Like most people, I loved Halloween when I was young. I would fill a paper bag so full of candies and other goodies that I had to drop it back home and grab another bag. The main problem was trying to hide all my goodies from my brother, who would steal them, and my mother, who would confiscate them. I didn't worry about my sister; she never touched my stuff.
Halloween was different then. I grew up in Hyannis, Massachusetts, a quiet little town whose claim to fame was that we were the home of the Kennedy family. Everyone knew everyone, which made it very difficult to get in much trouble because someone would always see what you were up to and call your mother. (My mom got a few calls, and that's all I'm saying.)
There were lots of families in my neighborhood back then, and my buddies and I would meet at about 6:00 to plan our candy assault on the homes in our area. First off was always Dr. Rice's house. He and his family lived in a big house on South Street. Why did we start at his house? He and his wife would lay out a huge spread of pastries and other goodies on the dining room table and invite everyone in to help themselves. We figured that if we hit it early, we could hit it again later on and they might not remember that we'd already been there. Most years, that plan worked just fine.
Back then Halloween was a time for pranks, and we were masters. My favorite was looking for a house that hadn't taken down their window screens from the summer. What you do is this: attach a thin wire to the screen and then unroll the wire so that you can hide in the nearby woods or shrubs. If you pull the wire tight, you can increase and decrease the pressure on the screen. When you have enough tension, take a violin bow and draw it across the wire while you pull and release on the screen. It will make an unearthly moan that will scare the bejeezus out of the people in the house. Of course, when they come out to investigate, they can't see anything. Simply wait for them to go back inside and start over. You're welcome. But stay out of my neighborhood.
To a young boy, candy is a commodity. It has real value. In prisons, they use cigarettes for money, but when I was a kid, we used candy. Baby Ruths were worth the most, with Milky Ways and Snickers being close seconds. Charleston Chews and Sugar Babys were good, but you had to be careful with them because they would pull out your fillings and force you to go to the dentist. The worst candies to try and trade were Necco Wafers and Pez. We weren't into those at all. You'd have to give me twenty Necco Wafers just to get one Milky Way. Of course, from year to year, we knew which houses had the good stuff and which ones didn't. We'd hit the good houses first and leave the Pez for the little kids. Life is tough; get over it.
Naturally, while we were trick or treating we had to keep an eye out for rival “gangs” from other neighborhoods, who would try to intimidate us and make us give them our candy. No way, man. We’d worked too hard for our chocolate to just give it up. I always tried to make sure there were one or two kids in my group that I could outrun. It gave me a better chance.
I suppose I shouldn't mention toilet paper and rotten eggs. Shaving cream was good for decorating cars, and water balloons were the ultimate weapons. Did I mention that there were no adults around? They just let us go and told us to be home by 9:00. Parents today would be horrified by that, but back then that's just what everybody did. Today, you don't have kids wandering around neighborhoods like we did. Now, they have organized events at the school where all kids get the same amount and kind of candy so that none of the poor little souls feels left out. I'm sorry, and maybe I just feel this way because I'm old, but in the 1960s Halloween was about survival of the fittest. Natural selection, just like Darwin theorized. My two candy bags were proof that I was a Master of the Universe.
Years later, when my girls were old enough for Halloween, we lived in a very nice neighborhood. My oldest daughter and I would go to her friend’s house to start the night with her and her dad. He and I would make a couple of adult beverages to take with us as we walked the girls around the neighborhood. We called them “travelers.” When we finished them, we would accompany our girls to the next house and rattle the ice in our empty glasses, and more often than not, the people in the house would fill us up. Now that's how civilized people go trick or treating.
Halloween just ain't what it used to be.