Understand please, that this is not going to be one of those ‘things were better then’ essays that make old folks feel warm and young ones stop reading. Obviously, everyone enjoys Halloween just as it is. I absolutely loved Halloween in my youth and want good Athens folks to walk a dark street in my shoes.
I grew up in the Five Points part of town and in 1960 I was eight. A member of the yet-to-be-named Barrow School Bowery Boys, I was comfortable on the streets and was just a few years away from riding my bike all the way from Springdale to Five Points for a treat at Hodgson’s.
Halloween was not a casual affair, it was a night of macho chest thumpin’ and R rated trash talkin’ with brothers and friends as we cruised the forbidding streets of Cloverhurst and Springdale (but never Rock Springs). We could not cross Milledge from the West to East ‘cause… well, ‘cause it was Milledge and we had been told not to.
In my memory there were no girls on Halloween. I’m pretty sure my sister stayed in her room and the other girls her age probably did, too. It was not a night for sissies. Boys grew to ten feet tall depending on their costume and their voices got really deep and scary.I know, I was there. We’d meet at dusk in a friend’s driveway and compare our scary creations.
Now understand, ‘cause this is important, we did none of that mid-afternoon sun in the sky trick ‘r treatin’. Heck, no. Daylight Savings Time ended ‘round Labor Day and October 31 got dark at 6PM or even earlier. We’d meet in that driveway and recount the tales we’d told our folks about how early we’d be home and then we’d take off.
The costumes were all self-made and mostly self-imagined. Bucky had this great rubber gorilla mask he wore every year and needed no other costume additions. Most of us were hobos or ghosts in bed sheets or some sort of zombie with plenty of ketchup and electrical tape on our teeth.
To show the difference, just this week I was at Party City buying some jaw breakers for my daughter (me) and listening and observing. The super hero costumes were flying off the shelf and the girl at the counter asked me ‘who you gonna be on Halloween’. My answer didn’t matter, it was the fact that she and her friends and many of her age were going to be some celebrity or pop culture figure for the big night.
Now that can be fun and very creative, but it’s sorta different from the original theme of scaring the bejesus out of some first grader or unsuspecting girl who had wandered away from her home.
Making your Halloween costume was something you did the night before and redid the afternoon of the big day. Mom’s helped, of course, but it was not their ‘job’. And dads allowed a pretty serious theft of essentials in his Don Draper quality closet. Fedoras were good for lots o' creatures and neckties could be used in about a hundred ways. Shoe polish and lipstick and mascara were ours for the night, but never again. And when asked at the victim’s homes “who are you?” the most common response was “I dunno, trick ‘r treat”. We didn’t need to be some thing or someone. We just could not be ourselves.
Today, parents are part of the entourage when anyone without a ‘teen’ in their age is out for a fright fest on Halloween. I know it’s for the children’s safety and the horrible thing that just might have really, really happened ten states away,
four years ago, is just enough evidence that your own neighborhood today is the
equivalent of Baghdad 2003.
All of the children are doomed to be stolen just as soon as their parents turn their backs. That was absolutely the case in Athens 1960, ‘cept our parents were too busy planning for our funerals to bother going door-to-door. But now, the kids seem fine with this new escorted Trick or Treat arrangement. Run to the house, grab a handful of prepackaged, Halloween-sized, commercial candy and run back to the sidewalk to have it inspected by the ‘rents to make sure that the woman who babysits on Thursday night did not choose Halloween to be the day she would do you in.
I’m sorry; I did what I promised not to. It’s great now. Halloween is what the kids make of it. And however it is celebrated, it’s a day of dressing up and showing off and grabbing in one evening, just about a store full of candy that you can actually eat. Well.... some.