Memories of Full Size Candy Bars and Bat Wings

In a small town where scarecrows were real and pumpkins were local, we put on our costumes and headed out in groups of two or ten, pillowcases in hand, not returning until our bags were full. House by house, we covered the whole town, never involving parents until we needed cars to deliver us to houses of teachers or friends who lived in the country.

Trick-or-treating went on for a week, with one night set aside for Unicef and Halloween night reserved for the annual costume contest held in the bandstand on the court house square. 

Not everyone remembers that we celebrated for the whole week. Sometimes I wonder if I might be wrong.

Although maybe not. When I moved back to that small town 30 years later, the City Council was limiting trick-or treating to two nights, making that week long celebration seem possible.

Even so, it's not my main memory of Halloween. That's reserved for Mrs. Tarble, who lived alone in the big house at the south end of our block and handed out full-size candy bars or full-size bags of M&Ms to everyone who hurried across the big front porch and knocked on her door. 

At a time when even snack size candy bars were rare, full-size candy bars were unheard of. Mostly it was suckers, penny candy, home-made popcorn balls or apples. Even the occassional onion. 

The anticipation of going to Mrs. Tarble's house and seeing that bowl of full-size treats is vivid in my memory. She was the Santa Claus of Halloween.

Yet my sister remembers it differetly. She remembers getting that full-size candy bar from Mrs. Miller, a woman at the north end of our block who never gave out anything better than suckers. 

I can't believe she gets it wrong.

She's sure she's right.

When my own kids were little, I made most of their Halloween costumes--staying up late and hand sewing full-body Care Bear suits or gluing individual sequins onto butterfly wings.

"Why isn't Baba making my costume?" my older daughter asked one year as I was frantically finishing up some cat ears before she needed to head off to school.

Baba was a good friend and did make her very first costumes. But in the four or five years since, I was the one with sore fingers from pushing a needle through two layers of fake fur. I was the one who figured out how to get horns to stick up on a Wild Thing costume and wings to stay out on a butterfly one. I was the one creating memories.

Or so I thought.

Twenty some years later, my daughter still remembers Baba always making her costumes. 

Just like my sister still remembers getting those full-size candy bars from Mrs. Miller.

I remember my own mom paying a high school student to make me a pair of bat wings for my Halloween costume one year.

I wish I remembered the years that she didn't. 

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Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 31, 2015 at 8:44am

My childhood memories of Halloween are very vague... I do have an adult memory of winning a costume contest when I attended a loft party dressed as Rene Magritte's Son of Man with no pants:


Comment by koshersalaami on October 31, 2015 at 9:23am
My parents made most of our costumes and some were very cool. But met better memories were of making costumes for J. He was in a wheelchair. At first, costumes for a kid in a wheelchair seemed difficult until we saw a picture in a magazine of a kid in a wheelchair decked out like sitting behind a drum set.

Oh, a wheelchair is a float platform! Then the costumes got good. Maybe I'll find some pictures.
Comment by marilyn sands on October 31, 2015 at 9:36am

When you wrote "Pillowcase"; it started to all come back.  I remember getting a Nickel & was over the moon.  For some reason, all I remember is; most of the time I was a Hobo - sucking on a plastic cigar that lit up.  R&L

Comment by Rosigami on October 31, 2015 at 9:49am

Jeanne, this is such an interesting example of how selective memory works. Memory in general is fascinating to me. No matter what has happened, all eye witnesses will see things differently. And in the telling and re-telling, each of us creates a personal narrative that is as much about us as it is the events we recall. 

I can remember my sister and I being at the kitchen table one chilly October morning in 1961. My mother was absent, having gone in the night to give birth to our new baby brother. My grandmother had been brought in to stay with us while Dad accompanied her, but we didn't know any of this until we woke to the surprise of seeing our grandmother instead of Mom. Dad slept late but got up to make us breakfast. He was not much of a cook back then, but he somehow managed scrambled eggs and toast. I remember that they were absolutely perfect, just as good as Mom's. 

My sister took one look at her plate and said, I don't like scrambled eggs.
Dad said What? You eat them a couple of times a week. You DO like scrambled eggs.
She said. I have never eaten scrambled eggs and I have never liked them. 

In later years, my sister's retelling of the story includes how Dad tried to force her to eat something she didn't like, while I remember him just shaking his head in astonishment and pouring her a bowl a cereal.

Dad's version is simpler. He remembers making us breakfast, and that my sister was a pain in the butt about it because what she really wanted was her Mommy.  

Comment by alsoknownas on October 31, 2015 at 9:57am

I remember having that half a paper bag of candy and then trying to slip home in a clown costume with a red wig and black plastic bowler hat, before being caught by the 93rd street hooligans who carried pillow cases, smacked the smaller kids and then took most of their candy.

I still dislike Halloween.

Comment by Jeanne Sathre on October 31, 2015 at 10:18am

jmac--A man with no pants winning a costume surprise there.

kosher--I'm going to be waiting for those pictures. 

marilyn--We sent my grandson out with a pillowcase last year. It's apparently not a good idea for a short three-year-old, who came back with a pillowcase that was black from road dirt and full of holes. There was a trail of candy in his wake.

rosi--My sister and I are always amazed how differently we remember things. Other than from pictures proving she was there, I don't even remember her being around until I was about 8.

AKA--In a town with 13 numbered streets, we never had a problem like that.

Comment by Alysa Salzberg on October 31, 2015 at 3:44pm

You put the trickiness of shared memories (and memories in general) so perfectly here.  I hope you and your grandsons have a happy Halloween this year, and make good memories you can reminisce over in the years to come!

Comment by Julie Johnson on October 31, 2015 at 4:24pm

I love Halloween, and I love memory stuff too.  I've always been around little ones, starting with my brother and sister, and then my own.  Up until just a few years ago, I did everybody's face make up.  Mostly ghouls and witches, and hobos.  Our neighborhood is so spooky looking at night, and now all my little ones are grown and do their own faces, for Halloween parties.  We hardly get any trick or treaters anymore.  Makes me sort of sad.  

Wait!  I think I just heard the door bell !  

Comment by Ted Frier on November 3, 2015 at 8:21am

Halloween when living on Air Force bases was great -- everyone packed together in those duplexes.  Only colonels and above got single family homes.  But for the rest of us it was a target rich environment as they say!


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