Thursday, October 11, 2007

1950s - Halloween

Sherry Ellen and Patty Sue Pierce, about 1956

Up until recently, Halloween was my favorite holiday. Part of it was because I adored dressing up. Part of it was because I liked candy. A big part of it was because I loved scary stories, scary poems, scary movies.

This old photo is of me and my younger sister, dressed up by my mother for Halloween. I recently had our old home movies which Mom transferred to video tape, transferred again to DVD format this summer. There we are in those costumes, at a party in our farmhouse, along with the other small children who lived on farms on our road, or who lived in nearby Millard. We're chasing around our maple dining room table in the home movie, the littlest ones looking confused and giddy. I'm just twirling around like some demented Cinderella. We almost never bought our costumes, and it took weeks of planning and sewing to assemble them.

As for candy, we always got some, but not like the town kids who could drag a pillow case around the block to hold all their loot. When we were the age we are pictured here, Mom would take us in the Mercury and drive us to farms around the country block, maybe six places total. Usually we all had to go in and visit. One man from church insisted we perform before he'd put a treat in our bag, so we'd sing a couple lines of a song for him, hating it. The neighbor at the end of our long gravel driveway was our favorite. She had a paper sack already filled with treats: homemade popcorn balls, strawberry rope licorice, and a peanut butter blossom cookie. Occasionally there were wax lips, crimson Dolly Parton kissers, that eventually were chewed to bits. When we got a little older we walked our country road in the dark. That was scary. One cold Halloween as we walked along the road, winter jackets over our costumes, there were spotted salamanders on the asphalt. Can't beat that for a chill. Do I remember the nice neighbor lady had hot chocolate when we arrived at her place? I know that nobody threw away my homemade treats for fear of tampering.

Then there were scary stories. I don't remember there being any adults who censored the stories we read. We had lots of books of ghost stories, lots of those Alfred Hitchcock short story collections. We subscribed to a series of books that arrived by mail, The Best of Children's Literature. Seems to me I remember my first bloody Grimms Fairy Tales from those books. At church we had youth Halloween parties, and nobody suggested we were being corrupted by the devil, even when I dressed as a black cat. When I was older we often made our own haunted houses, and played the Dead Man Game - you know, the one with a rubber glove filled with wet sand for his hand, candy corn for teeth, a carved carrot for a nose. We watched scary television, old Vincent Price movies or B Sci-Fi movies about radiated mutants, or outer space creatures. But they were in black and white, and nothing that gave us nightmares (usually).

I'm not so wild about Halloween now. I enjoy handing out candy to dressed up children, but we get fewer and fewer every year. Most of the costumes appear to be purchased, and I know that moms work outside the home now, so I understand that saving time is a good thing. But the holiday seems to me to have become just another opportunity for marketers to sell us costumes, decorations, candy and cards. And the news items about parents objecting to ghost stories or even Harry Potter just depress me. My husband and I will buy candy, carve pumpkins (and roast pumpkin seeds), and play A Night on Bald Mountain during trick or treat time, but I'm afraid Halloween isn't my favorite any more.

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