guessing its weight, having our fortunes told by a gypsy — my friends and I spent most of our time running through the crowd, tripping on our costumes and trying to choke each other with streamers yanked from the ceiling by ne’er-do-well, sixth-grade boys costumed like the hooligans they were.

But, before we could have such fun, we first had to enter the gym along an endless hallway turned into a spook alley manned by disguised adults of the community.

One of my earliest memories of Halloween is holding my mother’s hand, walking a dimly lit hall and wondering why our nice neighbor, Mrs. Aiken, wore a pointed black hat and insisted her bowl of spaghetti was worms. Still having the literal mind of a young child, I didn’t understand the fun of being scared witless on Halloween.

But by third grade, I believed. My stomach knotted in frightened anticipation as I made my way through a giant spider web fashioned from gauze and entered the spook alley along with my mean cousin, Blake, and best friend, Deanne, a fainter.

We made it by the witch with worms, the executioner brandishing a cardboard axe who commanded us to put our heads on his blood-stained block, the open coffin with a corpse that moaned, “Help me; please, please, help me,” and the ghost that lurked in a doorway sobbing and clanking chains. But when ice-cold hands reached through a black curtain and grabbed our wrists, all hell broke loose: I tromped on toddlers as I fled; Blake attacked; and Deanne swooned.

We were escorted from the hall, and our parents were told.

It was a wonderful Halloween.

 

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71 thoughts on “What? You didn’t trick or treat?

  1. Small town community holidays and festivals are the best. I did not really understand how special they are until visiting my husbands roots in a tiny farming community in rural Illinois. After watching the locals parade around the park on tractors or perched on the backseat ledge of a convertible, eating my fill at the fish fry, doing the cake walk, seeing how many could be stuffed inside a horse trailer and cheering on family as they competed in a variety of games this city girl had never heard of – I finally realized what I had missed growing up in a “bigger town” of 25,000.

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    • I, too, have relived and learned to appreciate smal-l town festivals anew through my children and grandchildren who live in southern, rural Illinois. Those little towns seem to have a gift for community fun with winter fests, community picnics and a Memorial Day celebration that made me to cry. The tradition continues.

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  2. I admire your church’s community effort for the children to have fun. I’m sure it was equally fun for the adults. I don’t remember a costume but I always had a mask which was stiff and smelled oddly of glue. And tootsie rolls, lots of tootsie rolls.

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    • Those masks were terrible to wear weren’t they? You’re right, they did smell like glue and the elastic cord never kept them in place, they were always slipping and sliding so you couldn’t see out the eye holes. I’d also forgotten tootsie rolls: hard as a rock some of them, but that was good because they slowed down my gobbling.

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  3. When I was growing up I lived in many places city and country and though I loved dressing in costume, I only remember doing trick or treat once in the city. It ws great fun, though there was no candy! People did not decorate their homes or yards as they do today. Nevertheless, Halloween was fun. It became more fun when I had children, and we all dressed up.

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  4. I love this! We did go trick-or-treating. I remember the last year — 1965. It was the last year because I was 13 and my brother 11 and we were no longer as interested in treats as we were in tricks. My brother and my favorite was standing on either side of a street, pretending to pull on a rope, stopping cars and walking away. 🙂

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  5. The Halloween party/dressing up/trick or treating is fairly new to the UK and wasn’t here at all when I was a child. It was just about (kind of) here when Daughter No.2 was still old enough to go to the McDonalds Halloween night, and I dressed her up as a warty witch. However, the following year she would have nothing to do with it. She was too old,she said. We used to get one or two trick or treaters at our old cottage, and we get more here in Cobweb Towers. Little Darlings dressed to the nines, with mummies and daddies standing in the shadows.

    Reading your memories was just a total delight Aunt Beulah. I was there with you, seeing the sights and experiencing the fear. I could actually feel my heart racing when you had to go through spook alley. Oh My Goodness!!!

    You were far braver than I. I’d have passed out at the door! LOL.
    GREAT read Aunt Beulah … thank you so much for sharing your memories with us. I loved every word. ~ Cobs. xxx

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    • You sound like my best friend, Deanne, who started feeling faint at the entrance, but made it to the clutching hand before fading away. By the sixth grade, we were all quite sophisticated and sauntered through the spook alley, making what we thought were clever comments. The small town where I live started having a community party in the downtown area a few years ago where the main street is blocked off and the local merchants offer treats and fun and there is a bonfire and hot chocolate in a small park; so trick-or-treating in neighborhoods is a rarity and most folks don’t bother buying treats. I think it is a good evolution.

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  6. Once again you left me chuckling Janet. I do love your stories and memories. Here in New Zealand Halloween was never celebrated but as television brought it more and more onto our screens it started. but of course it is spring time here and the days are becoming longer so it does not really fit our seasons, after all how can it be scary if its not dark when the kids are out. I also found that sadly many of the “kids” just had their hands out and were grumpy and rude if you were not playing along. Many were not even dressed up. So I became the Wicked Witch whose house they avoid 😦

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    • I think one of the reasons the town where I now live went to a downtown community party was to exit better control over the un-costumed teenagers looking for candy and being unhappy if it was not to their liking. So now if you don’t want trick or treaters, you don’t turn on your porch light. Most folks don’t. But the young ones have great fun downtown.

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  7. Where I live in suburbia, I never know how many kids will show up at my door on Halloween. Sometimes there might be 60 or more. Other years there might be 20.

    I try not to eat too much of whatever candy is left over. I did a real good job of damaging my teeth and gums with all the candy and soda I used to consume years ago.

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  8. Thank you for sharing your rural Halloween. It was so much fun reading it. I think we may have lost something: the simplicity of the event as celebrated in the past. Now costumes are purchased, candy is passed out by all and parents are home watching TV.

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    • It may be pure nostalgia, but I think most of our holidays have lost something, Laurel, which is why I like Thanksgiving. It hasn’t changed as much, if only Christmas would quit stepping on its toes!

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  9. That may be the best account of Halloween for country children, I have ever read. That was my own experience excepting I did not have a swooning friend! What sweet memories! You captured the “spirit” of the holiday-thank you! love Michele

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  10. Now, as a curmudgeon I dislike Halloween, gruesome images, loutish behavior on the bus and sidewalk…but as a child in a small town it was fun, avoiding the “Cat Lady House”, she only gave out apples, minding leaky septic tanks, giving all our “O’Henrys”to uncle Jack, blowing up our pumpkin with hoarded fire crackers…Enjoy this year, Dear Janet.

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    • We stayed away from old man Sweenaman’s house every day because rumors had it he was a murderer. i don’t know how or what or when, but that’s what he was. But I know all about leaky septic tanks, Sheila, and commend you for your wisdom in avoiding them. Horrible things. And, I would have argued with Uncle Jack over the O-Henry’s.

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  11. Now we didn’t trick or treat when I was at school. It arrived here from America years later, one of those customs that came with the increased screening of American TV programmes and movies.

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  12. Your post confirms what I’ve always suspected—that some holidays and activities are universal. We’ve all experienced some variation of ‘spook alley’ and spaghetti worms! How we loved the excitement, and the joy of being ‘scared witless’!

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  13. Ours were costumes such as yours, made from what mom found on hand. Our candy bags were old, white pillow cases (they held a lot, thank you, mom and dad). Dad drove along side us as we treated the streets of our tiny town, making sure his girls were safe. The scariest Halloween trick I recall was in our own, parent-hosted basement party when, with lights low, mom read a spooky story and passed around a bowl of “eyeballs.” I later discovered they were olives. It took me a very long time to trust basement parties again. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your Halloween memories, Janet.

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    • And thank you, karenlee, for bringing back a memory to me of my mom holding a flashlight in front of her face in a darkened room and wailing, “There was an old woman all skin and bones who went for a walk all alone, oh, oh, oh, oh” or something like that. It went on for some time and gave her children a delicious fright every time.

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  14. What a wonderful post. We didn’t have Halloween here in Australia when I was a kid but growing up in a small town was all about everyone pitching in and having fun. Fetes and dances and community singing at the local hall and the annual Apple festival complete with apple queen riding on the back of a truck.

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  15. Wonderful story telling. This piece had me from the beginning to the end. Well-written piece, Janet. Very well-written piece. This piece is a sample of the Aunt Beulah that I know and love…..Very well-written!!!! Hugs, Lucie ❤

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  16. What a wonderful Halloween memory, Janet.
    I loved the phrase “my stomach knotted in frightened anticipation…” , which describes exactly the feeling of attending a scary, creepy old-fashioned Halloween venue.
    I’ve noticed a lack of Autumn/Halloween festivities and decor around our town this year. Wonder why?
    Wishing you and Joel a Happy Halloween!

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  17. Do you think that TV has so much gory stuff that Halloween isn’t so scary to todays kids? I have noticed increasingly revolting Halloween food being suggested online – staring eyes, severed fingers, and worse. Ugh – but perhaps an attempt to increase the shock factor?

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    • I don’t know the answer to your question, Maddy, but it’s an interesting thought. As for the gory food, it has seemed to reach the heights of ugh-ness. The worst I can remember from my childhood is homemade divinity candy dyed red, which a mother brought to our class party; she claimed it was made from bats’ blood. We responded with “Oh, yuck!” but ate it all.

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  18. Hi Aunt Beulah
    I never went trick or treating in my childhood years. I guess Halloween wasn’t popular here in Australia..I can’t answer why, but now it is very popular and celebrated with all the hoo ha!!…costumes and parties..the kids come knocking on the door so I be surre to have some treats for them every year..
    My own Grandies go trick or treating and we had a peek at their costumes for this year..SCARY!!!!
    My Granddaughter loves doing her brothers faces up, she gets very creative with the makeup and they have a lot of fun..
    It’s fun for the kids, I have a niece who is 40 Years old and she and ner hubby go to great lengths each year and build huge props around their home. They have amazing Halloween parties, I am always scared before the party begins, as you try and enter their house, spiders, mummies, crikey knows what jumps out at you, scare the living daylights out of a person they do..
    Halloween has become more fun for me now as an adult …
    I have to pick a costume to wear to my nieces Halloween party, but the stores are full of it at the moment, so I am sure to find something to match the face my Granddaughter has in mind for me..he he!!
    Happy Halloween’n Aunt Beulah
    Big hugs and lots of love from
    Annie in Australia 🌴🌞 🌊🎃❤❤❤❤❤💋💋💋

    .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Why am I not surprised that a spirited, fun-loving person like you enjoys Halloween. Good for you. I’m sure your young ones delight in your Halloween spirit. I’d like to know what sort of face your granddaughter has in mind for you and what costume you find to match it. It all sounds like such fun, much like the Halloweens I enjoyed as a child.
      Big hugs and smiles coming back at you, Annie.

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  19. It was great fun. And as for being a fun time and place to be a kid, my mother wrote in her memoir that she couldn’t imagine a better place than Lake Shore to raise her family; and my siblings and I agree.

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  20. I grew up in the city so, of course, there was the door-to-door activity in the chilly air of the dark evening, sometimes with snow. The church my family belonged to had a haunted house arrangement set up going all over the place within the church walls. By the time I was in junior high school, I was helping in setting up the arrangement instead to doing the trick-or-treat thing.

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    • It is rare in Craig when it’s warm enough for children to tricker treat without coats; frequently there is snow on the ground. The haunted house at your church sounds fun, much like the spook alley at mine. Unfortunately, rather than helping set it up, most teenagers who considered themselves too old for the church activity went in search of outhouses to overturn.

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  21. I first encountered Halloween in a Texan college; probably not the gentlest introduction as my classmates took it all very seriously, going all out to Scare! As one with an overactive imagination, it didn’t take much to completely freak me out!

    Years later, the kiddies decided that they liked Halloween, and so we started our own little traditions, less scary, more fun: cute ghosts, not so creepy spiders, and of course, sweeties and themed eatables! And of course, with 2 little girls, dressing up: ninjas, witches, princesses, bunnies and other assorted characters made their rounds!

    Now, our family Halloween tradition is to pop over to Ben & Jerry’s in the hope they continue to give free cones to those who are in costume on Halloween night (as you might have guessed, this is not an occasion Singapore celebrates much). So far, so good.

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    • Free ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s is my idea of a worthwhile Halloween! Your family’s way of celebrating it sounds just right to me: cute and fun and little ones dressing in costumes. I’ve been surprised by the comments from my blog friends in other countries indicating how wide-spread Halloween has become. I don’t know why, but I’m happy to hear that Singapore doesn’t celebrate it much.

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  22. Wow, I’m not sure how I missed this. This was a fun read, especially that last bit. I love kids who ignore the organized activities and make up something fun to do instead. Sorry you got in trouble, but on balance, I’m guessing you’d do it again.

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