Following all of the heated debate on social media concerning how to handle Trick-or-Treating during a pandemic got me reminiscing about the Halloweens of my youth in Long Creek, the small community I grew up in. My older brother, Curtis, and I had the perfect set-up. Our house was in Westminster Park, a small housing development, exactly one mile from Long Creek Elementary School. The two were connected by Westminster Drive which, inexplicably, changed names to Pembroke Road when it topped the hill in front of our babysitter’s house. The whole neighborhood consisted of about sixty homes. Between the edge of the neighborhood and the school were probably another fifteen or twenty homes.
Armed with a pillowcase to collect our candy in because those silly-looking little plastic pumpkins would never have held our haul, we would head out, in a group of four to ten kids, just after dusk. Nearly every house in the neighborhood had two or more kids, so trick-or-treaters were everywhere. Our parents didn’t have to worry about us or accompany us like parents do today. We knew everyone who lived in every house and all of the parents participated in handing out generous amounts of candy each year. (Our mother would buy so much candy that she used the lid of her Tupperware cake container to heap it all in.) Sometimes our pillowcases got so heavy that we would make a pit stop back at our house to dump them out before heading back out for more.
Store bought costumes or props were rare for us. We ventured forth dressed as bedsheet ghosts or thrift store clothed witches, hippies, or scarecrows. I was Mickey Mouse the year that we had gone to Disney World for our summer vacation and Curtis had a gorilla mask in 1975 when Return to the Planet of the Apes was popular. (We loved the Planet of the Apes movies!)
My favorite all-time Halloween costume wasn’t even my own. When we were about ten years old and crazy about Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking books, my neighbor and friend, Charlene Shields, who had carrot-red hair, dressed as Pippi for Halloween. To make her red braids defy gravity like Pippi’s, her mom straightened a wire clothes hanger, then fed it through both braids. The effect was awesome! That is, until we started crossing all those front yards in the neighborhood that were filled with low-hanging Dogwood limbs. Every five minutes it seemed I was helping Charlene get her braids out of a tangle of limbs. It was worth it, though. That costume was the bomb!
One year the Edwards’ boys’ dad scared the crap out of us with a mask that looked like Michael Myers from the movie Halloween. He suddenly appeared behind us in the Shield’s back yard. He wasn’t saying a word, so that we would not recognize his voice. He held out his arms like Frankenstein and groaned like the creatures from The Walking Dead. We screamed and ran into the house where Charlene and Sherry’s mom and dad were laughing hysterically at us, in on the joke.
We were always a little afraid (and thrilled) to go to Craig Sides’s house as his mom was known to dress up as a scary-looking witch. She would have the house dark except for a colored bulb in the porch light fixture and spooky music, filled with ghostly moans and werewolf howls, emanating from a record player. The only scarier place in the neighborhood was Nina and Joyce Smith’s garage, where their parents, Harry and Linda, would set up a haunted house for us to walk through, complete with peeled grape “eyeballs” in a bowl that we would be encouraged to stick our hands into. We loved going to Peggy Pender’s house because she gave out full-sized candy bars most years! Very occasionally someone would decide that candy would rot our teeth and, therefore, they would hand out apples instead. The word would get out pretty quickly and everyone would avoid that house. (Now that I think about it … that was probably the ploy all along. LOL!)
We trick-or-treated our way around the connecting streets of Westminster Park, then topped the hill where the road changed names and worked our way through the houses scattered along the route to the school. By the time we arrived, the Optimist Club-sponsored Halloween Carnival would be in full swing. Some years it was held in the gym, others in the cafeteria. It was always jam-packed with kids from all over Long Creek. One of my most distinct memories of the carnival is of bobbing for apples in the ten foot long sink where we normally washed out hands before lunch. (Yes, in the sink!) The next year, someone brought a big galvanized tub for us to dunk our heads into instead, which hardly seems more sanitary. There were games arranged around the room where we could win candy and donated items and, sometimes, a dunking booth were we got to dunk our teachers, Mr. Barry and Mr. Hill.
I watched the clock at the carnival because we always had a curfew in our house. I would round up Angie Kerley, my best friend, who was usually spending the night at my house, and then we would start the mile long trek back through the neighborhood, hitting any houses we missed on the way to the carnival. I remember one year, when we were about twelve or so, Angie wore my brother’s old baseball uniform as her costume. As we walked back down Pembroke Road from the carnival, a group of older boys raced by in a pickup truck. In the back was Joe Garmon and some other boys, whooping and hollering as they sailed past us. All of a sudden, Angie screamed. When I turned to look at her, yellow egg yolk dripped down the Mustang on her uniform shirt as the laughter of the boys faded the farther they got from us.
I remember being really sad when I got too old to trick-or-treat. I never got too old to dress us, though. In junior high and high school, my friends and I had costume parties in one or another of our parents’ basements. In my twenties those parties moved to our own home or the homes of friends. Instead of Mickey Mouse, I dressed one year as a french maid, the next as a pirate’s wench. Those parties were a blast, but they paled in comparison to the memories of my Long Creek Halloweens.
My husband and I never had kids. That hasn’t stopped me from having strong opinions about how they should be raised, though. I tend to live by the WWJD? rules in most facets of my life and I am sure it would have been no different with my own kids, had I had any. That’s not What Would Jesus Do?, like you might think. In my world it’s What Would Joan Do? Joan was my mama, my hero. She’s been gone now for almost two decades, but I still live my life like she is here to see it. I can tell you without much thought what her answer would have been to the should you or shouldn’t you question that’s facing parents this year. A resounding “No!” We would have been at home, watching a scary movie marathon, eating candy from that Tupperware cake lid instead of exposing ourselves to 75 homes were the virus might live. We wouldn’t have been happy about it, but we would have been safe and that was what was most important to her. I really hope and pray that whatever parents decide for their kids this year that everyone will be safe and healthy. In the words of my mother, “There’s always next year.”