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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Tis the season for candy begging!

Every year our community sends an email to residents asking who wants to participate in trick-or-treating. If you opt in then you can collect a sign from the office that you can then hang on your door on Halloween letting people know that you’re amenable to having the little beggars knock.

If you don’t have a sign, then you’re a scrooge like me.

I think this opt-in ideology is fantastic. Anyone who wants to play can, and the rest of us can be left alone to write our blogs and drink our rye and humbug it all.

I wasn’t always averse to trick-or-treating. Heaven knows I did my share of it all through my childhood, first being escorted by my parents, then doing the escorting when my brothers were little. We’d get all decked out in costume then canvass the neighborhood, avoiding the houses with the big dogs and the cranky people because you always knew who they were long before Halloween.

Then we’d come home and assess our loot, offloading the raisins and hoarding the Mounds. For me the end justified the means, because the act itself always felt awkward. I was a pretty shy kid so asking people for anything, let alone candy, was a stretch of my social skills. It was easier when I had a toddler in tow and could pretend that I was only there as the wing-woman.

Fortunately there were a lot of toddlers in my life.

Still, the process was fun, the dressing up, the going out after dark, the excitement of getting a Butterfinger or quite possibly a Bit-O-Honey or a Mary Jane.

So I’m not immune to the fact that it’s still fun for kids, and people like me who don’t opt in deserve a little pfffffttt.

I’ve become increasingly scroogier over the years. As a kid I enjoyed being the one handing out candy. Every year my father would buy enough candy to meet with much eye rolling and pursed lips and head shaking from my mother who waited for double coupon week to buy breakfast cereal and was not entirely fond of blowing a mortgage payment on candy to give away.

If there is a word for “opposite of a scrooge” it would have my father’s name in the definition. Not only did he buy candy but he bought the best and the biggest candy. We handed out full size Hershey bars and whole Snickers. Some years we filled little goody bags with as many miniature candies as would fit.

The neighborhood knew this. Kids would show up two or three times to get the good stuff, and we handed it out every time.

I never minded.

When Ralph and I moved into our condo I followed my father’s lead. I’d stock up on candy and fill bags and answer the doorbell and hand it out to all the princesses and pumpkins and lions and oddball indefinable things that kids turned themselves into. For a while it was fun. But over time things shifted.

There were fewer princesses and more sullen teenagers standing there like the zombies they are on most days. They didn’t say “trick-or-treat,” just opened up their pillowcases and waited for you to drop your offering in. They didn’t engage, barely mumbled a thank you and took off. It was less fun.

One year I bought all these plastic pumpkins and filled them with candy and toys, little Halloween bouncing balls and spider rings. The result of that experiment was a bunch of kids ringing the bell again after they’d left, to ask if they could get a different pumpkin because they didn’t like the spider, they wanted the witch like their friend got.

Being pre-scrooge-phase, I spent that Halloween opening up pumpkins to find the one with the witch ring, and then someone spied a ghost and everyone wanted that one instead.

For a couple of years I followed the lead of a friend who dumped bags of candy into a big bucket and left it on the porch with a sign that said “Take One.”

I didn’t specify that “one” referred to candy, and not the bucket.

My scroogieness flourished.

Eventually I gave up trying to deal with shaving cream covered teenagers and snotty mermaids and just disconnected the doorbell.

Every Halloween Ralph and I would turn off all the lights and huddle in a corner of the bedroom with a clip light and a book. The doorbell didn’t ring, because it couldn’t. My life as a scrooge had been cemented.

When we lived in Brigantine we didn’t have to worry about it because most of Brigantine is wonderfully deserted after the summer people leave. The people who are left turn on all their lights and set up in rockers and lawn chairs at the bottom of their driveways with bowls and buckets of candy. Whoever wants to trick-or-treat walks these few blocks and leaves the rest of the neighborhood alone.

Since moving here to Franklin, we have not opted in to Halloween.

I’ve been on this earth long enough to remember the razor blade scare of the 70s and the poisoned candy scare of the 80s. As kids we were never allowed to eat anything until everything was inspected and approved by our parents.

I find it interesting to look back at how little this affected us. Perhaps our parents were cautious but we never cared. We went out every Halloween, rain or shine, heat or cold, filling our bags and buckets year after year.

The neighborhood swarmed with kids. To my knowledge nobody ever ate a razor blade or got poisoned by a Three Musketeers.

We survived.

But much like everything, trick-or-treating has gone from fun to “a thing that will kill you.” Schools and parents’ groups now host “trunk-or-treats” and show up in a parking lot on Halloween so kids can walk from car to car collecting their goods. Even a scrooge knows this defeats the purpose.

Once again I’m faced with the option to continue my scrooge streak or participate in candy donation to ungrateful little wretches. But maybe this year I’ll consider it. I really want to know if there are any cute little princesses or spooky witches left in the world.

Or maybe I’ll just buy myself a bag of Mounds and turn off all the lights. Decisions, decisions.

Photo: mom’s ghost cookies. Better than candy!