Thursday, October 26, 2006

Halloween: Then

Oh the excitement of bolting down our hotdogs almost unchewed so that we could get out to the business of collecting candy all the quicker. My sisters and I each took a pillow case around our plentiful suburban neighbourhood, and once the first pillow case became too heavy for our little arms to carry, we exchanged it for a second one. Chocolate and chips were favourites, but the motherlode of treats was a can of soft drink (preferably orange crush). True, a soft drink dropped into the pillow case would crush almost all the little bags of chips as it sank to the bottom, but there was nothing better than getting 2 or 3 cans, and lining them up in the fridge to enjoy an aluminum parade of bright colours and tooth-rotting goodness (my sisters and I weren't really allowed soft drink until we were the age of majority).

We usually started the trick-or-treating before the sun had officially set, shortly after 5pm. The kid across the street, Andre, was always the first to make the rounds (his father was anal that way), and once he'd rung our bell, it was a free-for-all.

Our costumes, if they can be called that, were nothing special. Poverty meant no store-bought costumes, so we were never anything recognizable, like cartoon characters or movie stars. Every year my mother would drag a dilapidated cardboard box out of storage and have us salvage costumes from its contents. There were no actual costume pieces in this box, mostly just discarded clothing of my grandmother's, so inevitably one of us would dress up as "old lady". Year after year we recycled the same costumes, never winning any prizes at school, not even any pity prizes. And each costume had to be short enough to fit a 6 year old, but wide enough to fit a 400lb woman (Canadian Halloween meant being able to stuff a snow suit under your costume). Inevitably, our neighbourhood would be overrun by fat witches, tubby princesses, chubby cowboys, and so on.

Personally, the whole point of Halloween was not the dressing up or the candy, but the exciting organizational process that would take place later on. I loved to dump out all of my candy, and after reveling in the sheer abundancy, I would take inventory. I would group them into categories: gums, chips, chocolates, salty, sweet, chewy, melty, hard, soft. I would carefully extract all purple candy, and dump it in the garbage. Then I would remove the candy corn, raisins, tootsie rolls, rockets, and grandma's fudge. These were a waste of valuable candy sac real estate, as far as we were concerned. Shame on all of the houses that gave out such crap (it was pretty much only my grandmother who gave out grandma's fudge, of course). And I would donate these items to my father, who apparently would eat anything. Then I would arrange my grouped candy into ascending order of goodness and badness.

Sometimes my cousin would join us, and she would always confess that after eating 4 or 5 pieces of candy, her bag would get pushed to the back of the cupboard, forgotten, until it was found months later and thrown out. At my house, that was never the case. My sister and I ate every damn piece of candy that came in the front door, even if it killed us, which it very nearly did. In fact, that first night I'd say nearly half the candy was consumed on the spot, which is an amazing feat for 4 little girls. But the fact is, we did not often get treats at our house. If my parents had bought one chocolate bar, they would have to buy 4, and 4 chocolate bars were beyond their means. We did get cheesies on occasion (usually as a bribe to be good when a babysitter was coming over), but one bag of cheesies to share amongst 6 people means your fingers don't even turn orange. So Halloween was a delicious anomaly to us, one that we took advantage of, belly aches be damned.

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