It wasn’t like it is today. Everything happened after dark. No self respecting kid in my neighbourhood went out trick or treating before it was dark. You got home from school. You had dinner. You went through the closet of old clothes to toss together something to go with your plastic mask, and you grabbed a black garbage bag to hold your candy. You hit the street at around 7:00 and returned home sometime after 9:00. Your parents did not go with you. Halloween was for kids, and kids only. That was the rule if you were a kid.
I was dressed as a princess, or should I say I wore a princess mask because there was nothing that resembled a princess’s gown in our possible-costume closet. There were only old coats and plaid shirts. We recycled them every year, wearing them over our fall jackets, no matter what masks my mother brought home from the drug store where she worked. The princess mask had circle-shaped holes too small for my eyes, tiny nose slots that didn’t line up with my nostrils, and another hole the size of a baby’s tooth that was to be used for communication. Breathing wasn’t an easy task. As soon as I put it on, the condensation began build up on the inside of the mask and eventually ran down to drip off the end of my plastic-princess chin.
We lived in the rural community of Lake Echo. At the time, it was a few small groups of houses with wooded areas in between. Some of these houses shouldered the highway while others sat on a couple of side roads. Other Roads and driveways were only just beginning to break through the forested areas by the side of the road and behind my parents house. Still there were a lot of kids. Families were larger in the 60’s, five to eight kids per house was considered normal. Using birth control was not. Over 250 kids could easily be roaming the highway on Halloween night. Kids from our community and kids from the neighbouring community of Preston.
My older brothers and I trudged westwards, each step causing our knees to hit our heavy bags and make that muffled package-on-package sound that one can only equate with a candy-filled garbage bag. We had already gone east of our house, but the draw of more homes and more candy just around the bend and up the hill in the other direction was too tempting. Treats were bigger back then, chips and bars full size; grab bags packed till bursting. Our neighbours were generous. Many asked who we were, or who our parents were, or which house we lived in, and they expected answers. We gave them what they wanted to get what we wanted. Even in a small community such as ours, you could rake in quite a haul.
I was small, perhaps nine, and only there because my two brothers wanted to be there. Only brave when in their presence and then not really brave just quietly happy to tag along. I would not have made this trek alone. My bag and the layers of clothes made movement difficult. I struggled to keep up because falling behind was not an option when you were only pretending to be courageous. The hill seemed steeper to me that night, and a long way from home. In reality we were probably only half a mile from our house. It was an area where houses sat on one side of the highway and woods on the other. It was later and the night had turned quiet. We were the only ones around.
I remember it like it was yesterday, The grating sound of boots hitting gravel as two bigger boys jumped from the ditch on the wooded side of the road, each grabbing one my brother’s garbage bags of candy. They were dressed in women’s clothes. One wearing a pleated skirt that was black with white fabric inside the folds of each pleat. This white flashed open and closed like the tail feathers of a junco whenever he moved. On his head was a distinct woman’s hat. Something that looked like it came from a old movie. The other wore a dark dress, the colour blending into the night. Both looked bulky because they had layered up like we had. Their everyday clothes, including pants, were underneath. These were boys from the neighbouring community of Preston. Boys we did not know and who did not know us. They were boys who could not do this in their own community because they would be known to everyone, and their mothers would slap them silly if they ever found out what their sons were doing that night. Mugging little kids to steal candy.
But they didn’t get to steal any candy. Not from my brothers at least. Both my brothers held on tight to those precious garbage bags of treats. How they did it still amazes me since the other boys were substantially larger. I don’t know exactly how everything played out. If anything was said or whether we yelled and screamed. Things were happening at warp speed. But we must have made some noise because someone opened a door and called out, and those bigger boys let go and vanished so quickly through the ditch and into the woods that they could have been ghosts. Without turning back, we ran across the road and up what seemed like a very long driveway to that open door. To that rectangle of light where we would be safe from bigger boys or any other creatures that haunted the woods that night. To the kind man who offered us a drive home. Thankfully we lived in a time and place when kids could accept such an offer from a stranger.
In hindsight, I don’t feel that the boys who tried to steal my brothers’ candy were bad kids. They were just opportunistic kids. Had they really been bad kids, they would have hurt my brothers or they would have went after my candy. After all, I was the easy target. I was the little girl. I like to think that these boys grew into good men, perhaps men with daughters and maybe now granddaughters, men with only a few regrets. They gave my brothers a great story to tell friends and family. Unfortunately, they did steel something. It wasn’t intentional; and even though I dressed up and went out again on Halloween night for another couple of years, after that night, Halloween for me would never be the same.