Ghosts of Halloween Past
By Patrick F. Cannon
Halloween has come and gone, but this year was a disappointment to my wife Jeanette. We now live in an apartment building with a secure lobby; thus, no access for the little trick or treaters. We did see a few when we walked the dog, but nothing like the three or four hundred that would sometimes struggle up the stairs to the front door of our former Oak Park home, delighting Jeanette with their costumes and enthusiasm.
The early years of my own trick and treating are getting a bit dim. I just vaguely remember doing it in the final couple of years of World War II (I was seven when it ended). We moved to Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood during the winter of 1946-47, and my memories are clearer for the years we lived there. Unlike the single-family neighborhoods of Braddock and Homestead, Pennsylvania we had come from, the area of South Shore were we lived mostly consisted of large courtyard apartment buildings. Unlike the elevator building were we live now, they were walk-ups. You still had to be buzzed in, which some kindly tenant usually did.
An evening’s swag could be considerable. In anticipation, you would carry a kraft-paper shopping bag, of the kind grocery stores provided then. (They’re making a comeback now that many areas are banning plastic). While not an exhaustive inventory, here’s the kind of stuff you were likely to get: loose pieces of penny candy; apples or oranges; popcorn balls; pennies or (hurrah!) nickels; and occasionally (hurrah again!) an actual candy bar.
The penny candy was usually OK, but the fruit was a disappointment, since it was something you got at home on a regular basis. Popcorn balls were widely reviled. They were hard to eat, and stuck to the other stuff in your bag. Money was and is always welcome. You mostly got pennies, but an occasional nickel did appear (remember, in those days a nickel bought you most candy bars and a bottle of pop). They didn’t have those tiny candy bars that come in big sacks at the supermarket then, so when you got a candy bar, it was the real thing. I still remember once getting a Mounds bar, which came in two pieces and actually cost a dime! Of such moments, lasting memories are made.
For future reference, let me advise those who are active trick or treat dispensers that kids want candy, not some healthy snack. Foist such things on your own children during the rest of the year, but for God’s sake don’t ruin some poor kids Halloween by giving him or her sealed sacks of oats.
One particular Halloween in South Shore was most memorable. My brother Pete was a Boy Scout and went on a weekend camping trip. Alas, he was gone on the Saturday when the holiday fell that year. When he was deep in the woods, it dawned on him that he was missing the hail of goodies that were justly his. When he returned, he insisted on going trick or treating anyway For some reason, my parents made me go with him.
You can imagine the results. While some people were kind enough to give him whatever they had left, most lectured him, and not kindly, on the undoubted fact that Halloween had come and gone. I have often wondered if this scarred my brother for life. There is no outward evidence of this, as he is the most outgoing and enthusiastic man I have ever known. But who knows what darkness lurks in his soul? Anyway, he quit the Boy Scouts post haste.
Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon