October 31, 2012 | Posted in:Childhood, Family, Holidays, humor, Parenting, Writing


Halloween nowadays…Uh oh. I just said “nowadays.” Damn kids. Get off my lawn! Turn that music down! Sit up straight! Okay… I think it’s out of my system now.

Anyways, Halloween nowadays is fun, sure, but it’s nothing like when we were young. Halloween during the 1970′s was a whole other ballgame. Today parents and children work in tandem to think up creative costumes and often spend hours at department stores and fabric shops to ensure successful costumes.

We also make sure our kids eat a balanced meal, rich in protein and complex carbohydrates with the perfect ratio of vitamins and minerals before trick-or-treating so that any sugar consumption after dinner is absorbed and metabolized less harmfully.

Trick-or-treaters use flashlights and reflective arm bands and are accompanied door-to-door by watchful parents in large groups. Merriment is structured and there are always “pleases” and “thank-yous” even from the most frightful witch or goblin (wearing a latex-free masks with safety breathing holes, of course.)

Candy is checked, and re-checked. And checked again. Do we know where it came from? Is it fresh? Is it more than 36% sugar and food colouring? Can it be frozen for the doling out of joy in thimblefuls through the winter?

BRUSH YOUR TEETH. And use the fluoride-free cavity protection rinse the dentist recommended!

Pumpkins lining tidy pathways of tidy two-storey subdivision homes are well-lit and rival museum works of art. They are not jack-o-lanterns; they are “Post-Modern Gourd Carvings.” They are beautiful and fragile and no one touch it.

This is in stark opposition to Halloween of my youth (and yours too, dear reader, if you are between 25-100.)  Our parents often scrambled a costume at 4pm on Halloween evening, using couch cushions and old curtains. Mom’s red lipstick and some clip on earrings transformed 6-year-olds into “pregnant housewife circa 1974″ in the time it took to mix another Tom Collins.

Kids had little to no say in what costume they would wear. If it was bought, it was bought on sale by your mother when she was at the grocery store, thrown into a cart with Cheeez-Whiz and Wagon Wheels. More likely  it was made, and no matter what, you smiled for the damn picture.

Pumpkins came in three standard carving patterns: scary face, funny face, or uncarved. They were lit by stub wax candles, lit ourselves with wooden matches or a leaky Zippo.

Dinner was unnecessary – you’d be eating all night anyway, so why waste money on a formal supper when the bank wants 18.5% for the damn mortgage and the union might strike?

Let me fill my pocket flask and we’ll go, fathers said. They stood in groups, sipping and chatting at the bottoms of driveways while we ran – ran - no pleases, no thank-you, Yes, Mrs. Patterson, I will tell my mother you like my costume.

We ran and we screamed and we laughed and we showed no awareness of orderly merriment.

Then we were home and tired, make-up washed from our face.

Smelling of Noxema and Pond’s Cold Cream,  our scrubbed faces shone as we sorted and traded and sorted and traded again.

We ate ourselves just this side of sick. We hadn’t had dinner, you know.

It was Halloween.

It was Halloween.

  • fatliesandfairytales

    SO true! I think we lived on the same street or even had the same parents. I remember trick or treaters already coming to the door and I still didn’t have a costume. My mom made me wear my dad’s work clothes (he worked in a factory). There was no argument. I put the clothes on and she said “THERE, you’re a bum!” Good times! One time I gave my wimpy kids tap water to drink and they thought I was abusing them. “Oh gross! That’s digusting!” Really?? (We’re in the GTA too). Drink up Sally!

    • Jeni

      Yes! I forgot the ever popular “bum” or “hobo” costumes! How’d your dad feel about you wearing his clothes and being “a bum?” :)

    • AM @ dearexpletivebaby

      Yes!! My mom ALWAYS tried to make me be a bum so she wouldn’t have to sew anything and she knew I would be warm. Stupid Minnesota weather – I could never be a princess.

  • Janelle

    I remember!

  • free penny press

    So very true.. I never had a cool, store bought costume. I got what my Mom could find in the house at last minute and to make it worse, had to carry a pillowcase. Always wanted to carry a cool, plastic pumpkin. But I had the best times for sure anyway… good times!!

  • ❀ Marci O’Connor ❀ (@BeingMarci)

    holy nostalgia batman!! (and yes,I DID dress as batman one year. And by dress I mean I had the plastic cut out head that came with the limp elastic stapled together that broke two minutes after leaving my house)

    • Jeni

      Yes! By 1969 they had a man walk on the moon, but we couldn’t make an elastic bamd that lasted more than 5 minutes around a tiny human head?

  • The Sadder But Wiser Girl

    We planned our costumes and Mom made them. Only they were reusable for the most part. Like if one of us was a princess Mom would make the dress out of flannel and it was instant pjs. Now that I think about it, she is very smart-we were already wearing our pajamas when we were done trick or treating. Easy, once we came down from the candy high.

    I have one that meticulously plans out his costumes, and then I try to make them cool. He had the Iron Man costume that lit up. The other one likes every costume she sees, we only had about 5,000 different things she wanted to be until I said “You’re going to be a black cat.”

    Do you remember the whole razor blades and cyanide (or some sort of poison) in candy. Or maybe the cyanide was the Tylenol thing. That was big when I was in elementary school. Parents would closely examine every piece of candy for tampering, And no homemade goodies in your trick or treat bag-they might be poison too.

    I was a bit taken aback when we were out Trick or Treating last night and I watched kids get out a van at every house on our small street. To me, isn’t it more work to walk up and back to the van? And we wonder why our kids are obese. We walked the whole way, until my son had to pee, and then trick or treating was over. One street, lots of treats, done.

    • Jeni

      They had door-to-door valet service? That’s nuts.

  • Lisa

    When I was four, and my older sister fifteen, she sewed me a Raggedy Ann costume and made a wig out of red yarn. It was beautiful…perfect. Raggedy Ann was my favorite bedtime friend and I was so excited to dress up like her! I came down with the flu Halloween night and wasn’t allowed out trick-or-treating. It was devastating. But my mom at least let me put on the costume and greet the t-o-t’ers. Every other year, I was a hastily thrown together gypsy–hoop earrings, lots of makeup, and colorful items from my and my mom’s closet.

    • Jeni

      Lisa, that sounds lovely. Thank goodness for sisters who sew. :)

  • Jeni

    I think I would really like your mother.

  • motherhoodisanart

    Love this!!

  • Shannon

    Ahhh, yes, all of that. And my parents let me keep the huge bag of candy in my room and eat it at will. It was gone within days.

  • Javamom

    I grew up in Switzerland in the 70s so there was no Halloween. I was 12 when I experienced it first here in the GTA. Today my 5yo and 7yo are nuts about Halloween.The decorations is their favorite thing. The candy…I’m not sure. They hog it till the following year…although they do eat the chocolate/nut candies for the most part. But your story reminds me a bit of a Bill Bryson book where he described childhood in the mid-USA during the 50s or 60s…such a different world, wasn’t it.

    Happy Halloween! I discovered your blog recently and thank you for injecting laughter into my life!

  • karenszillat

    I once wore my mom’s night gown so I could be a princess. For flair I added a crown cut from a cereal box that I encased in foil. And I carried a foil star I taped to a pencil. I was so happy! Especially because I didn’t have to wear the clown costume again.

  • kendra

    That’s friggin awesome! My best halloween was when a friend and i fit in to one pair of large overalls and spent more time on the ground laughing and trying to get up than we did getting candy!

  • Lisa

    This post is hilarious, and so true!! I’ve been in the same sort of nostalgic Hallowe’en mood today — I wrote a post about the costumes my mom whipped up for my brothers and I using old floor mats and coffee grounds stuck to faces with corn syrup. (No joke.)
    Our kids don’t know what they’re missing!

  • Mrs. Pitt (@GDRPempress)

    Right? The gypsy, the hobo, the clown, the Snow White, and one princess.

    Ah, it seemed like a REAL halloween back then, didn’t it?

    SO different, just so nostalgic.

    Even the candy …

    This was lovely in a comforting, wistful way.

    Just lovely in tone, and amount of evocative detail.

    Thank you for a pleasant read.

  • Carrie Chacon

    We had Chili and hotdogs every Halloween. A tradition I have kept with kids. We looped the same block from the time I could walk to the time I thought I was to cool to trick or treat.
    Three years ago I told my kiddo’s I wasn’t buying anything for their costumes, they have never had more fun creating some crazy walking zombie creature from the deep that for some reason needs to wear a beach hat?
    My and a few friends parents sat at home waited for us and always seemed a bitt more ‘cheerful’ when we got home. Looking back that is why we were able to eat as much candy as we did, the party no longer was about us. Hmmm novel idea.
    Then after a few days with out any fanfare the candy was gone. No negotiating, selling it back, or shipping it to our troops. Just in the trash, no talking back or pouting. But I’m sure that is a different topic all together.

    thanks for bringing some very fun memories back!

  • The Landy

    Bewdiful piccy…!

  • Marianna Annadanna

    In the 80s everyone dressed as a baby – complete with a soother and pjs – and our parents followed us around, but mostly just so we could store our stuffed pillowcaseS in the back of their mini van. And then they made us rinse with flouride at school the next day. And every week after that.

  • Bonnie Duimstra

    Ah, Jeni – my kids were always the ones with the plastic costumes. I didn’t (and don’t) have a creative bone in my body! So Hallowe’en for me was a stressful time until they were old enough to make up their own stuff! I wonder how THEY remember it?!

  • merbear264

    I was a gypsy 6 times.

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