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The Halloweens of old: Tricks, treats and a long driveway that goes bump in the night

Voices of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2007

One look up my long, tree-shrouded driveway at night is enough to send all trick-or-treaters somewhere else on their annual quest to fill the bag with as much candy as any 10 kids could possibly eat.

Not only is the driveway long, but from the road, all you can see at the very top is the curve toward the left; you can't even tell there is a house there.

Out in the rural area where I live, there are no street lights, so without a bright moon, kids naturally choose not to take a chance and see what I might be handing out at the door on Halloween if there actually is a door way up there in the dark, eerie woods.

Another reason I never get any trick-or-treaters must be attributed to the whackos who started lacing apples and such with razor blades a few decades ago, eventually forcing caring moms to circle the wagons defensively in church parking lots coining the phrase trunk-or-treat.

As I get it, mom goes to the store and buys at least as much candy as ever, places it in the trunk of the car, loads the costumed little ones into the vehicle and heads to church. There, the little ghosties and ghoulies bounce from car to car, gathering their loot, all under the watchful eyes of the moms.

I understand the need for homeland security in this day and age, and I suppose the ultimate goal of getting as much candy in one night as possible even while mom is watching is realized, but I just can't help feeling sorry for today's youth who are missing out on all the chills and thrills of Halloween nights gone by.

Growing up in the big city, we didn't have many long, curvy, tree-shrouded driveways, but there was no shortage of scary houses or not-so-scary houses inhabited by scary old curmudgeons.

One house on the corner had a particularly mean old man living in it, as I recall. I'm sure my cousins and I were not the first to dish out a dose of Halloween hooliganism at that address.

First we got out a bunch of old painting clothes from the basement and made a dummy, stuffing the shirt sleeves and pant legs with newspapers and tying some old shoes to the cuffs. Next, we dressed me in some similarly well-worn clothes.

Being an old steel mill neighborhood, most of my friends and relatives were much larger in stature than I, so the scrawny, little dummy role went to me. I'm sure it had nothing to do with similarities in brain power.

We ever so quietly sneaked up on the old guy's porch, draping the dummy over one railing and positioning me over the opposite one.

A sack with some stones was set on the cement step outside the door and lit on fire as we rang the doorbell.

All my cousins took off running, leaving me and the dummy behind.

As the old man came out cussing "those d--- kids," and trying to stomp out the fire, I jumped up and put a scare into him like I'm sure he never forgot.

As an aside, he did not experience a revelation that night and become a suddenly sweet old man. No, he went on being a nasty old codger, yelling at every kid who ever dared set a toe on his precious lawn.

Another great urban target of ours was the city transit system, specifically the public buses that plied our neighborhood.

Usually in winter, we would just hide behind the hedges and pelt the big green buses with snowballs as they went by.

Occasionally, though, a bus driver would stop and pretend to give chase, just to see us get up and take off running.

One Halloween night, we decided to get even.

Again, being an old steel mill community, many of the residents were immigrant laborers from Eastern Europe who held to their old ways such as hanging the wash out to dry. Of course, there wasn't much of that going on at the end of October, but many of the clothes lines remained outside all year.

We little hooligans decided to take some clothes lines and tie them to all the garbage can lids down a block-long alley. Then as one of the scurrilous drivers slowed his big, green transit machine to negotiate a turn, we tied the other end of the line to his rear bumper.

I still snicker as I remember all those porch lights coming on at once to investigate the din.

Perhaps if I had had children of my own, I would never have allowed such hooliganism, even on Halloween, but I don't think trunk-or-treat would have been a satisfactory substitute for celebrating costume day.

On the other hand, I don't think I would have allowed them to go up my current driveway either.

Anyway, I guess I'll just have to eat all the Halloween candy myself ... again.

Phil Hermanek is a reporter at the Clarion. He can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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