Halloween Memories

I thought it would be fun to reminisce a little today about Halloween when I was young.
The earliest I remember was around the time I started school. We had just moved to a new house on Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg. My mother came home from work and quickly put my brother and I into our costumes. I  was Snow White and my brother was Caspar the Friendly Ghost, I don’t recall if our little sister came along. It was a very blustery night and that part of town was very dark. Soon my brother started crying and saying to take off his “boogie man”. We wore masks with our costumes in those days and the vapour of our breath would get caught inside the mask and make it wet and uncomfortable. All over the neighbourhood you could hear firecrackers going off . Boys would put them under a tin can and light them. Many would be wearing the cap guns and holsters that were part of their cowboy costumes. You might even see a Red Rider BB gun. There were some pretty bad accidents in those days.

All the discomfort was paid off with the wonderful treats we would find at the various places we visited.  Most of the businesses had some sort of miniature item of whatever stock they sold. The miniature loaves of McGavins bread wrapped in wax paper just delighted me.  It was also a time to visit your neighbour who might make homemade treats for you.  You could end up with some interesting stuff. One of our Polish neighbours used to make beautiful wedding cakes for the members of her church and she would give us little bags of almond icing and silver beads. It was not unusual to be invited in and be given any type of food.

We usually lived in an ethnic area where we would sample all types of food. We once had a neighbour who actually cooked for Halloween and put a huge table out on her porch with all kinds of baking on it. You were invited up to have something. I recall no problems happening. Some people kept tubs of water and apples at their house so you could bob for apples, a singularly uncomfortable experience which the braver of the boys didn’t mind !

As the ’60’s progressed, things became more commercialized and rice krispie squares and popcorn balls became more popular.  (Apples? Who needs ’em? )Then the inevitable candies that we all loved to hoard, molasses toffee kisses, double bubble and life savers. One of my memories is of my younger sister waking up in the morning with  toffee stuck in her beautiful brown curls and the ensuing calamity as my mother tried to get it out. One might even think of it as the “morning after a binge”! We generally had enough candy to last us until Christmas. Our dental records were the proof of that!

Once we hit Grade 5 or 6, we would make our own costumes out of whatever was available at home and use our mothers make up for our faces. My brother, like something out of a Rockwell painting, was a speed runner and challenged himself every year to see how much of a haul he could bring in. We used pillowcases to gather our candy. He probably wandered a radius of a mile at least and one year came home with 3 or 4 pillowcases full of candy. I vaguely remember being worried about him catching a bus .  My mother was the sole provider and often worked at night, to wit, we would go crazy.

One of my favourite Halloween memories is of the parties my girlfriends and I would organize. We were all very sociable then, about 1968. We lived in a “rough area” of Edmonton called Cromdale and our house backed onto the Exhibition Grounds. I had friends of just about every nationality, but my best friend was a girl from Manchester, England. We decided to create a “haunted house” that year and what fun we had! Again, everything was “from scratch”. We first had a meeting of all interested parties which included some boys we had recruited to play “monsters”. Then we decided on music which would be played on “45” records. For this we had to nominate a disc jockey which of course was one of the boys.

We hung up sheets all over the basement and got a few boys to wear Frankenstein and Dracula masks, hide and then jump out at people once they were inside. When we were finished the basement was fully dark. I was host, so I led the kids inside (mostly classmates) and stuck their hand in a “bowl of brains” which was cold macaroni and some “eyeballs” which was olives. Then they had to have a “drink of blood”. That was tomato juice. My friends parents were upstairs of course. Afterwards, the party returned to normal or as normal as it could get which a bunch of 14 year old boys running around.  We were still children and knew little of the world. Very few of us had a television.

Later, when I was raising my own children and attitudes toward Halloween had changed, I encouraged them to go out and meet their neighbours. Of course I went with them at first but after that they raced around with their friends braving the technological advances in decorating; coffins on the lawn that opened up, technicolor lights and screaming music.  One of my daughters once kicked a man who was a living tree. He moved, she kicked. The costumes sometimes were extraordinary but seldom came from the store and neither were they “made by Mom”.  I helped buy material or find old clothes but they made their own costumes and did their own make-up, well, except for the pig-tails that had to be wired up for a Pepi Longstocking costume!

I truly hope that my grandchildren will continue in the spirit of creativity and independence that my own children and their parents did. Happy Halloween everyone!

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