Column, Looking Back

Halloweens of yesteryear

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Halloween was always a fun time back in the ’50s. For many of us kids the holiday got a head start when our parents brought us to one of the local farms to pick out a pumpkin to carve. In our house it was a tradition to put a candle inside and place the pumpkin on the mantle to be lit at night. The battery operated candles that are popular today were not an option back then. They are a much safer way to let the light shine through. Carving pumpkins is a messy operation but the end result is what the task is all about.

There wasn’t a big parade like there is today so a kid’s focus was totally on getting a big stash of candy.

My group of friends went to just every house that had a light on in our immediate neighborhood. Our parents told us not to go inside anyone’s home and to stay on nearby streets. But that was about it when it came to parental instructions.

I don’t remember going trick-or-treating until I was old enough to do it with my friends. The early grades in our school had classroom parties so our parents must have thought that we had all the sugar a young child needed. These days it’s not unusual to see parents standing down on the sidewalk as kids come to our front door to get their candy. The concern for a child’s safety didn’t seem to be an issue in the ’50s. My candy never needed to be checked for pins or razors.

Costumes were simple and often were put together by our mothers. Being dressed as a hobo was always a popular choice. Making your face look like it was smudged with dirt was the most fun. It was quite a change from always being told to wash your face. After all a little dirt never hurt anyone.

The only mask I remember wearing was that of the dog Tramp from the Disney movie, “Lady and the Tramp.” It was a popular movie in the ’50s. Sometimes just wearing a mask constituted an entire costume. Even my father got some use out of that mask. When I came home with my stash of candy he decided to put on my Tramp mask and head over to our neighbor Trudy’s house. I crouched down by the side of the house to see how it played out.

He disguised his voice, held out a paper bag and said, “Trick or treat.” Our neighbor asked, “Aren’t you too old to be out trick or treating?”

In his disguised voice he said, “You’re never too old!”

She threw an apple in his bag and he took off the mask to get her reaction. She broke out laughing and my father offered to give the apple back but she said he had “earned it!” This particular neighbor always had two bowls of treats, one was filled with candy for the cute “little kids” and the other bowl had apples for the not-so-cute “big kids.”

Some of the neighbors gave us homemade treats. One house always had popcorn balls and they were delicious. They were so good in fact that they didn’t usually make it home. We ate them along the way.

Instead of handing out individual candy bars, some houses handed out little decorative Halloween paper bags with several small types of candy in them. I remember my mother did that a few times over the years and we filled the bags with a mix of Tootsie Pops, Tootsie Rolls, bubble gum, miniature candy bars, etc.

We collected our candy in either a pillow case or a paper bag. Sometimes we brought our candy home, dumped it out and off we went for more.

I don’t know where all the candy disappeared to but I have a feeling that I never got to eat everything that I collected. Those were the days before the importance of fluoride toothpaste was stressed. So eating all that candy would have been a dental nightmare. My parents were actually protecting me from spending time in the dentist’s chair having cavities filled.

And what would Halloween be without Cabbage Night preceding it? For the most part it wasn’t a destructive time in Rutland back “in the day.” But the next morning there were always a few pumpkins smashed in the street. Toilet paper was often strung in trees. But I don’t recall any actual vandalism in our neighborhood.

Today’s youth will be able to look back not only on pumpkin carving and trick or treating but also on Rutland’s Halloween parade. It has gotten national recognition that is well deserved for all the hard work that goes into making it such a success.

Hope your holiday is filled with “treats” and enjoy the parade.

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