If you were, at any point, a child – at least, one of those kids whose childhood wasn’t super-lame – this time of year had you beside yourself with excitement. I don’t think that’s an unfair generalization; I don’t have nationwide polling data or anything, but I have pretty clear memories of my own childhood Halloweens, and the sample size of “my peers and I” were pretty universally into it. Get a chance to wear a costume to school and impress your friends, ramble en masse from house to house, collect what seemed at the time like huge amounts of free candy to pile up and sort through and croon over like Smaug on his hoard (I was into Tolkien early) – what wasn’t to love?
Apparently, the middle part there. I had never in my life heard the phrase “trunk or treat” until this week, but it’s apparently a thing (it has over 3 million Google hits), and it just seems … sad, I guess.
I am not and have never been a parent; I can’t speak to the impulse of wanting to be as certain as possible about safety. And if you’re working second shift, you obviously don’t have the opportunity to ferry your little monsters (or princesses, or ponies, or whatever) around for a couple of hours. But from a former kid’s perspective, the thrill of the hunt was an integral part of the experience. I guess the other elements including the social angle are basically still there, but going to an event where you get out of your parents’ car, help yourself to a bunch of candy and then get back in the car and go home seems about as much like trick-or-treating as if I were today to buy some Kit-Kats and Nestle Crunch bars on the way home, eat them and declare myself the winner. [Note: For the record, I have heard worse ideas.]
I mean, yes: We lived out on the edge of a fairly small town, so much of our Halloween experience did involve being driven around from neighborhood to neighborhood. And yes, most of the places we visited were the homes of family friends who wanted to see us in our costumes and probably had prepared to give us candy. But it didn’t feel like it was really a sure thing; the McDougals might not be home, or the Wilkersons might be giving out Bit-O-Honeys or Smarties (ew), or the next house might have a vampire waiting in it – how could we be sure? Plus, it’s not as if our mom was walking house to house with us, she parked somewhere nearby and waited; we felt like we were adventuring, and it was just a little bit spooky. Odds were pretty good that at some point during the evening a big kid would run up and yell “BWAAAAAGH!!” and we would have no recourse but to run away shrieking and flailing our little pumpkin-shaped candy pails – and the risk of those encounters meant we earned that crinkling mound of sweet, sweet treasure at the end of the ordeal.
What about the time that we were ferried over to the home of a different couple of our parents’ friends, and we rang the bell and there was a long pause, and then the homeowner flung the door open with a gorilla mask on and roared at us, and I stumbled alertly backward, tripped over my own feet and fell off the porch into some bushes? I made out like a bandit on that one.
Plus, it’s not like it was a one-way street: For years we had to start the process by getting in the car and driving over to Wister (about 10 miles) to ring my great-grandmother’s doorbell so she could give us the popcorn balls she had made and then go to bed already it was nearly 7:30 p.m. for mercy’s sake. We didn’t even want them, they were honestly kind of gross, and if we kids had been escorted to some kind of Fall Fun Fest instead she could have saved herself the effort of making them and gone to bed at 5:00 like any other day. But would that have been better? Nearly 30 years later I remember her making a big show of looking frightened when we yelled “TRICKATREEEEEAT!” and looking pleased when we yelled “YAAAAY!” (Yes, they were kind of gross, but come on – she made them for us); I suspect she enjoyed the process more than she would have forgoing it.
There will come a point in a person’s life at which he or she ages out of the possibility of traditional trick-or-treating, or at least should (there are always some teens who hang on a couple of years too long), and that’s when you’re supposed to enter the years of going to parties and hanging out with your friends and showing off your costume and drinking wholesome cider until you turn 21 – and even then, stay away from the Trash Can Punch – but the experience of the house-to-house candy hunt, of steeling yourself to face the unknown in the perpetual hopes of finding somebody to reward your intrepidity with a compliment on what a scary mummy you were and a handout of Reese’s Pieces … I would hate to think that’s not part of the adolescent experience anymore.
I don’t know; maybe it genuinely is too dangerous or inconvenient to take today’s kids old-school trick-or-treating, and maybe I’m making too big a deal about a cultural phenomenon that doesn’t involve me. But thinking about it is almost enough to make me want to share those Kit-Kats and Nestle Crunches that I am totally going to buy on the way home. We can all be the winners.
STEVE GILL is unusually tall, has a B.A. in Letters and a minor in Classics from OU, drinks a great deal of coffee and openly delights in writing, editing and catching the occasional typo for Slice – especially since his dream career (millionaire layabout in a P.G. Wodehouse novel) is notoriously difficult to break into. He's probably trying to think of a joke about pirates right now.