Growing up in Louisa – Candy Time!
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
“Pull a gun on me, will ‘ya?” I said just as I jerked the pistol from his hand and bit through the barrel. The red syrup ran down my chin and dropped onto my shirt leaving evidence of the foul deed. If we hadn’t had more of the arsenal some sad faces would have objected to my action, but after all, it was staged. The pistol was one made of wax and just one of a number different kinds of objects sold at Adam’s grocery on Madison and Clay. At a low cost of a penny they called it ‘penny candy,’ these things were popular with us kids. Besides, it was a short run from the grade school. I honestly don’t remember if we hit the store after school or during recess, but I suspect we didn’t leave school grounds.
I remember those little wax coke bottles that were filled with a dark, sweet syrup. They had candy cigarettes that we ‘smoked’ to imitate the adults. We thought it made us look big. Some had paper wrapping which made it look more realistic. Those had a chocolate middle. I remember wearing those big, ugly wax lips. Some had fancy handle-bar mustachios like that worn by Jerry Colonna, a well-known actor of the day. All of these were edible, but none really worth a second bite. You could chew it until the favor ran out, but it was the novelty of the design that mattered. When we posed wearing the lips our friends would laugh. It wasn’t the day of the selfie so I don’t have any pictorial evidence since we weren’t even close to having that kind of technology.
There were three seasons that candy was featured; Christmas, Easter and Halloween. The first it was fudges and hard candy, and for Easter it was chocolate eggs and rabbits. The really big candy holiday was Halloween. It was almost entirely about candy. “Trick or Treat,” the costumed characters would shout out, so the fearful residents would fork out the goodies until the bags were filled. I remember that it was common in those days to make homemade cookies and candies to hand out. This was because the commercial makers had not yet begun marketing and supplying miniature candy bars and the like. The stores did offer Hersey’s ‘kisses’ and big bags of tricolored candy-corn. I remember sitting and trying to bite each section of the corn, one color at a time. I could bite them cleanly so there would be no residue of another color left on the kernel. I still eat it that way, but was surprised to see little kids already learning that practice.
Some homes would hand out fruit, or make up popcorn balls that were so sticky that they actually were difficult to eat. Fingers would stick together and finally shirt sleeves and pant-legs would turn into a kind of fly-paper, trapping the crumbs dropped from cookies or candy bars. As I got older I managed the mess better, but in those early days it was certainly messy.
Costume parties, whether at school, church, or in honor of one of the kids, became family affairs as mothers and siblings joined to think up outfits to dress out the little ones. Whether it was an Indian suit complete with moccasins and feathers, a Roy Rogers, or a Lone Ranger outfit with gun and holster, a mummy wrapped in strips of cloth, a wicked witch with a pointy hat, a clown, or hobo, or a princess, perhaps looking for her knight, it was to be a fun time for all. I’ve known mothers that would sew for days to get a ‘tutu’ just right for the ballerina. Sometimes an old sheet would suffice as a ghost, as in the movie E.T. The stores had gaze masks with a rubber band to hold them on. By the end of the evening the hole made for the mouth was wet and nasty. Many famous faces were featured on the masks including Bat-Man, Wonder-Woman, Marilyn Monroe, Frankenstein, and other well-known persons.
There were false beards, oversized glasses, and clown faces all around. It was magic if you were a kid. Whether dunking for apples, eating popcorn, and candied apples, kids had fun in those days. The games were fun and the bonding set friends up for life.
Of course there was a dark-side. Younger kids soaped windows, but some of the older ones turned to vandalism of one type or another. We had a sign thrown through a downstairs window and a dead hawk tossed upon the porch. Not nice, folks. We were singled out because my aunt was a teacher, I guess. I’ve written recently about tipping outhouses, and other mischief.
Sadly, the world grew up at some point. The stories of kids being fed poisons, or razor blades, or even drugs, have occurred. and reported. This has put a damper and loads of caution up about the trick or treat practices. Now parents inspect the candies, hoping to catch anything that could cause harm.
Halloween parties are now celebrated in safer surrounds like schools or churches, and are called Harvest parties. This changes the focus from All Saints Eve to merely enjoying the season with good-natured fun. Things have gone so far the other way in trying to protect, that if I jerked the wax gun from a friend’s hand, we’d both be arrested and expelled from school. It’s offensive to dress like another people group, and dangerous to wear a mask. I guess the wax lips would be safe.
I think all little kids ponder about those grand, scary houses that reach out from dark shadowy places and scream out of the horrors that take place in the dark of night. Old houses, usually empty or abandoned, but sometimes inhabited by an elderly person with unkempt hair and raggedy clothing, become nightmares in our own minds. Who knows? Maybe I scare a few regardless of the calendar.
I remember crossing the street to keep from passing too near to some houses. I imagined boney hands reaching out and pulling me into the hedges, never to be seen again.
I admit that it is fun to whisper dark stories, adding detail after detail to make the younger kids squirm. Whether it is a story told in a room with only candle light, or outside around the campfire, such things were common. I was certainly scarred out of my wits more than once and likely scarred a few, too. Carving pumpkins was another part of the season, as were the TV or radio programs like, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, or the Inner Sanctum, which would frighten us.
Today there are millions of movies, games, and aps to help us find our own zombies, and play with the dark side. Frankly, today I find the TV show, “Outer Limits,” as comical and a bit boring. It’s too late to dress up because I already look like a monster. I am the old codger nightmares are made of. Remember that when you turn down the covers tonight. Someone may be watching.
Good clean fun is okay, but we must try not to offend or cause real trauma to any soul. How many of these crazy assassins we hear about began that way, or perhaps saw themselves as victims? It isn’t worth it and life’s too short. Maybe instead we should settle back, enjoy each other.
Pass the ice cream, please. firstname.lastname@example.org