If you’ve visited this site before you know, on occasion, I tend to fall into the “old guy’s lament”. You know the one, it usually starts with something like, “things were so much better” and finishes with “back when I was a kid”. These sayings, in all their various forms, almost always come from the mind and the mouth of someone with more days in the rear view mirror than on the road ahead. I’m that guy now and whether you agree or disagree I believe I’ve lived the life and earned the right to say it.
I am also, without reservation, the first one to say that many things are not only better these days but they are MUCH better. Cars, football, computers (it was called a Texas Instruments pocket calculator back then), golf equipment and television sets are just a few. In fact when I think about the things that were “better back in the day” my thoughts wander away from the stuff that’s made to the stuff that made us. We played, we ran and we walked to school, sometimes a mile away, with our friends or, heaven forbid, all by ourselves. We hung out at the Dairy Queen or the ballpark or the library or the playground sometimes until we needed the illumination of the streetlights to help get us home.
When we got home we did homework, or called our “girlfriends” and buddies from the rotary phone and then maybe we turned on the TV to watch The Monkees, The Flinstones, or Gunsmoke before we went to bed, on more than one occasion, with a book. There wasn’t a voice constantly screaming out of a speaker that somebody on one side of an issue is always wrong while the person on the other side is always right. I don’t remember people shooting up school yards, military bases or movie theaters to get attention. We looked up to our favorite ball players but true respect was reserved for parents, policemen, firemen, teachers and even Senators, Congressmen and school board members. Nowadays we have mass shootings almost monthly, movie directors calling cops “murderers” and professional psychologists going on national television suggesting parents shouldn’t demand their children apologize but instead have the children come up with what they think should be the appropriate punishment for a perceived wrong. As New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick would say, “Nurse!”.
We felt safe, we loved our parents and respected them, as well as other authority figures, and on or within a day or two of October 31st we went around the neighborhood to fill a bucket with candy, quarters or, if you went to one house, dental floss. We trick or treated. When I was little I did it with my parents, as I aged I got together with my brothers and my friends and their friends. It was fun for hours and when we got home we dumped all our booty out onto the living room floor and separated it all into “keepers”, “traders” and “tossers”. If we were lucky it lasted for weeks.
Fast forward to today and we find people taking their kids to the Mall to get Halloween candy or something called “Trunk or Tweet” where families gather in school or church parking lots and go from car to car, each containing bags of Halloween goodies in the trunk, to get the goodies. That’s what substitutes for trick or tweeting in today’s society. So imagine my delight at what my wife and I experienced on Halloween 2015. Let me set the stage by saying we don’t get trick or treaters on our street. It’s not because our neighborhood is populated by grouches, it’s simply because we live in a rural part of New Jersey and our street has no sidewalks. If you can’t get from house to house, you can’t get candy. My in-laws, on the other hand, live in a condominium subdivision that not only has sidewalks but plenty of families with children so we decided to celebrate the holiday at their house.
I was in charge of the candy supply and spent a good half hour at a local drug store making my selections. I knew I had to get the good stuff, and enough of it, because my wife’s parent’s “neighborhood cred” was on the line. “Back in the day” we got full sized candy bars, packs of gum and Lik ’em’ Aid but today candy makers now feature big bags filled with individual little bags and boxes of Skittles, Junior Mints and assorted varieties of M & M’s. Others are full of individually wrapped pieces of licorice, malted milk balls and miniature candy bars. I bought nine bags knowing we couldn’t run out and hoping there might be a morsel or two left for us.
Candy acquired we planned to head over to the in-laws late in the afternoon but that changed when we received a text from them around 3 PM that stated simply, “they’ve already started.” We hustled into our costumes (my wife a Duke football player and me Tim Lincecum) and headed out with hopes of delighting as many kids as we could with savory treats. We had no idea how many there might be. Upon arriving we opened some of the bags and poured the contents into a big wooden bowl, then we waited.
We didn’t have to wait long to witness an amazing display that made my mind wander back to when I was a kid. It started with a couple of kids, a princess and a witch, that turned into a steady parade of Spidermen, Jedi Knights, scarecrows, ladybugs, policewomen, firemen and other assorted ghosts, ghouls and goblins. The cream of the costume crop was a young lad who roamed the neighborhood as a mad scientist’s experiment, holding a jar that contained his severed head. Most kids came with parents (some dressed up too) and fewer came parent less in small groups, but they kept coming to the door, huge smiles shouting “trick or treat” when they arrived and “thank you” as they left for the next door. What started as an assumption that we had plenty of candy soon turned into a realization that we might actually run out and we enjoyed every second.
Then it got dark and the shouts, smiles and sweets collecting stopped. Now I remember when I was a kid the trick or treating didn’t end when it got dark, in fact that was when it was just getting started. It wasn’t better then or worse now, in fact, I’m more than okay with what I witnessed on Saturday afternoon and early evening. It was kids and parents celebrating Halloween, NOT at the Mall or digging through somebody’s car boot, but going door to door, saying hello to the neighbors (some, like us, who were in costume too) and being social. It made us smile and for a moment, at least as far as I was concerned, gave me a glimmer of hope about what’s in store for the future.