It used to be something to really look forward to. When I was a kid you didn’t have to spend a lot of money to have a lot of fun. I’m referring to the once-a-lot-of-fun event of Trick-or-Treating. My first memory of this fun night was when I was about 4-years-old.
I was living in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a coal mining town about 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. My parents took me Trick-or-Treating and the most memorable situation occurred at my aunt Annie’s house. My mother dressed me as a little girl with a scarf, commonly called a babushka in the Polish and Slovak traditions in which I was raised, on my head tied under my chin. (Don’t you wish I had a picture of that? I sure do.) The idea back then was to fool your relatives and neighbors so they wouldn’t know who you are and they would give you lots of candy as a reward for fooling them. My parents walked me to the porch and up the steps. They hid around the corner of the house so they couldn’t be seen. I knocked on the door and my Aunt Annie answered and opened the storm door. I forgot to tell you that I was told not to talk, something you might already know was and still is very difficult for me to do. She didn’t seem to recognize me and I still remember her exact words to me. She asked me a simple question. “Are you one of the Yarzinka girls?” They were a family in the neighborhood that had a few daughters. My parents couldn’t hold back their laughter and came around the the corner of the house so my aunt would know this “little girl” in front of her was actually me. Oh, she did give me some great goodies for my Trick-or-Treat bag. That is what I call real innocent fun. We used to be able to go from house-to-house all over the neighborhood and beyond and feel secure in the knowledge that we were safe and would enjoy the night.
We moved to Rochester, New York when I was between five and six-years-old and Trick-or-Treating took on a whole different dimension. The weather on Halloween night would vary from clear and chilly all the way to cold and rainy or even cold and snowy. Most years I couldn’t afford a real costume so I’d make one. The best costume I ever made was that of a wounded cowboy. I had a double rawhide holster belt with two Colt .45 cap pistols. I wrapped a bandana with fake bloodstains on it around my head and had another bandage on my left arm and put it in a sling. It actually looked pretty good. There was only one little problem, the weather. It was cold, windy, and worst of all snowing. To survive the Trick-or-Treat adventure I had to wear my heavy winter coat which incidentally completely covered my so-called costume. When we went up to a door and knocked I would have to quickly unzip my coat and flash it open quickly so they could see my costume then I had to zip it back up quickly before the wind and snowflakes got inside the coat.
One of my last Halloween night Trick-or-Treat experiences was really memorable also. I was in a group of about five boys and one of my friends suggested that we go to another neighborhood that we didn’t normally cover. The people there gave out some of the best candy of the night. One elderly woman gave each of us a large caramel apple, the best one I’d ever had. About a half hour later one of my friends said we should go back to that house and see if we could get another caramel apple. We decided to mix and match our costumes so we would look different. We walked up to her porch and she was standing there with her tray of luscious caramel apples. To our surprise she recognized us as soon as the porch light gave her a good look at us. She didn’t yell or scold which made it even worse. She told us how disappointed she was in us that we would be greedy enough to try to fool her into giving us what we didn’t deserve and that we were trying to take them from other more deserving kids. As you can tell she had a serious impact on all of us. Lesson learned.
Zooming forward we get past my wife and I getting married and starting a family of our own. My job on TV kept me at work during the time when most of the younger kids were going door-to-door. By the time I got home for dinner between newscasts only the older kids were coming to our door. When we lived in Austin, Texas in the 1970s it was so hot on Halloween that our two children had sweat collecting in the chin area if their masks then dripping down the front of their costumes. Sadly, some sickos all over the country began putting razor blades in apples they gave out to kids and others were messing with the candy also. The rule for our kids was to collect all the candy, don’t touch it, and when they came home we’d go through it making sure it was ok.
Hardly any kids go Trick-or-Treating down our street any more. Churches and other organizations have come up with communal Halloween parties to offset the fact Trick-or-Treating just isn’t safe anymore. St. Jude Catholic Church has held a “Trunk-N-Treat” celebration in the parking lot for years. The parents decorate the trunks of their cars and the kids go from one car to another showing off their costumes and collecting their candy and some things that are actually good for growing kids. The have also had a contest to see who had the best decorated trunk.
You know how, when you are very young, you say that you will never say what your parents said ” things were so much better in the good old days.” Well I’m sorry but in this case I have to break my word. Halloween was so much more fun and exciting back in the old days of my not-always-so-innocent childhood. If that puts me in the category of an “Old Fart” then so be it. I just feel sad for the youngsters of today who have to miss out on adventures that were so wondrous and memorable in my life.
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can email me at: [email protected].