Last night I gathered with friends to eat spaghetti and watch The Conjuring — it was our third annual Scareghetti. We improve every year and unlike most scary movies our cast is growing. I made popcorn balls for the event. Even though one of these lovely ladies is so terrified of scary movies she had to put a napkin over her head we all had a fun time because this once a year we all let ourselves be afraid.
The really terrific part of Halloween, so I’ve deduced, is embracing the scary things we fear. And then to laugh at them. Bwah-ha-ha-haaa!
Except I’ve also deduced that we are letting our fears overtake us. Worse we teach our children to be ever more afraid of the homebaked treat.
My parents, Dad in particular, tell stories from their childhood about Halloween. On Halloween night all the kids in the neighborhood would travel from house to house, stopping for tricks or treats, and staying for the parties. Homemade treats of hot cider, caramel apples, popcorn balls, and donuts were handed out to the kids who didn’t worry about the possible allergies from a peanut contamination or what an evil person may have added to the recipe.
I may have made up what the foods were, but the point is that my dad started telling these stories about the time that the trick-or-treaters started to disappear.
My mom would always plan a homemade grab and go meal for Halloween, something that we could easily leave behind every time a costumed child rang the doorbell, something that could be ready before my brother and I and our friends set out as princes and pretty witches. Every year the same terra cotta jack-o-lantern was filled with bags of candy willing a child to reach in an eager hand and pick out a piece. By my later elementary years our Halloween dinners were being eaten almost uninterrupted and our candy pumpkin was just as full on November 1 as it had been on the eve.
An evil calamity had stricken all the parents of our neighborhood. Terrified of who lived next door they declared that kids must trick or treat at the mall where they could be safely inside, under artificial lights, and taking packaged candy only from strangers. Some lucky few were allowed to continue to run up to the doors after leaving the car that chauffeured them from safe-looking house to safe-looking house. Some parents might drive at a parades pace behind their kids ready for a quick getaway.
Not a single twix or jaw breaker or snickers or fun sized skittles could be consumed until the parents had inspected every piece. Testing for poorly sealed edges and looking for needle sized holes. The hospitals were on the ready, willing to x-ray the night’s haul just to make sure no blades had been concealed within.
A homemade popcorn ball, a brownie, a proffered cup of cider would never have survived the culling.
These days I only hear stories of how there aren’t any trick-or-treaters. People don’t bother buying candy or staying home. If I had a kid, I don’t even know what I’d do. Would I force trick-or-treating in the neighborhood? Maybe I’d be the parent hosting Halloween parties with bobbing for apples and jack-o-lantern carving contests (which my parents started doing for their friend’s kids and grandkids long after their own nest emptied). Last year I took the puppy on a walk hoping to see some trick-or-treaters. I wasn’t the only one. On one street I followed the chalk writings directing people to a house that really did have candy to give out.
When did we decide that the companies forced into health code compliance by government were safer than something made by the person who lived next door? How did we come to fear the family on the next block but trust the company renting out floor space in a mall? When did we decide to be afraid?
Many moons ago during one of the many potluck meetings held at my old company a co-worker mentioned that her son’s preschool only allowed parents to bring in pre-packaged or from a box cake mixes for sharing with other students like for birthday’s or similar. It was for the safety of the kids.
“How sad,” I said. How familiar, I think.
I think we should take back Halloween.
Does anyone actually even like jawbreakers?
“Old-Time Popcorn Balls.” New Cookbook. N.p.: Better Homes and Gardens, 1981. 114. Print. Paraphrased here because you can’t take back Halloween if you don’t have the recipe
Pop 1/2 cup of popcorn. Keep warm in a low temperature oven.
Butter the sides of a saucepan. In it combine 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup light corn syrup, 1/2 teaspoon vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stirring frequently cook to 270° (also known as soft-crack stage, though my thermometer said that would be 280°). It should be boiling gently all over the surface. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Slowly pour the mixture over the hot popcorn. Stir until just mixed. Butter your hands. Shape handfuls of popcorn into balls and place on wax paper. Repeat buttering your hands as needed. The butter not only stops the popcorn from sticking but also helps protect against minor burns from very hot candy syrup.