Monday was Halloween, and despite living in a community full of children, we had no trick-or-treaters. For several years, we turned on our porch light, ready to answer that unmistakable call to deliver various nuggets of almost pure sugar into bags held out by bright-eyed, eager kids. But that “Trick or Treat!” call never came. I think one of the main reasons for this is that most families now take their children to either church- or community-organized Halloween events rather than driving them through their home communities. Things were far different in the small mountain community that I called home. Join me as I travel back to those days to discover the real treat of Halloween…
It’s hard to believe, but I was in my late teens before I realized that Halloween was not just a fun holiday for children. All those naive years before, Libby and I both were completely unaware that it was actually “All Hallows’ Eve” and that it was connected to All Saints Day on November 1, a time to celebrate the lives of the Saints, martyrs, and the recently departed faithful. Those were not dates observed by the little church I grew up in.
For Libby and me, Halloween was a night to celebrate being a kid, to dress up in costumes, and to yell “Trick or Treat!” at the top of our lungs. It was a night of negotiation as we spread out our candy and other goodies on the floor and traded with each other for the small treasures we each liked best, and it was a night of lying sleepless in bed because we were so excited (and high on sugar!).
It was also a night to be a little scared because we knew that older and more rebellious kids, and maybe some adults, too, would be out felling trees over the road, throwing eggs at house windows and cars, and spray painting. Daddy always made sure we were home by 8:30 before any of this “tricking” really got under way.
The excitement of Halloween started well before the actual date as Libby and I contemplated dressing up and visiting neighbors’ houses in hopes of a “big haul”. The costumes were usually an odd mixture of store-bought pieces combined with homemade ones. Our first costumes combined a witch’s mask for Libby and a Frankenstein mask for me, both matched to ghosts’ bodies made of old rags Mom had sewn together. It didn’t bother us one bit to wear these costumes for several years. In fact, we looked forward to it as part of the tradition of the holiday.
Each October 31, Daddy chauffeured us around while Mom stayed home to greet any small goblins who made it up our long driveway looking for the promise of chocolate. Now, you must remember that we lived in the country, and neighbors were separated by acres of land and sometimes miles of road. So, when we started out right around dusk, we would often be gone for at least two hours but would only stop at eight to ten houses.
The distance between houses was only part of the reason it took us so long to make our rounds. The other part was something that came with being part of a mountain community and was really quite simple. You see, these were all folks we knew, so not only did we get to run up to their door and yell, “Trick or Treat,” but we also got to go inside, sit down and visit for a while. Each year, neighbors would catch up on how old we were, our favorite subject in school, just how fast we were growing up, and how our parents and grandparents were doing. We would dutifully answer their questions, and then the wonderful clatter of Halloween goodies dropping into our plastic jack-o-lanterns would send us off through the door and back to the car where we would make our way to the next house on our list.
In those days and in our community, people often had homemade treats for the few children who clambered up to their doors, and parents were not fearful that their kids would be poisoned or cut by razor blades. It was indeed a simpler time, and we got to reap the benefits of fresh chocolate chip cookies, yummy homemade fudge, and some of our favorite store bought candies as well. The best of them all, though, came from the lady we lovingly called “Worse Jincy”.
Each year, without fail, Worse Jincy had the most wonderful popcorn balls you can imagine. They were the only treat we never had again until the next Halloween, so they were treasured prizes. These baseball-sized treats were sweet and salty and soft and crunchy all at the same time, and the sticky, sugary goo that held them together also made our teeth stick together just a little. We savored each and every bite!
So much did we love Halloween and making our appointed rounds to those houses that we kept right on going until the Halloween after I left home for college. By that time, we were old enough and mature enough to enjoy our visits with the neighbors as much as they did, and the dutiful answers of our younger years turned into more of an enjoyable conversation with our hosts. Also, by this time, Libby, my best friend from school, and I had perfected an outfit and routine that we presented to those same neighbors who had seen our earlier witch and Frankenstein. Libby was a farmer in overalls, and my best friend and I became a horse made with a paper bag head, a yarn mane and tail, and a fuzzy blanket body. Daddy still drove us to each house where we would jump out of the car and “get in character” by assembling the horse that Farmer Libby Brown led by a rope up to the door.
“Trick or Treat!” we would yell, and the doors would open. Neighbors, who knew exactly who we were, invited us in, and Libby would pick up our routine with something like, “I was just out with my horse here and thought I would stop by for a rest and a visit. How are y’all doin’?”. Back and forth, she and the neighbors would converse until after a bit, she would exclaim, “You know, I have a mighty fine horse here, and he’s as sharp as a tack! In fact, he knows how to dance! Would you like to see him do his dance?” And, of course, they all did.
Libby went on from there, “Now, Fred (that was our horse’s name), these folks want to see you dance. You go on and show ‘em what you can do.” Fred immediately shook his head from side to side and stamped his feet in defiance. Libby, with some amount of irritation in her voice, would scold, “All right, now, Fred, we’ll have none of that. If you want your oats tonight, you’ll straighten up and act like you’re somebody.” And to the hosts who were patiently waiting, she would add, “He gets a little ornery sometimes, but he’s really a good horse, ain’t you, Fred?”. She would pat Fred a little and coax, “Come on, now, will you dance for these nice folks?”. Fred nodded his head, and then did a short little routine, ending by crossing both his sets of feet and taking a bow.
The smiles on our neighbors’ faces showed us how much they enjoyed our little act (or maybe they just thought we were nuts!). The goodies clattered in the same old plastic pumpkin that we had carried for all those years, and Farmer Brown expressed gratitude from all of us. As she led Fred through the door, she would always smile and say, “We’ll see you folks again next year…”
I well up inside as I think about those marvelous people we visited each Halloween. I’m sure that most all of them are gone now, but they definitely haven’t been forgotten. At least half of a horse named Fred remembers each and every one of them, not only on All Hallows’ Eve, but also on All Saints’ Day. They touched our lives and left us with the indelible memory of their smiling faces. They opened their doors and their hearts to two little girls (and later on, a best friend,too) who knew they were always welcome to come inside and visit for a while. I wish everyone could know such safety and love…