One of my favorite times growing up in Buffalo during the 60’s occurred in late October every year. It was the Halloween season. I always enjoyed the cooler days and nights around this time of the year. Fall represented to me a warm cup of fresh pressed apple cider with a cinnamon stick, homemade pumpkin pie, carving jack o lanterns, caramel apples and the smell of burning leaves.
But best of all was the night we would go trick or treating. Growing up in Buffalo, we went trick-or-treating on October 30th, what we called Beggar’s Night. There was a very good reason they called it “Beggar’s Night.” I would go out knocking on doors and ringing doorbells collecting sweets along the way.
I would hastily eat my dinner that evening and get into my costume that I would have laid out on my bed in anticipation of the night to come. We didn’t have the readily available costumes or a fancy dancy Halloween store in those days so I had to improvise. I had a total of two different costumes back then. The first costume was a ghost. All this outfit took was an old bed sheet that I would cut eye holes in with a pair of scissors.
My other costume was a hobo. This took a bit more effort. I would get one of my father’s old work shirts and roll up the sleeves. I would also wear my worst, worn out pair of jeans. Ones that were frayed on the bottom and had a few holes in them. Sometimes they would have to be rescued from the rag bag. I would bunch up a ball of newspaper, tie it in a bandana and would carry this on a stick thrown over one shoulder. To complete the look, I would char a cork and draw a three day shadow on my chin and face. I thought I looked good.
While my parents were busy partying with their friends, I would go out on my night time candy raids. My treasure collection bag consisted of either an old pillow case or a paper shopping bag with handles that my mother had gotten when she shopped at an upscale store. I didn’t have one of those ornate, preprinted bags designed just for trick or treat or the plastic “T shirt” bags that we all know, the ones you see blowing around on a windy day.
I would return to my house several times during the night when my “loot” bag was getting heavy, pour it out on a newspaper on the dining room floor and head out in a different direction to gather even more swag. It was not uncommon to go five blocks in any direction and collect at least one large shopping bag full of candy and goodies that night.
One night two teenagers (gods to a pre-teen) approached me and said they were participating in a scavenger hunt and asked if I knew where they could find some of the items on their list. The one thing that sticks out in my mind was a burned out light bulb. They came to the right person because I had just acquired one I was going to experiment with.
They followed me to my home on Berkshire Avenue where I helped them fill their list as much as I could. They thanked me, gave me their address and told me to tell the lady who answered the door that I had helped them out and that she should “take care” of me.
It was getting late when I got there as it was about 4 blocks away. I think she gave me all the candy she had left because she turned off her porch light as I was leaving. She was probably happy to get rid of all the extra candy she had.
When I was done collecting my yearly booty, I would start the job of sorting out my loot. My parents would have me throw out all unwrapped candy, the small bags of homemade popcorn and the apples I had collected lest they were tampered with by the insertion of pins, needles or razor blades. Why someone would do this to a kid is beyond me. I was only permitted to keep the factory sealed items.
I would then start trading things with my brother and sister, swapping what I didn’t want for something I wanted from them.
Ah, those were the good old days, a period of better times. A time that I believe was better, simpler and more wholesome than the current period. But then I think my memory of them is a bit rosier than it actually was.
Times have changed, gone are the days you could let your children run around the neighborhood, unsupervised, late at night. Gone are the days that we used to have a hundred or more children visiting our front door. We now have maybe thirty five or forty kids that come on our porch, dressed in store bought costumes carrying store bought bags gathering their annual spoils. But I still enjoy watching the kids come on my porch and hearing the gleeful sounds of “Trick or Treat”.