Thursday, October 29, 2015

Candyland: The inside scoop




No one decorated their yard with severed legs, dismembered children, and Day of the Dead tableaux when I was growing up. We were lucky if neighbors remembered to put out a pumpkin.

Half the time, they didn't even bother to stick around. There'd just be a basket of candy on the porch with "Boo! From the Hendersons" scribbled across a piece of graph paper. As the basket held nothing but Smarties, the Hendersons often found an unpleasant return on their investment. But not from my quarter, I assure you.

Me and my friends, we never tricked. That would have taken both too much time and too much imagination. We didn't even bother with regulation costumes after the age of five. A little grease paint, a torn shirt, and we were good to pillage. Sugar. We wanted sugar, and nothing but sugar. Specifically, chocolate sugar. "Open wide for Chunkies!" (Which must be the creepiest ad slogan ever.) No time to chat, just in and out, done and done.

Most parents in the subdivisions spent Halloween watching Gunsmoke, and would answer the door feigning only the barest vestige of interest. But there was always that one house. That house where the grown-ups were way too excited, way too invested in the evening's entertainment. For whatever reason, they had passed through adolescence and teenagery into dotage, somehow blissfully unaware of Halloween's true purpose.



So these -- we'll call them "enthusiasts" -- had a yard decorated with some sort of children of the corn configuration. The mom dressed up as Morticia and the dad as a vampire. While the Addams Family theme played in the background, they'd greet us with a cauldron of Hi-C fruit punch and dry ice and say, "Come into our chamber, my pretties."

We had no choice, we had to go inside, they played bridge with our parents. Thus, we'd waste precious chocolate-accumulating minutes dipping our hands in a bowl of cold spaghetti labeled INTESTINES, peeled grapes labeled "EYE BALLS." We'd smile politely. "Oh, that was real spooky, Mrs. Johnston." And she'd wag her finger and say, "Mrs. Johnston? Who is this Mrs. Johnston you speak of? Gomez, Do you know a Mrs. Johnston?" Then Mr. Johnston would jump out from behind a door and flap his cape, "Cara mia!"

We felt greatly embarrassed on their behalf, and finally understood why their kids had taken up pot at such a tender age.

When we eventually escaped the clutches of Morticia and Gomez Johnston, I'm sure I wasn't the only kid to appreciate my own parents, whose Halloween lassitude suddenly seemed quite sophisticated.

Many of us lived in sugar-restricted homes and any candy we hadn't eaten along the way was confiscated as soon as we opened the front door.

Next spring, we'd set up a stand outside our house and sell the candy back to the original owners. But at a discount. And I suppose they handed it back to us the following fall. Who knows for how many years that went on. Some Dutch scientists recently proved that subatomic particles travel both backward and forward in time. Apparently the same principle applies to candy corn.

26 comments:

  1. You are hysterical! And so true. On the block I lived on till I was seven, there was an older couple named the Browns. They had the best candy. Halloween has gotten to be big business in the last 20 or 30 years. You could even say, to paraphrase John Lennon, that Dracula is more popular than Jesus.

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  2. I always loved playing dress-up, so Halloween was the best excuse. Nothing scary, exotic was the most desirable. As for candy, what little I remember of it was too much Korn, not enough chocolate, and god forbid it should be healthy! And Karin, I'm so grateful you didn't include shots of that dreadful house, you-know-where in Altadena. Enough with the gore already!

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  3. Love! You must have grown up in Mission Viejo!

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  4. There's a house right in the center of town, across from the town hall, whose owners are really enthused about everything. Giant bunnies and whatnot for Easter. Flags for 4th of July and Memorial Day. Christmas goes without saying (and very gaily lit). This week I've noticed scarecrows, plastic crows, giant plastic spiders, even clowns. They've only been in town maybe 3 years, so I never had to take my kids there. But in this area, everyone seems to expect children to recite a joke or sing a song or something to get candy. That is odd to me. Fortunately, my precocious offspring quickly came up with a repertoire of "great" jokes and repeated a couple at each house, which satisfied everyone and moved us on quickly. I keep a box of real candy bars on hand for the kids who show up here (and I've never had as many as 10).

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  5. Here in Altadena, we lean towards the untasteful if not downright distasteful. But I found a great Day of the Dead display over near the Gamble House. Worth a trip if you live nearby.

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    1. Don't know the name, but it's just north of the Gamble complex and about a block west of Orange Grove.

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  6. ohh this was fun to read. Gunsmoke - wow, same with my folks although it was Bonanza reruns for years in my house because of my dad. I was watchingi "Stand by Me" last night with my grandson and had forgotten all about the show Have Gun Will Travel - Palladin. Anyway, loved reading you - and the part about the kids taking up smoking pot because of Gomez and Morticia, haha. No one comes around our house, no matter where we have lived - up a long hill in Alta Loma, with a really long spooky driveway edged with drooping trees -No one dared come up there in the dark or up a long steep hill in Wrightwood, and another steep hill in the mountains near Lake Gregory - I feel blessed! I haven't had to give out candy and have kids at my door for about 35 years, except for my own kids wanting treats or tricking me about how late they were REALLY out at night or what they were really doing - I guess it would be called fooling me more than tricking.

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    1. I deeply envy where you live, Sandy; a house in the mountains is a dream of mine.

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  7. Sandy, I envy you, too.

    Karin, I like the candy recycling program you and your neighbors engaged in. I never had any left to sell. I have always loved candy corn.

    And what's with the dismemberment? This stuff would have given me nightmares when I was a child. Even now I turn away. Ick ick ick.

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  8. We were always hobos, with charcoal beards and torn clothes. None of us had ever laid eyes on a hobo but somehow every kid knew how they looked. Oh and a stick with a handkerchief stuffed with toilet paper tied on the end. Ill trade you a Reese's and a Snickers for Milky Ways.

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  9. We were always hobos, with charcoal beards and torn clothes. None of us had ever laid eyes on a hobo but somehow every kid knew how they looked. Oh and a stick with a handkerchief stuffed with toilet paper tied on the end. Ill trade you a Reese's and a Snickers for Milky Ways.

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  10. A modern-day hobo is a homeless person. I guess it would be politically incorrect to dress up as a homeless person nowadays. I'm thinking about how creepy Halloween is. We create images of dead people and all manner of mayhem that we would never want to have happen in real life. Why do we do that? So who's going as an ISIS victim?

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  11. Here's what the Urban dictionary sez: a hobo is an itinerant worker, a career which sprang up during the depression. A hobo, unlike a bum or a tramp, is more than willing to work, but mostly for a short duration, as their main impetus is travel, the love of the journey above the actual destination. A bum is stationary, feeding off of those unfortunate enough to cross his path; a hobo merely travels from town to town, finding work when he can, but only for the sake of financing his next adventure. NEVER call a hobo a bum...they'll kick your sorry no-bo ass!

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  12. And a bit more history about "hobos": It seems a certain mark was made outside those houses or establishments that would give a handout or a small job to the itinerants. My husbands family had one in superior, WI, where his great-grandmother would pass out food at the back door. Another friend, from the late and lamented Pasadena Athletic Club, remembered his grandfather, who ran a small store in San Diego in the 20's, also had the mark outside. He always gave out a bag with a sandwich or other food. He recalled one day his father sent him running after a guy to give him an orange he had forgotten. So, brother, can you spare a dime?

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  13. It's becoming huge here - finally the kids have cottoned on that it's a great way to amass their sugar fortunes. I sat here in darkness last night until the few gaggles of kids had passed by because I didn't want to disappoint them with by offering up squares of 70% dark organic chocolate.

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  14. Doris, that's so interesting. When I was about 5 years old, I decided to run away from home, and put my provisions in a scarf and tied it to a stick. Must have gotten that idea from a cartoon.

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  15. That is interesting about hobos. Wasn't there a song, "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" that came about during that era?

    Excellent post, Karin - as always....

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  16. Interesting post about Halloween and your memories about it, Karin!
    Halloween is not a Brazilian holiday, but it has gained more popularity in Brazil in recent years and some people hold parties where guests go wearing costumes and masks.
    I like to visit some friends's blog to see photos of Halloween decorations.

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  17. The schools always made us give up our candy for 'the poor.' I contributed the worst stuff - like old lady peppermints. Fuck the poor! There is no generosity if you get between me and my Butterfinger.

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    1. Oh yeah, the peppermints were older than god and the bottom of the barrel.

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  18. I'm with PA on this one. Keep your grubby poor mitts off my chocolates. I heard about the kids from the Catholic schools "sharing" their candy with the poor, and was glad I didn't go to one of those schools. I wonder if you could have negotiated to give them a can of peas instead? Much healthier, I've heard.

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  19. Someone in my neighborhood gave out little bags of popcorn. This was a fail on several levels:
    kids don't want popcorn on Halloween;
    parents with brains don't allow their kids to accept unsealed or homemade treats;
    popcorn bags line the streets near me.

    The good thing: birds, rats and coyotes got their roughage.

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  20. First off, great post! Really a nice piece of writing. The previous owner of our house, gave out warm freshly cooked donuts for Halloween. She did it for several years. We knew NOTHING about this when we bought the house. Now, we have to take crap EVERY Halloween from people who remember her. I can't wait until those people either die, move away, or grow up...

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  21. WHen I was a kid trick or treat only existed on US TV shows and in the movies it certainly didn't exist in UK.... now it's everywhere although we do seem to don only traditional scarry dress, no supermen or cat women or chickens here instead the streets are teaming with ghouls and ghosts and vampires with their blood-splattered wives....and this year a hammer-horror inducing fog also filled the streets of London to great effect!!

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  22. Did anyone else have Mat Night the night before Halloween? That was the night we played tricks on our neighbors - and we went back the next night for candy! This was Montreal, 1950s.

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