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The Best and Worst of Halloween Past and Present

     The best. Sticky popcorn balls and gooey caramel apples. Thick orange wax whistles and black wax mustaches and white wax teeth. Halloween in New England a few years ago. Well, more than a few years ago.

     The worst was my costume. Every year I ended up with an old white sheet with raggedy holes because I couldn’t come up with any clever ideas. I always cut the eye holes too big and the nose hole too small. When I tried to fix the nose hole, the scissors ran into the mouth hole and I ended up with one huge gaping hole.

     But once I was out on the dark sidewalk with my spooky friends, it didn’t much matter. We plotted our route with utmost care. Early to the Dow’s house for those warm-from-the-oven chocolaty brownies. Then hurry across the field to the Dodge’s to get the first popcorn balls. The first ones were huge! They got smaller later, when old man Dodge realized he was running out of popcorn.

     We trudged up and down gravelly driveways in the crisp October air, stopping occasionally to huddle with other trick-or-treaters to compare goodies and claim bragging rights.

     “Have you been to the Trefethen’s? Wow! What good gingerbread men!”

     “Watch out for Mrs. Bennett’s place. She strung a rope across her driveway this year. If you sneak under it, she’ll throw rotten apples at you.”

     “Have you been to the apartments yet?”

     The apartments were a strange island in our small town. We never knew about the apartments. Strangers lived there. Going to the apartments on Halloween took guts.

     You had to go inside this big building that wasn’t a house and wasn’t a store. Inside was a dimly lit hallway with doors on all sides. Every door had a number.

     A lot of the people turned out their lights and pretended they weren’t home. The people who opened their doors were usually stiff and not very friendly. They peered out at us, tossed a few penny candies into our trick or treat bags and retreated back into their hallway habitat.

     In those days in New England, you had to be the right age to go trick or treating - old enough to be out by yourself, but not too old. “Old enough” was seven or eight. “Too old” was thirteen. Teenagers considered this “kid stuff.” It was a special time of our lives and when it was over, it was over.

     So it was quite a surprise when we moved to Southern California and I discovered that “too young” was still-in-the-womb (although I’m sure I’ve seen a few pregnant trick-or-treaters) and “too old” was after death, but even then, I thought I saw a ghost one year...

     I wasn’t getting any better at cutting those holes in the old white sheets and now I was expected to wear that sorry costume to the office. At least in my “kid days,” it was dark when I ventured out in a hole-y white sheet.

     I accompanied my kids on Halloween night every year from infancy to the age of rebellion, and at the very same time, I was supposed to be at home handing out treats to trick-or-treaters, small and large. Whooooo ever thought of that?

     Then there are the haunted houses, school carnivals and costumed creatures lurking behind grocery check-out stands, post office counters and the gray-walled cubicles at work; safety inspection stations for treats, television commentators’ warnings about unsafe costumes, and dentists’ warnings about cavities, and…

     I plan to call NASA and book a flight to Mars this Halloween. Bet they’ve got a few ghosts and goblins up there and if I get there soon enough, maybe Mrs. Dow will give me one of her crumbly chocolaty brownies – crisp on the outside, warm and moist…

     Who says Halloween is just for kids?

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