Halloween was a little hollow in 1979

More and more frequently, I’ll recall a warm childhood memory and as I’m regarding now in my parental mind’s eye, I can’t help but stop and think, “What the hell?”

We didn’t grow up in a bad area of town. On the contrary–it was a nice suburban Michigan home in a subdivision filled with large sprawling yards and growing families. It was a particularly good neighborhood to Trick-Or-Treat in because there was always a porch light on at every house, and easy-to-navigate streets.

I remember going out with my Dad and sister and we’d hit as many houses as possible in our unknown costumes buried under a parka since October in Michigan meant it was 3 degrees outside. My Mom would stay at home passing out the candy and when we returned we’d dump out our pillowcases filled with sugar treasures, and the mad sorting would begin.

Or should I say, my mother would begin the 3 day long inspection process and clinical drug trials.

You must put into context that the idyllic neighborhood I described was set in the late seventies which is when and where all urban legends were born. I have no idea if there was any concrete evidence or actual events to support the extraordinary means my mother would go through to make sure our candy wasn’t tainted, but I imagine some fuzzy-screened news anchor with a wide tie informing the good citizens of Oakland County that Charles Manson was on the loose in the Hershey factory inserting razor blades and Tylenol laced with cyanide into fun size Snickers bars.

Even before one M got stuffed into my mouth, she’d immediately start the torture.

All apples (yeah, that lady lived in my hood, too) were tossed into the trash. “Hello, ever hear of Snow White?” Popcorn balls or anything homemade? “I’m not sure if it’s poisoned but you don’t know what kind of kitchen that came from. You could get trichinosis.”

All loose candy was pitched. Anything in a wrapper that was torn, wrinkled or compromised in any way was an immediate discard. And all Milky Ways were automatically confiscated, but I think it was just because she liked those.

We were then allowed to choose one piece of candy from our bags, but only after Mom chopped it up like a sushi chef to make sure there was nothing hidden inside or any powdery residue on the blade of the cleaver.

After the intense visual inspection and biopsy, you’d think you were in the clear, but you were obviously not aware of the cornucopia of dangers lurking in a Bit o’ Honey in 1979. No, then all of the level 1 cleared candy was bundled back up into the pillowcase with the firm declaration, “You can have this back in a few days after your Uncle has had a chance to X-ray it.”

Yes. X-Ray.

This was an annual ritual that I thought was just our curse having an uncle as a radiologist, but one year we had to take it to the local McDonald’s for a mobile screening so this must have been a widespread concern in our zip code. I guess irradiation was deemed less dangerous than the possible lockjaw we’d get from biting down on a rusty nail.

By the time the candy would come back well into November, it lost much of its appeal. Still wearing its hospital bracelet and reeking of antiseptic, the bag sat on the kitchen table looking a little lighter and glowing unnaturally. I couldn’t help but lose my confectionary appetite a little.

And again, looking back at it through my parental mind’s eye, maybe it was all by design.

Trick on my Treats after all.

©2012 Tracey Henry

3 thoughts on “Halloween was a little hollow in 1979”

  1. What! Where are the pictures of the awesome costumes we made at my house when you were young? If I remember correctly we had a bee and was it a spider or the Sesame Street Character. I have always regretted not getting a photo of you and your sister.

    1. I was just telling Amy last night as we were Trick-or-Treating about those awesome costumes we made. They were hands down my favorites, and passing down a little of that homemade love down to the kids.

      There must be a photo somewhere…I remember it, I think.

  2. Back in the olden days we didn’t have to worry about the treats; the neighbors had to worry about us. In those days, the “trick” portion had substance. Parents didn’t have to run around with us, the streets were safe, traffic was light, everyone in the ‘hood knew everyone else anyway (which kept the tricks pretty mild, actually) and no one worried about real bogymen.

    Neither was there silly religious backlash as there is today. We Catholic kids trick’r’treated with the Jewish kids who lived across the street, running from door to door with abandon..and some of the best loot was collected at the Southern Baptist preacher’s house. There were no “alternative” celebrations, and no one lent the holiday any more substance than it deserved. It was just good fun, with occasionally a bit of mischief to give it a thrill.

    Billy Joel sang that “the good old days weren’t always good,” but having fun back then was a far less complicated affair..

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