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It was Halloween night, and my mother came dressed as a neurotic housewife.

It was a frantic night, Halloween, a night of ghosts and goblins and Penn Fruit bags full of apples and pennies and Kit-Kat bars. It was a night of constant bangs on the screen door and stumbles up the steps.

Other mothers were waiting with a bounty of candy. My mother gave out sour balls, but only the flavors she didn’t like.

And me? I had the worst affliction a kid could have on Halloween. I was allergic to chocolate. Broke out in rashes. Had trouble breathing. But I didn’t let my handicap stop me. I went out with all the other kids, leaving my house with words of good cheer from my mother: “Now don’t you dare go to any other streets. You stay on this block where I can see you.”

On this Halloween, when I was 9 years old, I dressed as a cowboy. But not just any cowboy. I was Roy Rogers. I was the king of the cowboys. Every cool kid wanted a horse like Trigger and a jeep like Nellybelle. I had the hat, I had the gun, I even had the chaps. But my parents just wouldn’t spring for the horse.

Hat on tight, I moseyed on down the street and went to every house there was, all 64 of them. Even the ones that didn’t have their lights on. “Don’t fall for that,” my mother told me. “They’re all home. They’re just cheap.” With that, she walked three houses down and started banging on a blacked-out door. “Sylvia, turn your lights on. I know you’re in there, you cheap SOB!”

You have to remember that this whole trick-or-treat thing was still pretty new in the ’50s. It didn’t become big until the late ’40s and the end of World War II. That’s when kids first started going door to door in costumes, ringing bells and begging for a sugar fix.

Most kids in my neighborhood couldn’t afford store-bought costumes. So they came as baseball players, wearing their Little League uniforms, or princesses, wearing their communion dress and lots of their mother’s makeup. The kids who weren’t as creative just threw a white sheet over their heads and went as ghosts. (A word to you youngsters out there: Don’t do that.)

Candy bars were expensive back then. And the mini-bars hadn’t yet made it to my neighborhood. So most houses gave out bubble gum, apples, jelly beans or pennies.

There was one house, though, the house where most kids were afraid to go. It was Mrs. Gillick’s house. Mrs. Gillick’s house was where pimple balls went to die. If one of our balls landed inside her cast-iron fence, she would run out of the house, grab it and take it inside, where it would never be seen again. We didn’t know much about Mrs. Gillick, except she didn’t have a husband, she was very old and the only time she left the house was to steal our balls.

Undaunted on this All Hallows’ Eve, I decided to go there anyway. After about 20 knocks, she finally came to the door. “What do you want?” she said. “Why are you bothering me?”

I just held out my Penn Fruit bag. “It’s Halloween,” I said, “Trick or treat?”

“I’ll give you a trick or treat,” she grumbled. And she reached into her apron pocket and put a penny in my bag. A penny.

And I mumbled, “Big deal, a whole penny.”

Her face got red. I could see steam coming out of her ears. “What did you say?”

I tugged the tip of my cowboy hat and looked her square in her bloodshot eyes. “I said, ‘Great, now I can buy that new bike.’” And I walked off, into the sunset.

 

October 2017
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