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Thursday, October 29, 2009

lost-and-found trick-or-treater

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With the help of friends, owners of a house in our current town carve 100 jack-o-lanterns every Halloween

I don't know how the olfactory organ manages it - the blessed nose - the way it skips decades like a stone on the surface of water and brings back October thirty-firsts from forty years ago in a nanosecond. I just know it works.

On the drive home from the university this week in the early evening dusk, if I smell burning leaves from someone's yard, instantly I am walking fast in that I-will-not-be-overly-excited-and-run walk that trick-or-treaters commence from their own porch into a dark but streetlit Halloween night (unless you're my husband as a boy and you just full out run door to door, pillow case slung over your shoulder to be stuffed with as much candy as you can carry, go home, dump it out on the living room floor, and go back out again, running).

For blocks and blocks my small town neighborhood angled off in rows of sidewalks covered in crispy brown leaves, lined with beacons: porch lights inviting me and hundreds of other kids to walk up to a friend's or a stranger's door, reach a hand into a big Melmac bowl and help ourselves to candy - politely take one, or impolitely grab a handful - to what I hoped would be Snickers, Reese's peanut butter cups or sour apple bubble gum, but please no Tootsie Rolls or apples.

We were little fishermen docking for a few seconds at ports of call, lit like lighthouses, where we filled our nets with what the neighborhood sea had stocked.

One Halloween, I was lost at sea.

Little Ruthie got invited to go trick-or-treating with a grown up friend of an older sister. Was it the year Nancy sewed me an 18th century Martha Washington costume complete with black lace mask, shawl and fingerless gloves, white wig dotted with blue satin rosebuds, and lovely draped blue satin garniture hanging from the waist? Impossibly, I managed to go off with Charlene and have a blast without either of us informing my parents. Have you ever seen a police car parked in front of your house, complete with spinning red and white lights? Whatever fun you were just having disappears like a wave seeping into sand.

But no doubt, the catch I emptied onto the carpet, sorted into piles of keepers and undesirables, then eaten a few a day, mollified my guilt into mid-November.
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55 comments:

Loring Wirbel said...

All the childhood memories of walking down Jefferson and Scott streets (and whazzamatta with Tootsie Rolls, anyway) got swamped in the mind by the memories of being in the back row of the amateur hoodlums when some big high-school football player was throwing eggs at the GL police cars. Spinning red and white lights indeed.

Anna said...

Ruth lol 'pillow case slung over your shoulder to be stuffed with as much candy as you can carry, go home, dump it out on the living room floor, and go back out again, running' - I did that too, lol. And I stopped when someone had the guts to tell me, you look little old, lol [I was, but I liked candy :)]. Anna :)

Anet said...

It's funny how smells can send us somewhere back in time. That happens to me all the time.
Noah sounds alot like Don. We're forever telling him to stop running!
But the funny thing is, he likes to beg for only a hour and then get home to pass out candy.

I get all of Noah's Snickers. I tell him it's payment for being such a great mom all of the year!
Hmmm... I think I'll up my prices this year and take all the peanutbutter cups too:)

Oh yes, I'm sure your parents must of being besides themselves with worry!!! Ruthie!

Delphyne said...

We used pillow cases here, too! So funny - we also didn't yell "Trick or Treat." Here in this little town, the call for candy was "Anything for Hallowe'en?" After being away for so long and returning 6 years ago, I was so disappointed to hear the kids call out "trick or treat."

California Girl said...

I remember trick or treating 1964 when Goldwater was running against Johnson. My best friend and I went together and, at one house, the lady who answered the door asked me if I were "for Goldwater or Johnson?" My parents were staunch Conservatives and I answered "Goldwater!" She gave me the largest Hershey bar then made. She turned to my best friend, Kathy, and asked the same question, to which Kathy, whose parents were very Liberal replied, "Johnson!". The lady pulled out a decent sized sucker and said,

"Here's a sucker for a sucker!"

I kid you not. We were 12.

Kat said...

Oh, I am loving these "flashbacks" in time of pillow cases instead of the plastic pumpkin shaped candy holder! I love Halloween and this magical time of year! Thanks for the lovely story.

ds said...

Oh, the memories! Oh, your wonderful, talented sister! Oh, your poor worried parents! What a great image of Don running in & out to dump his loot on the floor between 'refills'. Mr. L-S once used his football helmet in the same way (fresh from a game or practice--why change)...

Beautifully written, Ruth. Thank you.

CottageGirl said...

Burning leaves ... We aren't allowed to burn leaves around here anymore. I really miss that wonderful smell that would signal the beginning of the end of the beauty of autumn.
I bet you looked adorable as Martha Washington. The costume sounds awesome! Great memory!

kanmuri said...

I miss Halloween so much. In Japan it's not celebrated at all. Some malls will have decorations but no one carves pumpkins. I haven't smelled the nice perfume of a candle burning in a carved pumpkin for four years now... I really miss it.

Oliag said...

...We used pillow cases to collect our loot on Halloween night too!...sometimes we even needed to go back for a second pillow...

...and the sorting out later...that was so much fun...then swapping back and forth with my sister...Lots of good memories Ruth!...

Peter said...

A bit of nostalgia, so nicely written !!!

As you know, in my former country and in the present one, Halloween is not part of the tradition. There were some good tries to introduce it in France a couple of years ago, but it was bit too artificial and it has now all more or less faded out.

Montag said...

You know, the whole idea of carving gourds and illuminating them is not bad at all.
I think it was a stroke of genius on somebody's part.

Susan said...

"We were little fishermen docking for a few seconds at ports of call, lit like lighthouses, where we filled our nets with what the neighborhood sea had stocked."

Oh that's exactly what it was like! You capture childhood feelings and memories so well, Ruthie!

I have no recollection of any "costume" I wore as a child.
Whatever they were had to be scraped together out of what we had in the house, as there was no money for a store-bought or even homemade one.

I remember the year my dad died we had soooo many trick or treaters that my mom ran of the penny candy she had bought and started handing out saltine crackers. Can you imagine the look on those kids' faces? lol! When she ran out of crackers, she had to turn out the lights and lock the door. I think we got our windows soaped. This was when there was no time limit on the hours and it just went on and on.....

Sandy said...

hahha, tootsie rolls and apples, I hear ya! But now I would love free apples for my morning smoothies.

Fun post and wow, that is a lot of jack o lanterns. Very cool

Nancy said...

You took me back to all of the excitement! It really was a wonderful time of year to be out with a pack of other excited kids, the sidewalks full. Thanks for the memories.

Bella Rum said...

Ha! I love Halloween. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

photowannabe said...

Ah, the flashback memories. Wonderful. I remember one year when I was probably 7 or 8, going to many neighbors homes with my friends and then deciding to trick or treat at my own house.
When we knocked on the door, the most grotesque ghostly thing answered the door. My Mom had pulled a nylon stocking over her head and it had distorted her face really awfully. She had a sheet wrapped around and the backlighting made everthing scary and unreal, (especially to my young mind). It was so unexpected and I couldn't believe my Mom could ever be that cool.
Thanks for recharging that memory in me.

Pat said...

I loved reading about your memories of Halloween. We, too, used pillow cases. (My how times have changed, eh?)We'd go door-to-door trick-or-treating for blocks, come home, dump the candy on the floor, sort out what we didn't want, and dump that in the give away bowl so the candy could be recycled! LOL!

I think I was in 7th or 8th grade and a group of us girls got "attacked" by the boys with shaving cream. My friend's mom let us all wash our hair at her house. I thought she was THE coolest mom ever! LOL!

Ruth said...

Loring, you can have all my Tootsie Rolls. I see now how you got your start as a professional hoodlum. :D Of the best kind, mind you. I think Jefferson Street was the best, all those big brick houses like the Fitzgeralds'. I wonder if I went to yours? I don't think I crossed the street to your side by the river. We lived so close and didn't know each other then.

Ruth said...

Oh, Anna, you should see the neighborhood we lived in six years ago. It was urban, and we would have homeless old men come to the door trick-or-treating. They were toothless and not dressed in a costume and would say, "this is for my grandkids." We should have just given them supper. I think we were too stunned to think about it when it was happening. Also, we had teenage girls pushing strollers with their babies dressed up in costumes. It was the first time I'd had that kind of Halloween.

Ruth said...

Anet, I bet Noah loves your neighborhood in Lansing. All those great houses and porches, such wonderful people, like Pam. Does she hang around and hand out candy? I know she used to. She is so full of drama and goodness, she would love to dress up like a vampire or witch and scare and laugh - yay! I miss her.

Oh dear, I didn't even need my nose to carry me down that Memory Lane.

Tell Noah to have fun. I think it's cool that he likes to spend one hour of the two handing out candy. I never knew how fun that was until I had my own house. I think it's more fun in fact.

Ruth said...

Delphyne, I think it is like a business now. There are set hours for trick-or-treating - open for business. But I would have expected the reverse - that they would now say "Anything for Hallowe'en?" because it is not PC to say anything about tricking someone like soaping windows.

Ruth said...

California Girl, I think that's the best Halloween trick-or-treating story I've ever heard. And yet you went on to be . . . um . . . not conservative, even with such extrinsic rewards. You go!

Ruth said...

Kat, I think you could fit maybe . . . at least 10 of those plastic pumpkinfuls of candy in a pillow case. We were so greedy!

Ruth said...

DS, well what a convenient costume for Mr. L-S, and receptacle for the candy too.

Sometimes I am unsure if this story really happened, this lost memory. I asked Bootsie, and she didn't remember it, but she graciously said, "but it's in your memory, so it's true!"

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, I think most American towns have ordinances against burning leaves now. But out here in the country we can do as we please. We don't burn them - we dump them in the woods. But I do love the smell and even wrote a poem about it once.

Ruth said...

Kanmuri, it's a truly American phenom. Don and I were in Scotland in November 1980 and the owner of the B&B where we stayed excused herself to go hang an effigy of Guy Fawkes from a tree. We did not know about this chap who plotted to blow up Parliament. He was hung, of course. Now all of Britain commemorates his capture with bonfires, fireworks and hanging his effigy. Great fun! It felt a lot like Halloween to us.

Ruth said...

Oliag, I wonder what happened to all my Tootsie Rolls? Maybe in a family of 8 kids, there was someone to like what someone else didn't like. All those poor undesirables.

Ruth said...

Peter, I am always interested to see how other countries replicate American traditions while they also criticize our ways. Two sides of the coin, you can't have one without the other, I guess.

I try to create a little of Paris here at the farm. Paris is inside me so I can't help it. It just comes out. Oh, and my grandma was Swedish, think I told you. And I just love Carl Larsson, and his illustrations greatly influenced my aesthetic too. Not that I have an aesthetic. That sounds so elitist. :D

Ruth said...

Montag, they first used them for lanterns, I think?

Oh, after Don grew some gourds for birdhouses, we found gourd-geous gourds at Etsy.com by a lady who paints and carves them and makes them into lamps. You can see them here.

Ruth said...

Susie, I doubt my memory here utterly. I have never heard anyone else in my family talk about this story. I have no proof it really happened. I don't really know how it could have. But teenagers can be as thoughtless as little children, so I think it really did happen.

What you described from your childhood - of scraping together a costume - is one of the best parts of Halloween. I didn't like it if I did that an hour before going out, because then it would be pretty lame. But with a little thought and planning, we could come up with some fun ones - even if they were just a hobo with a bandana-wrapped bundle at the end of a walking stick, or a lady with a big stuffed bosom.

I am still LAUGHING about handing out Saltines!! You are toooo funny.

I wonder what your grands are dressing up as tonight. I hope you'll share photos m'lady.

Ruth said...

Hmm, Sandy, I have never once thought of putting an apple in a smoothie. Trying to figure that one out.

Oh I am so disappointed we are going to friends' for dinner tonight. Not that I am disappointed in being with them, but we will miss Dansville's Halloween phenom. This house is one piece of it, and lots of parents get on a farm wagon and follow their kids around while they trick-or-treat. The whole town of 450 is out, lit up and celebrating. It is SO cool.

Ruth said...

Nancy, I miss having kids come to the door now that we live in the country. No one comes. So we go into town and drive slowly in our car and stare at the festivities. People set up candy tables in front of their houses.

Ruth said...

Hi, Bella. It's nice that America has a holiday with generosity and opening doors.

Ruth said...

Sue, your mom must have been a lot of fun. Your discovery reminds me of the time as a teenager I suddenly realized my mom was a person, not just Mom. It's strange as a child to step back and see our parents as Other than our parents.

Ruth said...

Pat, the more I think about this tradition, the stranger it gets. But I really like how it's a healthy (mostly) way to get all the devilishness out.

We had Devil's Night in Detroit - the night before Halloween. It started out as just mischief like toilet papering trees back in the 1930s, then it got bad in the seventies when arson became the norm. Now 50,000 volunteers gather to patrol neighborhoods, and they call it Angel's Night.

Renee said...

Boy you had patience, I would have all the candies finished in a few days.

Renee xoxo

ewix said...

Such a wonderful halloween adventure!
We did not trick or treat in England. Our holiday was November 5th when we had bonfires and fireworks and burned guys (GUY FAWKES)

So glad you follow Rauf's blog.
He is amazing

Ruth said...

I am a stoic person, Renee.

Ruth said...

Yes, Elizabeth, Guy Fawkes Day. Don and I were in Scotland that day - Nov. 5, 1980 - and our hostess excused herself to go burn an effigy. We were quite bemused, and amused.

As for rauf, I might not still be blogging if it weren't for him. He changed everything with his blog, showed me you can really make it your own, and be yourself. He keeps challenging me.

Peter said...

Thanks for your comments, first part, so true! Of course, the US "traditions" also include McDonald, Starbuck's ... more successful than Halloween! :-)

It would be very interesting to visit your Paris and Carl Larsson influenced farm! :-)

Ruth said...

Peter, promise you will never let our homogenizing ways take over Paris or Sweden. The poor little mom and pop shops are fading, I'm afraid.

Snappy Di said...

I just came across your blog today and am sure I will be back... It's a lovely place!

Di
The Blue Ridge Gal

rauf said...

completely alien to me Ruth, but i understand the excitement.

Ruth said...

Hi there and welcome to my place, Snappy Di. I am happy to see anyone from Virginia, where my father was from.

Ruth said...

Oh, lots of kids dress up as aliens on Halloween, rauf.

:D

Jeanie said...

Sense memory. Oh, yes! I love the giggles and sounds as you hear a group come up the street. Then there's the child who holds back. Stays at the sidewalk while the parents try to coax them up the drive. I wasn't that child. Candy was involved!

What beautiful memories!

Claudia said...

That has to be one of my favourite Halloween photos ever!

Alas Halloween around here is not as fun as it is in the States. This year we only had five groups of kids coming around and knocking at our door and in every one of them all the girls looked like identical twin witches and all the boys looked like dracula clones. They didn't even look happy or comfortable. I've got heaps of leftover candy.

Anna said...

Thanks Ruth for sharing your story. It is sometimes hard to imagine that there are people living like that. Sad story. Anna :)

Ruth said...

Jeanie, I think it's the most fun being inside the house and seeing all those costumes, especially on the 3-year-olds.

Ruth said...

Obrigada, Claudia. :D

I had no idea you have trick-or-treating in the UK.

Ruth said...

Anna, I think you mean the homeless who trick-or-treated? Yes, sad.

Anna said...

Yes Ruth you are correct. Again, thanks for sharing your story. Anna :)

Ginnie said...

I wonder how old you were that year, Ruth (you may have said in one of your replies)? You were 7 when I went away to college. Hmmm. The things we remember. I love it! :)

Ruth said...

Boots, I must have been pretty young, maybe 5, 6 or 7?