There's a lot about our childhoods we'd like to forget: the school bully, the critical teacher, the hectoring older brother or indifferent parent. But I think we can all agree that some of our most cherished memories relate to Halloween.
Back in my day, it was completely safe to go from door to door with a few friends, decked out as Superman or Cinderella or Casper the Friendly Ghost. Amidst "oohs" and cries of "You're so cute!!" neighborhood parents would flood our shopping bags with candy corn, mini Milky Way bars and nonpareils. And while we suffered extreme sugar overloads, there was never a fear that anything dangerous was being given out.
We awaited Halloween eagerly, studiously deciding what character we'd be this year. I'm a planner by nature; I'd spend hours plotting every nuance of my costume, my trick-or-treating route, my pitch to the parents. Like so many things in my life, I've found that my anticipation of an event -- or its memory -- exceeds the pleasure I experienced when actually living it. I don't know if this is a great thing or a very sad thing.
Part of the fun was shopping for the costume. Before there were fancy Halloween superstores, we bought costumes at the local discounter. Costumes were packed in a cardboard box, about two feet long by 18 inches wide and about three inches deep. A heavy see-through plastic film, enabling a kid to see the character's mask, covered most of the box cover. (The mask was affixed to one's head by a tight elastic band that was uncomfortable to wear, but fun to snap.) It was just too much of a temptation not to poke one's finger through the plastic, and actually touch the mask and grasp the rayon costume underneath.
My circle of friends (I'm talking about seven-year-olds) was not much into the "trick" side of Halloween. We didn't engage in TP-ing or egging a home, but we did put those oversize white and pink chalks into a sock; when swung onto another kid's shoulder, a considerable chalky mess would be left. Good fun.
Many years we carried a small yellow box with a coin slot on top, collecting money for UNICEF. We weren't exactly sure what UNICEF was, beyond that it helped the poor children in Africa who didn't have enough to eat. We heard a lot about those poor kids the rest of the year, as well, when we didn't eat our vegetables at dinner.
But mostly, the holiday meant a cool evening spent outdoors with friends, acting silly on purpose, knowing that we were allowed to because we were kids. Someday we'd be the ones handing out the candy, which didn't seem nearly as fun. Years ago, when neighborhoods were safer and when parents knew all the kids, before candy was the bad guy and a part of us held on to the belief that there really were superheroes, we let our imaginations run wild and become the character of our dreams. Those were the days.