By Kelly Hines

When I was eight, Halloween was easy. Every kid I knew was going to be one of five things:

  • Someone from Star Wars,
  • A gypsy,
  • A hobo,
  • A clown, or
  • An easily identifiable cartoon character (Bugs, Tweety, Sylvester, etc)

After you decided on a costume (and you only got one shot at it, your parents had no patience for waffling), your mom generally cobbled something together from stuff she had around the house. A bedsheet and some silver sequins became my Princess Leia costume. A bandana, red t-shirt, and blue eyeshadow and I was a gypsy. If your parents felt like going all out, they went to the drugstore and bought a plastic costume with a plastic mask, packaged in a cardboard box with a see-through cellophane lid.

If you were the lucky recipient of one of these costumes (google “Ben Cooper costumes” if you want a trip down memory lane), you could be guaranteed of a few things. First, the eyeholes almost never lined up with your eyes, so seeing was iffy and your peripheral vision ceased to exist. They cutouts themselves had sharp-ish edges, so you’d likely injure yourself at some point. The mouth hole – and let’s be honest, it was more of a mouth slit -trapped your Hamburger Helper smelling breath inside, heating the whole thing up until the mask became so sweat soaked that it slid around your face. Basically, you were a half-blind, stinky, sweaty mess, stumbling through the darkness with a whoosh whoosh whoosh as your garbage bag clad thighs rubbed together. “I cahhnnnutt sheeeee,” you’d cry to your mom, and she’d push you out the door with your friends.

“Watch for razor blades in your apples!” was the only advice she gave you before getting back to the alcohol soaked party the adults were having in your basement.

Some kids just carried a paper sack, or maybe a plastic pumpkin. No one had anything monogrammed. No one handed out full sized candy bars, or allergy-alternative treats, or pencils. One weird lady always handed out dimes. There were plenty of baggies of popcorn, Rice Krispy treats, and the occasional apple, sans razor blades. Our parents warned us not to eat the candy dots on the paper roll, because they were most certainly LSD. Those little candies, along with any decent piece of chocolate, disappeared from your bag “for your own good”.

We ran home to dump out our plastic pumpkins, categorize the candy, and begin trading. My brother liked to mainline his sugar in the form of pixie sticks, while I took the more nuanced approach via squirrel nut zippers and the highly sophisticated Twix bar. My dad took all the butterscotches and Baby Ruths, my mom liked Butterfingers and those weirdly pastel colored, chewy bits of something wrapped in wax paper. We gladly let her have them.

We hoarded the candy in our rooms; parents rarely supervised our diets other than ‘no candy before breakfast!’. My brother’s stash never lasted long, he went through it like a cyclone, spinning himself into a candy coma within two days. I parsed mine out, slowly and deliberately, until all that was left were the lonely Tootsie Rolls and Hubba Bubba bubble gum that not even my brother liked to chew.

“It’s over,” I’d sigh, and start counting the days until Easter.

This Halloween, as you’re helping your child into their Pinterest-inspired costume, and handing them their monogrammed Thirty-One ‘treat totes’, take a minute to remember a simpler time. When costumes came from the drug store and nearly suffocated you, when your parents couldn’t bother to leave the adults only party to chaperone you around an ill-lit neighborhood, when razor blades in apples seemed like a legitimate fear, despite the fact that no one ever actually found one. Learn from the past, but remember the wisdom of it as well.

And let your kids trade their candy, but only after you’ve taken all the good stuff for yourself.