In the 1960s, Halloween was a big holiday for us kids — almost as important as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Kids nowadays probably won’t understand this because candy is everywhere and readily available in big stores — shelves and shelves of it, packaged in large plastic bags for Halloween.

But many years ago, it wasn’t as plentiful — nor were there so many varieties. A few days before Halloween, our mothers went to the store and bought a package of tiny white paper bags that had a black and orange Halloween design on the front, typically of a witch on a broomstick, flying off into the sky.

They packed those bags with popcorn or several pieces of candy, like a Tootsie roll, squirrel nut, mint julep, bubble gum and fire ball. Then they folded up or stapled the end of the bag, plopped it into a large bowl with the others and handed them out to goblins and ghouls as they came to the door chanting “Trick or Treat!”

When we were small, my mother made candied apples, spearing them with little wooden sticks and dipping them into sticky red caramel.

Sometimes she’d roll them in a bowl of chopped peanuts before placing them on a sheet of waxed paper to harden.

Those candied apples were delicious — better than the ones we got at the Skowhegan State Fair in late summer. Once the apples hardened, my mother carefully wrapped them in waxed paper and handed them out to trick or treaters.

Many kids came to our house every year just for those candied apples, as well as the caramel popcorn balls she made. They had just a hint of salt and were also wrapped in waxed paper.

Halloween costumes in those days were typically devised of whatever we could find around the house, and with a little ingenuity, the garb could be pretty creative. A scarecrow came to life with an oversized plaid flannel shirt, dungarees shredded at the knee and hay stuffed up the sleeves; a ghost was created with a white sheet thrown over someone’s head, a rope tied around the neck and holes cut out for eyes, nose and mouth; a witch materialized from an old black dress, a hat made of cardboard and painted black, lots of red lipstick and charcoal to outline the eyes.

Often at Halloween, my mother would work late into the night assembling costumes for us on her old Singer sewing machine. She could whip up the most incredible attire on that contraption.

When we were very little, we often wore plastic face masks at Halloween, the store-bought kind that got all sweaty and wet after you wore them a while. It felt great to shed them in the cold night air while trekking between houses.

We traveled in groups, feeling safe in our disguises as we faced strangers at their doorsteps. Some were friendly and generous; others peered at us from inside their darkened houses, never opening the door. We imagined they hated little kids and would as soon cook us for supper as toss us a treat.

The imagined danger gave us an eerie thrill, as did our tendency to wander farther from home than we were allowed.

In Skowhegan, the older kids carried pillow cases instead of paper bags — they said you could garner a lot more candy that way. And some ventured across the Kennebec River where only the most courageous dared go.

It wasn’t that the south side of the river was scary for any reason; it’s just that if you went there trick or treating, some homeowners would ask where you lived and if you said you were from across the river, they sent you packing.

When we finally headed home cold, tired and bedraggled, we dumped our loot onto the living room floor, comparing the size of our hauls.

If I close my eyes, I am transported back to those Halloweens of my childhood. I can still feel the cold October night, sense the mask against my face and smell the sweet aroma of my mother’s popcorn balls and candied apples.

Those were very good years.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 23 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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