remembering Halloween

Remembering Halloween past

Halloween proved a trying evening for my grandmother – who on the brightest of days – insisted her adult grandsons remove the sun glasses that masked their eyes before coming in to visit. As a resident of a small village, however, she felt obligated to open her door to the the masked beggars of Halloween and give them a cookie or some candy.
To help her deal with her once-a-year visitors, my mother took us to her house to keep her company. When a neighbor boy dressed as a ruffian said, “Trick or treat,” my grandmother insisted he remove his mask and let her see him. He sheepishly complied. She looked him over sharply and asked what he was doing out – he looked much too big to be going house to house begging for candy. He grinned and said that he was cutting clotheslines. This announcement did not go over well in neighborhood where women rose early Monday mornings hoping to be the first to have their wash done and hung out on the line to dry.
“Well, I hope you will not be cutting my line,” my grandmother said, looking him straight in the eye, holding back her homemade cookie until he assured he would not.
When we later moved to the farm, trick or treat ventures were limited to stops at a few friends’ and relatives’ farm houses. Our farming grandmother gave us a huge candy bar from the stash she kept hidden away in her dresser. Since most of the kids at school also rode the bus in from farming country, the real Halloween fun centered around the afternoon party at school and occasionally a church party.
At school, on Halloween day we rushed through morning assignments, whispering about our costumes and the school parade in the gym. After lunch, the teacher sent us to the bathroom to change into the costumes we had carried to school in paper bags.
As we dressed we evaluated each other’s disguise as a potential winner in the school contest. The year I decided to be an Indian I knew I would be a winner – I had the best costume ever! My mother might not have been able sew like my grandmothers, but she creatively took an empty burlap feed sack, cut holes for my head and arms and had me try it on. I thought I looked like an Indian, but the coarse, rough fibers left me itching like a Pilgrim.
Mom washed and rinsed the burlap bag several time with heavy doses of fabric softener then used her iron to add squares and triangles of red, blue and green iron-on patches. I thought it looked perfect and smiled confidently at the judges … who chose the little girl dressed like someone out of “Gone with the Wind” in the crepe paper dress with ruffles and bows her mother had machine sewn for her.
Some years, we enjoyed a Halloween party in the orange and black crepe paper festooned fellowship hall of our little country church. Tables of fresh cider, doughnuts and candy corn promised us our share of fall refreshments.
Bright red fall apples floated in the water that filled a galvanized wash tub ready for the game of the evening: Bobbing for apples. I ended up with a wet face and no apple. But, persistent teenage boys, hands clasped behind their backs, plunged headfirst into the tub following an apple to the bottom where they snagged it with their teeth. Apple in mouth, they emerged triumphant, tossing water everywhere as they threw back their wet hair.
I watched in awe, played a few of the simpler games and went to get my share of candy, deep-fried doughnuts and fresh, unpasteurized apple cider – with a sparkling taste that is no longer available.
(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. She can be reached at