Beth Fairweather is a wife, mom, and writer. She is currently working on her first novel and slowly losing her mind, one piece at a time.
Halloween 1970's Style
When I was a kid, Halloween ranked up there with Christmas and Easter as one of THE best holidays ever. I grew up in the 1970's, back when no one worried about sending their kids out after dark to beg for candy from strangers. The rest of the year we were warned away from such things, but on that night it was anything goes! Except for that "one" house in every neighborhood, you know, where the perv who everyone avoided lived. Most likely this was just an innocent bachelor living alone and minding his own business, but back then that was enough to confirm to the neighborhood gossips that you were some kind of freak.
You Could Almost Breathe In These!
The Costumes Rocked!
The costumes we wore back then were either homemade or came in a neat little box with a clear plastic window in the lid. Inside would be the vinyl "outfit" of whatever character you were going as (Wonder Woman, Police Woman, Batman, Mickey Mouse, etc) and a suffocating plastic mask of said characters face, with a snappy elastic string around the back. I didn't get those too often because they went for the insane price of $10, which in the 70's was a lot of dough!
I usually wore something homemade. I recall being a pumpkin once, wearing a handmade orange shroud stuffed with pillows; and a gypsy, which I loved because I got to wear a ton of makeup at around age 9 when the stuff was forbidden to me. Another time I got the clever idea to be a nun! My mom found someone who actually had the costume, which I loved because I could wear it over my coat and keep warm.
Halloween in Michigan meant mostly having a really cool costume and your mom making you wear a coat over it. Because it was usually freezing, or raining, or both. That has not changed. I now make my own kids bundle up over their $30 costumes while I moan and groan about the wasted money.
Parties and Shenanigans!
There was always at least one neighborhood Halloween party, complete with bobbing for apples, costume judging contests and a haunted house. In fact, my dad would turn our yard into a spooky ghostly display every year, scaring the crap out of the entire neighborhood. One year he had a stuffed gorilla on top of the house gazing down at everyone, and I recall bats and ghosts flying at people on fishing line, as well as a coffin or two with swinging lids and assorted vampires with bloody teeth. Yeah, we were a creative family! Many a child dropped their candy while pissing themselves during trick or treating at our house. Fun times!
Then there were the school parties. Each year we had a Halloween bash in our classroom. There were no rules back then, if you wanted to be a cowboy and carry a toy gun you could. Of course back then no kid would have dreamed of dressing up like a psycho murderer or zombie, like they do now. That would have been considered weird!
We had the annual Halloween Parade, which was the highlight of the day. I grew up in a tiny village (not even big enough to be called a town!) so we actually got to parade from the elementary school to the "downtown" area, which was one street, lined with all the villagers and our parents. It. Was. Awesome!
I lost several baby teeth thanks to Mary Janes!
The Dark, Dark Night
Come Halloween night we were let loose. It was so cool, going out with your friends alone, in the dark, running up and down the road (we lived in the country, so we had dirt roads, not streets). It was amazingly unsafe but back then no one really thought like that. You just went out because it was Halloween and that was what you did. I don't remember my parents taking us out, unless it rained, then my mom would troll along behind us in the car while we hopped in and out and ran to the houses. No way was rain going to stop us from getting free candy! This was back when you didn't get candy all the time. If you got it you had to buy it and most parents did not consider candy a necessary expense.
Occasionally you'd get the crappy apple or popcorn ball. We always gave those to our parents. Most of what we got were chewy candies that tore your fillings out along with any loose teeth you had wobbling around in your mouth. Mary Janes were the worst. To this day I hate those things!
My mom insisted we be polite, saying "Trick or Treat" in singsong voices and always, always saying thank you afterwards. Once I got the clever idea of adding the popular "smell my feet!" line to the Trick or Treat. This was one of the rare times my mom went along and it was my backside that got the "treat" that night!
Back home my brother and I would begin the trading process: We'd dump our bags on the floor, I gave him all the coconut, he gave me all the 3 Muskateers and our parents got the crap we didn't want. (and our dentist got lots of cha-ching throughout the year!)
We'd end the night with a viewing of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". And back then it was ONLY on Halloween night, not a week before like it is now. We all made sure we were home by eight so we could watch it while we munched on our goods, because if you missed it it wasn't on again until next Halloween. No DVR in those days folks!
Tylenol Scare of 1982
And Then It All Came Crashing Down
So what happened? 1982 happened. Everything was set for that year to be as great as all the others. This would be my last time trick or treating. I was thirteen years old and wanted to sneak one more year in. Most of my friends had already been made to quit and were stuck handing out candy now. In fact, NONE of my friends were going trick or treating that year. I was the only one so I decided to take the family dog with me instead. (yes, lame, I was scared of the dark!)
But before this could happen some stupid stupid jerk decided to lace Tylenol capsules with Potassium Cyanide. Several people died and suddenly everyone was afraid. Though the police did have a solid suspect they never actually arrested anyone for the poisoning. (a tax consultant, James Lewis, was arrested and imprisoned for sending an extortion letter to the company in regards to the poisonings, but it was never proven that he did the actual deed). This happened in September, 1982. In October 1982, terrified parents everywhere, including those in our small village, virtually cancelled Halloween.
This wasn't new, parents being worried someone might tamper with the trick or treat candy. My parents always said we had to check the apples we got in our bags to make sure no razor blades had been inserted, and we were instructed to never eat any candy that looked like it had been opened. But I don't think anyone really took it seriously, until 1982. The reaction was swift. Though not officially cancelled, parents in my neighborhood all said they weren't sending their kids out trick or treating this year. Instead, there would be a Halloween Party and safe treats would be handed out there. I balked. How could anything be as good as trick or treating?? I went around the neighborhood to see if anyone else was going trick or treating that year. Not a one said they were, everyone said their parents were making them go to the party.
There was no way I was going to give up my last year of trick or treating. I didn't care if I knocked on doors and got toothpaste, I was going dammit! So that night, I dressed up in my costume (I was a baby that year), grabbed the dogs leash and dragged her outside. Poor thing was terrified. She was a shy dog, a wimp even in the daylight and here I was taking her out in the dark of night dressed like a five foot tall baby!
As far as I know, I was the ONLY trick or treater out that year. I look back now and wonder how insane I could have been. Here I am, out after dark, a young teen girl, by MYSELF (not counting scaredy dog) out begging for possibly poisonous candy! And my parents let me go! Hello!
Since I was the only one out I got ENORMOUS quantities that year, which was awesome. I had enough candy to last me till Spring! And I lived to tell the tale. But Halloween for me, as I had known it, was now over. Never again would I know that excitement, the fun, the camaraderie, the absence of fear, that we all shared back then.
The real monsters had come out and there was no stuffing them back into a box and storing them in an attic until next year. These jerks were here to stay.
Today It's Not the Same
Things are different now. Today we still go trick or treating, in fact, our kids get to go more than once, on numerous occasions, not just one night. You can trick or treat at the zoo, at your church or park (they call this "trunk or treating") at historical villages and museums. At school you still have parties and parades but now you have to follow "rules" that say no scary or violent costumes. There are still parties, but these ones feature more bouncy houses than apple bobbings. Now you have the option of having your Halloween candy x-rayed by the local police department to search for razors, needles, etc.
Costumes cost $$ and it's not just kids under thirteen going trick or treating anymore. Now even adults can go, their costumes elaborate and ingenious. Some houses even hand out shots (to the adults only hopefully!) rather than candy! You can still watch The Great Pumpkin, along with several other usually Pixar inspired cartoons on your cable or satellite wide screen tv.
If you get Mary Janes in your treat bag you most likely throw them out once you've tried one. Now it's all miniature candy bars, bags of pretzels, toothbrushes and cans of pop. And only the lamest of the lame still hand out apples and popcorn balls, even the parents don't want those anymore (because we didn't want them back then, why would we want them now???)
No parent in their right mind or out of it even would let their kids go trick or treating alone today. Today we take them with us, we walk allllll over the place and guard their every step. We examine their candy and we only let them have a bit here and bit there, rationing it out to reduce the number of tummy aches and cavities.
We still have fun, us parents who were the kids of yesteryear, who had no cares or worries in our day. We love seeing how excited our own children look as they dress up and enjoy the festivities. But in the back of our minds we can't help but feel sad, remembering the good old days when surely evil did exist but we didn't know enough to be worried about it.
Now the evil is all around us, though we strive to keep it at bay and to wrap our kids in a protective shell for as long as we can, hoping that they too can have as many worry free days as possible before they realize the truth. We live in a dangerous world, and all we can do is learn to cope and carry on.
I treasure my memories and I will share them with my children and try to build happy ones that they in turn can share. The monsters will always be there, but it's how we choose to face them that decides the future.
Trick or Treat! (and remember not to say "smell my feet" if mom or dad are within ear shot!)