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Posts Tagged ‘trick-or-treating’

My new car has this wild heating/ac system that lets you decide precisely what temperature you want in the car. I love dialing it up and down to see what year I land on. 79: got my ears pierced! 72: West End Nursery School! 84: “Footloose” came out! Make no mistake: I’ve never been a numbers girl. But I am a memories girl.

October’s my month. Birthday. Halloween. The brown smell of damp leaves. Of all the months of the year, this one feels the most wistful. It’s the time when my inner mirror shifts between what is and what was, back and forth, now and then, flick flick, flick flick.

I like to walk through my hometown on Halloween night, scuffing through the leaves the way I did when we were trick-or-treating, pretending they’re once again sticking to the hem of whatever garish polyester gown I had on. This town has 100-year-old trees, and last Halloween night the wind was warm, but blowing like mad. It was fantastic.

I like to see the kids tearing across their neighbors’ lawns with power and abandon. This is the night kids rule the world. I like saying Happy Halloween to everyone, and humming the Halloween songs we learned as tiny children.

Walking down a sidewalk I pass two pre-teen girls chatting and munching, and I stop and turn to watch them walk away. I want to call to them, stop! right now, look around, take it in, this is what you’ll remember so many years from now, you are in your memories this very second, pay attention, but I don’t, because no one said it to me, and it’s best that no one did. They walk farther away and vanish into the shadows and fierce wind.

I turn the corner to the house where I grew up. The current owner took too many liberties with landscaping and it’s too tidy. Only two trees remain from when we were kids, ancient oaks a solid yard in diameter. I lean against one and scan across the lawn, watching us build leaf forts in another October, ride our bikes on that sidewalk, walk to the bus stop on cold January mornings, seeing snapshots of my brother’s fifth birthday party in September 1973. The tree remembers it all, and it remembers me. And it’s strong, which helps, because it’s overwhelming. Not everything since those rides and walks and leaf forts turned out well. Maybe everyone who visits their childhood home feels this way.

One more corner to turn, and I see in lamplight a gentleman up on the walkway to my old friend’s house. He’s just standing there looking out. What are the chances her dad never moved? I ask if he’s Mr. Layton. He is. We talk for a long while, me and this man whom I have not seen nor spoken to in … Christ. 40 years. It was butter on a burn. And if he saw the earlier tears on my face, he didn’t say anything. He was always a good guy.

I woke up the next morning and did what I always do: looked out my kitchen window to see the sun rise over the water. It was just as rewarding as it was yesterday, and I’ll lay down money that it will be tomorrow, too.

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Halloween was the one night a year when it felt as if kids ruled the world. And we did.

Below, a step-by-step description of what, to me, makes a perfect Halloween—and which is what I lived every year in the ’70s and into the ’80s.

Step 1: Be lucky enough to be raised in a small town—for example, Interlaken, NJ—that has 1000 residents, pretty much all of whom are extended family members, or are neighbors of extended family members, or go to school with you. Either way, they’re moms who work with your mom on the PTA and have your back. Your town will have hundred-year-old trees that grow together in the middle of the street just like Ray Bradbury described in the town of his youth, and which, despite a handful of streetlights, make the town inky black at night and heap it with fragrant leaves, rich and musky, to shuffle through.

It was Mayberry—and it still is, 30 years later.

Step 2: Choose your costume at the 5 & 10 one town over. It will be acrylic, make no mistake.

Three years old, across the street at the Boyds’ house.

Or, if you are seven and your two front baby teeth have recently come out and you look three-quarters of the way to a jack o’lantern as it is, your mom might be inspired to put you in the pumpkin costume she sewed for your little sister a few years back, stuff it with bunched-up newspaper, and draw triangles around your eyes and nose and an exaggerated smile around your mouth with black eyeliner. Hypothetically speaking.

Step 3: After school, your mom sends you and your brother and sister outside to play because you’re too hopped up to be inside. You meet your friends to go trick-or-treating after dinner. Unless you’re five, you don’t go out before dark. We lived in a safe town and helicopter parents then were few. My mom had just one rule: Don’t cross Westra. (That was the one moderately busy street in our town.) The rest of the town was fair game. Once you were old enough to go trick-or-treating alone with your friends, you did—and your parents did not fret, fuss, insist on coming along in their own costumes, tell you not to eat the candy you got, make you wait to eat any until you got home so they could check it for tampering, or text you incessantly—because, saints be praised, it hadn’t been invented yet.

Pendant of candy corn encased in Lucite, circa 1973. Yes, I do still wear it.

Step 4: You stop at every house with a porch light on. You make a point to stop at the Maguras’, because Mrs. Magura makes homemade popcorn balls, and Mrs. Panes’s house, because her family owns Criterion Candies on the Asbury boardwalk, and she always gives out gorgeous candy apples. And you stop at your cousins’ because your aunt gives out the yummiest candy and the most generous handfuls. When you pass other friends on the sidewalk, you stop and brag about how much more candy you have than they have, and then you tell each other which houses have the good stuff and which have the raisins. When you’re in the mood for candy, you eat it. When you’re full, you still eat it. Because you and your friends don’t eat like this on a regular basis. It’s one night a year. It’s okay.

Card from Auntie Phyllis, circa 1977. Each of us kids got our own Halloween card.

Step 5: Once your candy bag starts getting too heavy and a thick layer of leaves has attached itself to the hem of your acrylic dress, you say goodbye to your friends. You don’t walk home, but to your other aunts’ house, where your parents and your aunts and uncles are gathered around the dining room table. After a certain point that night, they stop handing out candy to neighborhood kids, turn off their porch lights and head over to relax together with coffee and apple cider and cinnamon-sugar apple cider doughnuts. It is always the same cider and doughnuts from the same place, Delicious Orchards, because nothing—to this very day—beats them for quality. We grew up on this cider, which is unpasteurized, murky and intensely flavored (and may be why none of us has allergies) and the doughnuts are crackly and delicately crumbed.

Cider doughnuts from Delicious Orchards, on one of my beloved aunt’s dessert dishes. Worth clicking to see it bigger. Seriously.

Step 6: Go home and dump all of your candy on the living room rug, making stacks for each variety and counting how many you have of each. This was a time when there were not many ‘fun sizes’ except maybe for Milk Duds, which came in tiny boxes and you got three to a box, and Hershey Miniatures. Most other candy came in full size—big Krackels, big Charleston Chews, big Chunky bars.

Give your sister all of the Snickers and Baby Ruths because you hate peanuts and she likes them, and she will give you all of her Reese’s peanut butter cups (because you do like peanut butter and she hates that). Your dad roots around for the Mounds bars and Hershey Special Darks, which is fine because you also hate coconut and dark chocolate. (What was I thinking?) Milky Ways, Skor Bars, Rolos, Whatchamacallits and $100,000 bars (their real name) get place of privilege. Mary Janes—these you and your sister and brother throw at each other just because they’re weird, always smushed, and aren’t chocolate. If it’s not going to be chocolate, at least have the decency to be Chuckles, those luscious half-dollar sized gumdrops, or Twizzlers.

Small ceramic witch I received when I was very young. My sister has a blonde one, with a pumpkin instead of a cat.

Step 7: Eat some more. Your mom does not rush you off to bed because you go to Catholic school and tomorrow, November 1, is All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ is the result of Christianity trying to co-op the pagan holiday and is kind of a weasel move, but I’m not about to quibble with a day off, especially the day after Halloween. You put all of your candy back into your candy bag. And finally you head to bed.

I bought some Mary Janes this year just to taste them, since I never had before. They’re peanut butter-molasses chews, and I was underwhelmed. I don’t know why I was expecting a miracle. Did that stop me from sticking the rest into two envelopes and mailing them to my brother and sister? It did not.

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