Halloween, Then and Now

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As a kid of the sixties, it was always my favorite holiday. OK to be fair my real favorite was Christmas, but Halloween was the start of the holiday season. And what was not to love? There were costumes, house to house pillaging for candy, the rustling of leaves in the crisp fall air and the Halloween Festival at Gasteyer School. Every year from the age of six to eleven I couldn’t wait for the festival. It was magic. The normally boring classrooms were transformed into magical game and event rooms. This was the big PTA fund raiser and a big hit for the entire Oak Lawn, Illinois community. Kids talked about it for weeks.

My mom (Mimi) usually baked a cake for the cake walk. It was like musical chairs. Everyone would step from number to number until the music stopped. Then a spin of the wheel would reveal who got to pick a cake from the large cake table. I think I was seven or eight when I got to pick a cake. It was chocolate, of course. I ever so proudly and carefully carried the cake home in the dark to give to my mom before returning to the school for more fun. There were game rooms, where you could win valuable prizes like pencils, crayons, and you guessed it, more candy. The gym was open for games involving basketballs, bean bags, and volley balls.  There was also the room, which every parent hated, where a good toss of a ping pong ball would score you a pet gold fish. They generally had a life expectancy of slightly longer than the trip home, before joining all of their fishy friends on the other side of the toilet bowl.

By 1965 I was at the top of the ladder. As a sixth grader I was a school elder. At eleven years old and a patrol guard I was practically an adult. As such, I was honored with an inside look at my favorite room of all, The Haunted House! For a young child, this was a rite of passage and a test of bravery. You could brag to your friends. ‘Naw I wasn’t scared.’ Or you could talk about the kid who cried. But this year was special. I got out of class to help set up the room. Curtains hanging from cloth lines would hide the numerous workers. One would lie on top of the closets with the rubber spied on a fishing line to dangle in front of hapless victims. Another would have a wet sponge on a stick for a quick jab to the back of your neck or a girl’s legs. Others would jump out in ghoulish costumes. To my great disappointment, I discovered that the bowl of worms was nothing more than spaghetti. Although, when I think about some of my friends, I would guess that by the night’s end there had to be at least a few real worms in the bowl. The eye balls were only pealed grapes. I ate a few when no one was looking.

Even though I had lost my Halloween innocence I gathered my courage, donned my pirate costume and joined Tim and Tom to walk the streets and gather our quota of goodies. Back then, everything seemed safe. Kids old enough to find their ways home could go out unattended. There were no real demonic overtones to the holiday. Horror movies, which I loved, like Frankenstein and Dracula were non reality based and had at least semi-positive endings. Candy didn’t need checking. Communities had networks of moms, who were vigilant of any potential threats.

Today, however things are a little different. As I think of the world our kids and grandkids have grown up in I cringe. Security at schools has become far more important than fun. Reality has infiltrated fantasy. Crystal and I were on vacation in Florida around 1978. At the insistence of her old friend we saw the movie “Halloween”. When Jamie Lee Curtis screamed Crystal screamed louder. I screamed louder than her. She was grabbing my sun burned shoulder. The point is, that movie wasn’t like my old horror films. Today horror is real and vigilance is the order of the day. Our kids today suffer from an all too early loss of innocence. Trick-or-treaters still come to our house in substantial numbers but generally parents aren’t too far off.

As my girls grew up I still shared their enjoyment. I would dress up, mainly for their benefit, as a mad scientist to take them trick-or-treating. Generally a neighbor or friend would join us. Today, I notice that while most of the little monsters and princesses have elders watching over them, some are on their own. I attribute this to parental apathy and neglect, which unfortunately is prevalent nowadays. I worry that these kids are no longer safe.

I have to admit that those days of seeing my own kids, with their eyes widened by the many spectacles and bountiful treats was as special to me as to them. Today, while some churches have offered safe alternatives, trick-or-treating seems as popular as ever. So this Halloween, should the opportunity present itself, offer to help out some overburdened parent. If not, at least remain ever vigilant and report any suspicious behavior. Our kids deserve to remain innocent and safe for as long as possible and to enjoy the Holiday. Have a happy Halloween.

A princess, a Hawaiian girl, and their pet bunny. Lisa (bunny) was about the same age as Liz’s (princess) and Michelle’s (Hawaiian Girl) daughters (Ady and Ayla) are now.

 

 

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