By Hallie Bandy
There have been glimpses since the moment stores put away their Fourth of July paraphernalia, but there is no mistake now – we are now in full-throttle Halloween mode. You can’t escape; trust me I’ve tried.
I am a product of late ‘70s Halloween, when door-to-door panhandling was shut down due to fears of razor blades and poison-laced candy.
My Grandmother’s birthday was on Halloween. No one would ever describe her as a witch, but she played along and enjoyed the role. To her, cancelling trick-or-treating was almost as bad as cancelling Christmas; she would have none of it.
One year she showed up at our home to escort us on the holiday ritual. She was shocked when we confessed we had no costumes, so she decided she would dress up and we would take her.
She scoured our home for the craziest items she could find, and then let my sister and I apply her makeup. She was, she told us, dressing up as a “good witch.” And so, at six years old, I escorted my grandmother, dressed in my father’s bathrobe and slippers and sporting a hot-pink-underwear hat, through the streets of my neighborhood. She did all the “trick-or-treating” but gave my sister and me everything she collected. And since no one was expecting trick-or-treaters that year, we came away with an epic stash. No poison. No razor blades. Just tons of premium candy and homemade baked goods.
That was the best Halloween of my childhood. Though there were other years when I had awesome costumes, I never managed anywhere near the haul my Grandmother commanded that year. And I never again roamed the neighborhood with someone wearing underwear on her head.
I’ve raised my children in small towns where fears of the ‘70s have been forgotten and trick-or-treating is a big community event. My children loved to dress up, and there was usually an adequate supply of costume material available. I figured if my Grandma could haul in that much loot in a bathrobe, I didn’t need to spend more than $5 to provide my kids with adequate costumes.
So while my friends were busy sewing complimentary Disney-themed outfits for their children, I had my son Jack paint a box. I thought “Jack in the box” was such a great idea, until he decided, after the second house, that it was too much to deal with the box, and he just went as “Jack.”
My daughter was happy as long as there was a tiara, glittery wings or a poofy skirt. She could be all manner of sparkly things. And her Athena costume became an opportunity to provide a lesson in Greek mythology to numerous people.
One year I splurged on a pirate hook after deciding I didn’t want my youngest son to take my kitchen-aid dough hook out for the evening.
The $5 budget was cause for some grumbling, but I felt it encouraged creativity, and the kids were usually happy with their costumes.
What I didn’t realize would draw the greatest protest as they grew older was my other policy – all candy must be shared. That’s right. No hoarding. No binging. Everyone dumps her or his stash into a (very) large communal pot, and we all share. Including Mom.
We did this for several years; happily, so I thought. The Baby Ruth bars always disappeared first, followed by Twix, Snickers, Butterfingers and Milky Way. Then we worked through the Hershey’s, Mr. Goodbar and Krackle. By the end of the week, we were down to the dum-dum suckers and gum.
I thought it was the perfect plan. My son did not.
In middle school, he approached me. “We’ve been learning about government,” he told me, adding, “You’re a socialist.”
He then asked if he could call a (very Democratic) family meeting in order to discuss the procedures for handling Halloween candy. It was a close vote, but somehow my kids overthrew my socialist regime.
From then on, Halloween became a full-out free market. They would plan, divide and conquer. They would compete to know a friend in the “best” neighborhood — somewhere there were rumors of full-size candy bars. When they returned home, instead of putting it all into a shared pot, there was a trading frenzy.
When it was all over, I quietly examined the loot and quietly removed the Baby Ruth and Snickers bars for my own personal stash. After all, even democracies have taxes.