As Halloween rolls around, a song we sang in elementary school runs through my head:

Halloween, the witches riding high

Have you seen their shadows in the sky?

So beware, don’t you dare to even boast

Or a ghost to your dismay

Will hear you say that you don’t care

Say a prayer

Or it may come and pull your hair!

 

I’ve asked kids nowadays if they know the traditional Halloween song and they look at me askance.

When we were young, we’d compete to see who could sing it the fastest and, while doing so, act the scariest, contorting our faces and pronouncing “it” in the last line with great alarm.

Halloween in the 1950s and ’60s was a lot of fun. In Skowhegan, where I grew up, we donned our costumes and marched in the Halloween parade downtown, which ended at the Strand Theater. There, we watched a scary movie and were showered with candy.

At night, we lit pumpkins and placed them on the step to lure trick-or-treaters to our house.

My mother’s kitchen was aromatic with the smells of popcorn and caramel, as she spent the afternoon making popcorn balls and candied apples to hand out to the ghouls and goblins who rapped at the door.

Mom was famous among the neighborhood kids for these special treats, and if any child was sick and could not trick or treat on Halloween, she’d save him some.

My parents loved Halloween and greeted the kids warmly, always complimenting them on their costumes.

When we were real little, our getups were simple, often consisting of a plastic mask and our winter coats to keep us warm.

One year I wore a Casper the Friendly Ghost mask. I remember how it felt on my face and how it got all steamy and wet inside from my breathing on it for several hours.

We turned the edges down on brown paper bags and used them for garnering candy and traipsed to our neighbors’ houses, shouting “Trick or Treat!” in unison.

The best handouts were those packed neatly into little white paper bags and twisted or folded at the ends. Not only were we guaranteed to be surprised by what was inside once we got home, but typically the bags contained assorted candies. Bags filled with popcorn were not popular, nor were apples, but candy bars like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were tops.

As we got older, we learned new tricks, such as venturing out farther from our neighborhood and hitting as many houses as we could. After observing the great hauls my older brother netted from using a pillow case instead of a paper bag to collect candy, we graduated to pillow cases.

Moving in packs, we trekked across the river to the south side of town, which was considered foreign territory, and thought we were clever until one woman who answered her door exclaimed, “You kids aren’t from around here. You must be from across the river!”

Ashamed, we headed back over the swinging bridge to Island Avenue, crossed the North Channel Bridge over the Kennebec and plodded home.

It was cold and dark and we were tired from walking and knocking on doors, so entering the warmth of our house was a relief. We dumped our catch on the living room floor, comparing who got more than whom, and traded this for that.

Typically there were sour balls and lots of bubble gum, Bit-O-Honey and Squirrel Nuts, candy corn, Tootsie Rolls, assorted hard candies and Turkish Taffy, if we were lucky.

When I became a junior high-schooler, I sensed I was getting a little too old to trick or treat, and by eighth grade I knew I was. But my friends insisted we dress up and enjoy Halloween one last time. Because I had started growing tall, I figured the only costume I could get away with wearing was that of a ghost, as I could toss a white sheet over my head, cut out holes for my eyes, tie hay baling twine around my neck, and crouch down whenever we approached a threshold so I appeared smaller than I actually was. As my friends climbed the steps, I stayed on the ground where I hid my bent knees beneath the sheet. Guilty didn’t begin to describe how I felt.

Halloween was simple in those days. We’d hear stories the next day about kids in other states finding razor blades in apples, but in our little town, the only thing we were spooked by was each other and the stories we told.

I shudder to think about kids trick-or-treating now, particularly those who venture out of their neighborhoods.

It’s good that parents host Halloween parties, trunk-or-treat events where they park their cars in a circle and kids take what they want, or block parties such as the one held on Burleigh Street in Waterville.

Change, as they say, is inevitable, and embrace it we must.

But it sure is good to remember the sweet times.

Happy Halloween, watch out for the bogeyman, and beware of those witches riding high.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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