Wednesday, October 31, 2007


It's Halloween Night 1957 and I'm in third grade. I'm shivering, not with cold or fear, but with anticipation. We're about to go trick or treating. We meet at the one-room schoolhouse, where the country kids are dropped off so they can trick or treat in town (meaning our little village of Larson). The teacher, Mrs. Marston, will be taking us school kids and our younger sibling around.

We don't have any fancy costumes. Rather, we wear simple molded plastic masks with elastic that goes around the back of the head. We have no use for costumes anyway, as it is always cold in northern North Dakota in late October, and we need to wear our coats. The masks are a little hard to breathe and see through, but it's so exciting to be in disguise. No one knows who I am!

We set off to make our rounds. There are about 20 houses in town, and we know every person who lives in them. All the residents will welcome us this night, with homemade popcorn balls, freshly dipped caramel apples and large Snickers, Milky Way and Butterfinger bars.

All the leaves have dropped off the trees and the dried leaves crunch satisfyingly underfoot. There are street lights and sidewalks only on Main Street, otherwise we walk down the darkened streets themselves. We always stop at the local bar, where couples out for the evening and barflies alike give us money rather than candy. We go to the the general store, but this time we go to the side door - the shopkeepers live behind the store.

We do have to pass the grove, its spooky trees with thousands of arms ready to reach out and grab us. Is it just branches rubbing against each other, or something more sinister? The owl hoots, a sound we hear all year long, but it seems more ominous tonight. Thank goodness the teacher is with us.

Although we have no big Victorian haunted houses in our town, the deserted section house is spooky enough. Did we see a light in the window there? The wind rustles the long grasses by the house - or was it ghosts? This is at the edge of town, and it is very dark here. Our imaginations run wild, and we pick up the pace until we get to the Lautenschlager house.

Oh my gosh! As we near Main Street we see that some older kids have dumped some hay bales in the middle of the street and set them on fire. And up near the highway, they've blocked the road with some kind of farm implement! We've heard of kids egging houses and soaping windows in Columbus, but we would not even dare do that. These kinds of pranks are almost beyond our comprehension, and wildly thrilling.

No one in town has any scarecrows, ghosts or other Halloween decorations out in the yard, or orange mini-lights strung gaily about to light our way. Those things are still in the future. There are only black branches silhouetted against the milk-white moon. But many houses do have one or more jack o' lanterns with their distinctive odor of candle wax and burnt pumpkin. One lady asks us if we'd like some roasted pumpkin seeds. Gamely, we give them a try. Hmm, not bad.

We have made it back to the schoolhouse, our noses nipped in spite of the masks. The schoolhouse windows throw out pools of yellow light. This is only one of two nights out of the year when the schoolhouse is open at night (the other being the night of the Christmas program). Our pillowcases or paper bags are full (no fancy treat bags for us). We are satisfied. We go inside for our school party, and I stay far away from the apple bobbing tub.


Janet said...

This brought back so many memories for me. I didn't go around with my class but I did live in a rural area where we knew everyone and no one had to be afraid to eat something that was homemade! And it was usually cold for me too. My mom always made me a costume from crepe paper and I would wear it at school but also again that night....even though I had to wear a coat over it! Fun times!!

Sheila said...

This was great Julie. I loved reading this. Safer, gentler days...we were lucky to have been children then I think. We had no Hallowe'en celebrations in the UK when I was growing up, Scots honoured it, but in England we waited for November 5th, to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, or as we called it 'Bonfire Night'. We made a 'Guy' and he was put on top of the bonfire, often a stack of wood etc 8 feet tall. And watched with glee as it burned and we let off fireworks.

Lila Rostenberg said...

I loved reading this! My best childhood trick-or-treat times where when we lived in the suburbs in Denver...3rd through 5th grade.
Mom would make popcorn balls to give out. We didn't get many "cool" chocolate candy bars...more bazooka and lollipops, jolly rancher. One year I was a ghost and one year an Indian princess...I do remember the molded plastic masks!