Introduction from Maggie “eshrink’s” daughter. Just a week ago, we were preparing for the trick-or-treaters. These annual events always make me wonder what the event was like for my mom and dad. Some people say how things are so much worse now than before. Kids are rowdier, more disrespectful, etc. My dad shared his memories of Halloween back in the “good ole days” (70 years ago…give or take a few).
Halloweens of Yesteryear
My debut to the blogging world has not been auspicious, at least as far as my main audience (my kids) are concerned. They tell me they would like to hear more about life in the dark ages (i.e. life before television). This should not have been a surprise—they have always seemed more interested in listening to stories of my childhood than to those words of wisdom which I have unselfishly doled out to them through the years. My kids always seem more attentive when my stories include a circumstance that was particularly embarrassing to me, such as the time I scored a basket for the other team. An experience that caused me to change my career choice from NBA player to something less competitive.
Since we recently endured another trick-or-treat fiasco, I felt some reflections on Halloweens of another era might be of interest.
Although we enjoyed sweets as much as the current generation, the trick thing held more interest. No one was safe, for compliance was in the eyes of the beholder. If the treat was judged inadequate, retribution was sure to follow. Some who had previously been judged as stingy could also suffer the wrath of us hooligans who could suffer the joy of delinquency for one night without fear of punishment.
The “tricks” of trick-or-treat in the good ole days.
A favorite stunt was to stand an armload of corn stalks against the front door, ring the bell, run, and watch the fun unfold from a distance as we tried to contain our laughter.
Soaping windows was very routine—albeit challenging to write graffiti backwards from the outside so it could be read from the inside. Automobiles parked on the street were of course very vulnerable and writing legibly on those windows was not a problem.
My most memorable Halloween prank.
My most memorable Halloween was the one I spent with my grandparents near the village of Irville. It was there in the land of no indoor plumbing that one of the most drastic tricks was to upset a privy (a.ka., outhouse, port-o-potty, latrine). This was sure to leave the victim in dire straits unless his neighbor was sympathetic, even then houses were not very close together and has oft been said, “timing is everything.”
On this particular Halloween night, I met my band of brother conspirators to plan our assault. The target was the Squire’s privy. In the village, everyone had a nickname and Squire presumably had earned his because of his haughty behavior, and the fact that he continually advertised his lofty position as Justice of the Peace (JP). In his front yard, stood two large hand-painted signs advertising his station as JP and Notary Public. An iron fence circled the property, which concerned us as a possible impediment to our retreat following completion of our dastardly deed.
The guys had attempted the mission the year before, but their efforts came to naught for they were unable to budge the privy. Someone suggested we could attach a rope and pull it over with my Uncle Cale’s mule, Old Jack.
Since they knew I was acquainted with the mule, and had access to the barn, they decided it would be easy to borrow Jack for a short time with no one being the wiser. Now, I had heard stories in the past about horse thieves and their fate, and Uncle Cale was not known for his sense of humor. I would as soon kick a hornet’s nest in my bare feet as try to sneak old Jack out of that barn.
I needed a plan B.
As an alternative, I suggested we enlist Tank Thomas to join the mission. While he wasn’t not long on intellect, he was very large and very strong—qualities I felt made him an ideal prospect. I once saw him put a 100-pound sack of feed under each arm and walk away without breaking stride. We all figured this would be his last time in the 8th grade as he was approaching adulthood and he had much trouble fitting into his school desk. Tank was more than happy to join us, for I imagine he often felt excluded. After completing our rounds, we camped out across the street from our target while we stuffed ourselves with the treats we had collected, waiting for the lights to go out in the Squire’s house. Soon all was dark, and we approached our target from the rear, confident of a successful operation.
Tank soon proved his worth. As he put his shoulder to the back of the privy, it began to move; however our exultation was abruptly interrupted when the door of the privy flew open and Squire jumped out with a shotgun, screaming in a manner uncharacteristic of his usual sophisticated style.
I discovered when it comes to running, there is nothing quite so motivating as an angry man with a shotgun in his hands. Due to my pigeon toed anatomy, I had always been handicapped in sprinting contests—which was so severe that I sometimes tripped myself with my own feet.
On this night; however I would have made Jesse Owens look bad. It was as if my feet never touched the ground and when I heard the deafening roar of that 12-gauge, I definitely took wing and cleared that iron fence with plenty of room to spare.
I had heard stories of people who had replaced the pellets in shotgun shells with rock salt. It was said that when those chunks of salt penetrated one’s backside, there would be no sitting for weeks. Squire would later brag to the loafers who hung out at Raile’s general store that he had scared the “beJesus” out of those little hooligans by shooting in the air.
There was a certain laissez-faire attitude about Halloween shenanigans among most parents; although of course there were limits as to what was permissible. It was not unusual to see adults suppressing a smile while delivering a mild chastisement. Many of them had plenty of stories to share from their childhoods, which usually emphasized the creativity involved.
The preeminent Halloween prank to beat all pranks
The most famous prank of the 19th century, was related to me by my Grandfather. He and a couple of buddies were unhappy with an affluent farmer for whom they had worked in the hayfields. They felt they had been underpaid for their work and that the man had not delivered on his promise.
One Halloween night, the group dismantled the farmer’s hay wagon, hoisted it piece by piece to the roof of his very tall barn, and reassembled it there. This prank may have been judged the most creative of the 19th century. In any event, 50 years later the telling of the tale illicited that famous grin to his face.
Then and now
In spite of the low grade vandalism and the unscripted nature of the Halloweens of my youth, it was a kinder gentler time in many ways. There were no razor blades in candy. I suppose there were pedophiles in those days, but we were blissfully unaware of their existence.
Parents worried more about all those infectious diseases than abduction or molestation. Children were allowed to roam free unattended in their neighborhoods, and were not confined to a cyber world.
There were no little leagues or biddy football or travel basketball and soccer. A child’s athletic training prior to high school was usually limited to playing catch with his dad in the backyard. Kids were expected to entertain themselves, which usually meant they organized their own games and needed only to please themselves with their performance.
For me the most memorable experiences were those balmy summer days when I could lie on my back in a lush green field and simply watch the clouds.