Note: I should have called my dad before I posted this blog. He had several Halloween stories for me. I have revised my post!
Halloween was a different kind of day seventy-five years ago, according to my dad, Earl Johnson. He grew up near McPherson, Kansas, on a farm. He is so full of stories, that I haven't heard yet, that I now talk to him a few times a week just to see if I can get him to say something new. Tonight, all I had to do is ask if he was ready for Trick or Treaters and the stories started coming! Only one of them is familiar to me.
The president of McPherson College once received the very special treat (or was it a trick) of finding a cow in his office the morning after Halloween. A buggy was found on top of North Union School. One dark night, a farmer helped some boys (unbeknownst to them), carry all of his corn shocks out into the middle of the road. Once they were finished, he politely (but at gunpoint) introduced himself to them as the owner of the shocks and asked them to put them all back. They complied! The most common trick to find yourself a victim of would be the outhouse turnover. That trick you might discover a little earlier in the morning. Reportedly, Uncle LeRay, my dad's youngest brother, had some experience with this trick. He and one of the Clark boys happened to be spied doing this very thing over at the Lambert Lamberson farm down the road. The next morning, poor LeRay found that a trick had been played on him. Lambert had snuck over in the middle of the night and grabbed the keys to LeRay's car. The only way LeRay would ever be able to drive to school or work again would be to right the wrong. Grandpa and LeRay went over that day and righted his outhouse together. It was the only way to get the keys back. I'm sure Grandpa had a few things to say about this father and son problem solving time but I'm not sure Uncle LeRay has ever told! Dad says it was all tricks back then; never treats.
When I was growing up in the sixties, Halloween was a big deal around Pleasant Valley. For weeks before, plans for costumes, parties and who I would trick or treat with were the main topics of my thoughts. The parties at my school consisted of classes of children dressed up and parading through every room and into the playground, eating giant cookies iced like pumpkins and playing games such as bobbing for apples.
It’s funny that I can’t remember very many of my costumes. I remember an early one. The plastic Snow White mask with the eye holes that had to be positioned just right to keep me from tripping over anything in my path is a hard one to forget. Once I was in upper elementary school, I think I just alternated years between homemade hobo and hippy costumes.
In 3rd grade, a boy in my class invited me to his Halloween party. When I knocked on the door of his house on the night of the party, it opened to reveal a tunnel made of tables covered in sheets. I remember having to immediately drop to my hands and knees and start crawling. I finally came to what was probably the family room which was lit only by black lights. The game is what I remember most. My friend’s big sisters told a scary story as we passed bowls around in a circle. Each bowl held something horrible and slimy that went along with the story. They made sure each of us put our hand in each bowl to touch whatever was inside. Such a kinesthetic experience of pealed grape eyeballs and spaghetti brains has stayed with me forever.
There was always lots of activity on Halloween night as my friends and I would grab the largest paper grocery sack we could find and headed out in our costumes. There were some pretty cold years but that didn’t stop us. We had the entire area to canvas before 10:00 and our plan included every house. Many times we exchanged our weighty sacks of treats for empty ones half way through the evening; hiding the full sack safely at one of our houses before heading out again. The loot included many things that aren’t seen very often now. We found homemade treats; cookies, popcorn balls with sticky, sugary coatings, and caramel apples, along with the regular assortment of candy. No wonder the sack got so heavy! Once in a while someone would feel sorry for us with our red-cold hands grasping tightly to our sacks as we shivered on their front porches. Then we would be invited in to warm up. Sometimes it was a cup of hot chocolate that warmed us. Once we reached our limit of either time, temperature or the heaviness of our sacks, we would head for our homes. Soon, I would be sitting and sorting my goodies on the living room floor, trading certain items with my sisters and dumping everything in a large shopping bag. That bag served as a sweet depository of candy that hung on the back of the utility room door and would be visited after supper for months.
Halloween was different forty years ago. I wish my own children could have experienced it the way I did.