Baumhower: Tricks and treatsWritten by Jeremy Baumhower | | email@example.com
One of the slowest hours of the year for a kid is 5-6 p.m. on Halloween.
For me, it seemed the second hand of our living room clock would stop moving as soon as we were cleared to put our costumes on. Jeannine Lauber, Stan Stachak and a mustachioed Jerry Anderson would be on the television reminding kids of the times and rules of the special “all-you-can-grab candy dash” while informing parents of the weather forecast for the upcoming two hours.
It was always cold; if we were lucky, it was dry. There was nothing worse than having to pull the already-too-small vinyl one-piece, one-size-fits-all costume over your winter coat. The plastic mask with two holes for eyes and one slightly larger opening to allow your lungs air clung uncomfortably to your face and head.
Store-bought costume choices were limited back in the day — there were no Halloween stores, no Internet, no Pinterest. Boys got to pick between G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Spider-Man or Superman. For the girls it was Barbie, Jem of the Holograms, maybe a Shirt Tale or Rainbow Brite.
It was always a question of which bad thing would happen first — ripping your costume or breaking your mask. My winter coat — not Cobra — was GI Joe’s worst enemy that night.
The worst costume was always Casper the Friendly Ghost; the show hadn’t been on the TV for decades and I doubt it was ever liked. No kid in their right mind chose to be Casper on Halloween; it was the parents who wanted their baby to be safer and to wear a bright costume.
I also felt bad for the children who had a plastic pumpkin to collect the night’s rewards. You couldn’t visit more than 10 houses before the thin black strap on that contraption would break.
At 6 p.m. the TV would give us the go-ahead and the dash would begin. We had two hours to fill our full-sized pillowcases with as much candy as possible.
My dad was always our chaperone, working on an unagreed-upon commission. My mom was the designated person to stay back and hand out candy to those who knocked on our door, something she still enjoys to this day.
My West Toledo neighborhood was not built for Halloween. We had neither sidewalks nor curbed streets and the lighting was inadequate. To meet our goals we had to combat puddles, piles of leaves and slower and younger siblings who had not properly selected a costume based on speed, but rather prettiness. We battled tall grass, crazy dogs and sometimes crazier neighbors.
In that neighborhood, houses not decorated for Halloween were scarier than ones that were. It took courage to knock on the often poorly lit doors, especially on those homes featured in neighborhood folklore where children were allegedly kept in the basements. We had no idea that every house was a ranch with no sub-dwelling. We were kids, we were stupid — but that night, we were brave.
The reward for our bravery would hopefully be a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Twix or Kit Kat. Sometimes we would strike gold and stumble on a home giving away full-size bars. I remember the feeling of pure joy when you saw an old lady making it rain regular-sized delicious treats. I also remember the times we would strike out and get pennies, a toothbrush or — worse — a coupon. What the hell is a kid going to do with a free ice cream? We couldn’t drive, we could barely ride a bike. Halloween was one of the few times I was allowed to cross certain roads.
I couldn’t remember my multiplication table or state capitals, but I could tell you which house gave what candy away on every street we ventured. Over the following nights, fantasies of revenge would fill our heads for those who left their lights off. How dare they!
As we tackled street after street, and our stash got larger in size, new thoughts and fears would start to arise. Would someone try to snatch our bag of candy?
The neighborhood near McGregor and Clover lanes is known for a lot of good things, like providing quarterbacks and point guards for generations of Whitmer sports teams and a big empty field net to the then-recently built library to hang out and “park.” But it was also known for legendary bag-snatching stories — all completely unfounded — where children would have trick-or-treated for an hour and 55 minutes only to have a squad of goons lay down a beating and take their hard-earned bag. I later realized why my sister and I had always remain unscathed from such unprovoked attacks — my dad would be dragging a wagon full of beer while wearing his dirty work clothes, looking like one of the crazies I mentioned earlier. Imagine Jason from “Friday the 13th” without the mask, having a slight buzz and sore feet. That was my dad, Dave.
The second slowest hour of the year was when Dave would play Candy TSA Agent and painstakingly over-evaluate every piece of candy we collected. He was looking for needles, pinholes, any signs of tampering. He would use this safety check processing time to get first pick of anything he liked in the bag, a nonnegotiable cost of business that was repeatedly stated with every piece of candy his fingers touched. It was pure childhood torture.
But he never seemed to pick any of my or my sister’s favorites. He would choose the awful Tootsie Rolls, Necco Wafers or Bit-O-Honey chews, which was surprising because this man loves his chocolate and peanut butter.
After 20 years of Halloween as a parent, I now understand why Dad never selected our favorite pieces.
After watching my children carry a heavy sack around a dark neighborhood for 90 minutes, all while being forced to say “hello,” “trick or treat” and “thank you” to countless weird-looking strange neighbors, my kids earn every single piece of candy tossed in their bags.
Now I’m the Candy TSA Agent who painstakingly touches every Whatchamacallit, Red Vines and Bazooka Joe bubble gum. I have learned to take inventory, noting which child collected which piece, and play commissioner to facilitate candy trades. I’ve also become the Halloween villain who informs my overly ambitious children that they cannot eat more than a couple of pieces that very night and every day that follows. I am now the guy who hides their bowls of candy on top of the refrigerator.
The times and costumes may have changed, but Halloween has stayed the same.
Halloween’s ultimate “treat” is quality time with your family. It’s carving pumpkins, costume selections, Linus waiting all night in a pumpkin patch, classroom parties and school parades.
Halloween “tricks” us into being a good neighbor one night a year, with the promise of smiling faces hiding behind a plastic mask, children reluctantly wearing their winter coats stuffed inside a vinyl costume while screaming “trick or treat,” a parent pulling a beer wagon — all in the hopes that you answer the door without a coupon in your hand.
So turn on your light because Halloween is an opportunity for you to be a part of someone’s memories.
And to the nice lady at Airedale and Armada: Thanks for the full-sized Twix.
Email columnist Jeremy Baumhower at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @jeremytheproduc.