When I was a kid, we lived in the country.
Rural America. We lived by a state road with no street name. Our address was “Rural Delivery 3.” Then it changed to Rural Delivery 1. But everybody knew that if you addressed the envelope to us and put RD 3 on it, we’d still get it, the same way you address a letter to “Santa Claus – North Pole” and everyone knows he gets it just in time for Christmas.
We had two neighbors. One was a family whose house sat on top of the hill behind us, and another family whose house sat an acre away. We knew our neighbors well. In the summers, I’d climb the hill and read the books that our neighbors kept in a small bookcase in their family room, and in the winters, our other neighbors sometimes kept me after school while my mom and dad finished up their workday. Both families had children who were older than me, some who were old enough to be our babysitters, and some who were practically grown by the time I was old enough to be babysat.
My parents grew up in the area, and their parents, high school friends, and aunts and uncles and cousins lived nearby. It was a good childhood, one filled with people whom we loved and trusted and knew all our lives.
And we visited them on Halloween.
We’d dress up in costumes made of cast-offs and whatever we could find in our parents’ closets some years, while other years we demanded a character and dressed up in the five-and-dime costumes which were little more than stitched felt and a plastic mask. Trick-or-treating had a goal: to get our neighbors and extended family to guess who we were.
Faces were covered, as were any telling traits about who we might be; our mother would drive us from house to house, and we’d stand outside giggling, ringing doorbells and knocking on doors that we’d normally just open and walk through unannounced. Keeping silent was key; we were not to blow our cover. Mom was instructed to stay hidden until they guessed who we were. Some years she would don her own costume and join us, staying just as quiet until we’d all be identified.
Of course, they always guessed who we were; we never had to stand shivering in our hobo rags or cheap Scooby-Doo costume for long before they guessed and invited us in for candy or cookies and hot chocolate and my mom for a cup of coffee and a visit.
We’d stay for a bit while we warmed our hands and feet – the end of October was always cold, and the idea of putting a winter coat on over our costume was the kiss of death – but then got antsy as we knew there were only a few places we could visit before the night got too long and we’d have to return home. We tucked the treats inside our bags, straighten out our disguises, and jump in the car to the next house.
Our loot was varied: cookies and wrapped chocolates, candy bars and popcorn balls. Gum and hard candy would sometimes be given, as not everyone expected trick-or-treaters on the night we’d visit. We didn’t mind when our relatives and neighbors gave us those things; the treat ended up being the visit, the thrill of being a witch or an old man or Captain America for one night.
These days, Halloween looks different. We don’t live in the country. My kids don’t always wear masks. They trick-or-treat in our neighborhood with friends and parents, visiting most of the hundred or so houses for chocolate and lollipops. When the night is over, after they divide up their candy, they talk about the costumes they saw on their journey, the houses that were decorated the spookiest, the neighbors they visited, and the spirit that electrifies the air when families come together on one night to do something fun.
And I know that their Halloween is not all that different from when I was a kid.
This post inspired by:
Prompt #5: Who had the good candy? Share what Halloween was like for you as a child.