halloween mask1 webI grew up in a small town in northern NJ, named Oakland. I left there for college in 1971, but I took some fond memories with me. For seniors, it seems that the more times change, the more precious and intense those memories become. The stores are stocked with pumpkins, black cats, ghosts, goblins, gore, and glittery princess costumes, so it must be time for that most sacred, spooky, and controversial of holidays: Halloween.


Although I no longer celebrate Halloween, I can still remember what it was like in my little neighborhood 50 years ago. It was a whole lot different.

First of all, the season began with Goosey Night. When I mention that to people here in the LV, they look at me as if I came from a foreign country (Alright, people consider NJ to be a foreign country, but still . . . ). Goosey Night was the night before Halloween, dedicated to pulling wild and crazy pranks on neighbors. We were real juvenile delinquents, going to such unthinkable extremes as soaping car windows and toilet-papering bushes. We were the terror of the neighborhood! That is, if our parents let us go out that night (which mine didn’t; I’m sure that’s what’s kept me out of prison all my life!).

Another aspect of our unfettered Halloween adventures was that the ENTIRE DAY could be dedicated to the thrill of begging treats from people with no strings attached. In school, little kids in predictable costumes would tromp around the other classrooms, open bags in hand, and the teacher would give them something outrageous, like apples. When school was out, so were we, in droves! That is, after we were done with dinner and homework. But there were no officially-sanctioned “hours,” and it was ALWAYS on Halloween Day, even when it fell on a school night!

We older kids trekked far and wide, even into distant neighborhoods out of our normal reach. Some parents gave grudgingly to these “outsiders,” but we didn’t care.

Treats consisted of everything, from little candy bars to big candy bars to gum to fruit to candy apples to homemade donuts and hot chocolate — all the major food groups. And, sometimes, MONEY! We didn’t have to pass everything through a metal detector or send items to the lab to check for drugs and poisons.

The traditional Halloween parade brought out the best and worst costumes as we competed for prizes that usually consisted of paper certificates or gifts from the local Grand Union (which, of course, no longer exists). I once won “Best Homemade Costume” for my strictly commercial, out-of-the-box bat costume. Go figure.

Costumes ranged from the “official” Ben Cooper or Collegeville packaged plastic mask and costume to the cheapskate version of a tramp, consisting of dirt on the face and Dad’s old clothes. One year, it didn’t matter much to me what I went as; I kept forgetting to put my mask down when I knocked on the door. One night, my friends and I went as the Monkees. I was Michael Nesmith — I had peach-fuzz sideburns and a natural curl of hair across my forehead; that was it. One friend had long, straight hair and a dorky look, ala Peter Tork. Very creative.

Fortunately, when we said, “Trick or treat,” no one said “Trick.” I don’t know what we would have done. Probably cried. At least, we didn’t have to worry about the “giver” playing any tricks on us with “modified” treats. Our biggest concern was whether there was any candy left over at our own home after our parents handed out their treats.

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