Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween: From a Lost Generation Perspective

I recently found out I am of the 'Lost Generation'. Those poor souls born at the tail end of the baby boomers but didn't quite make the mark to be seriously considered for Generation X.

In other words, we are the generation who didn't have careers already established before computers came on the scene, and we are the generation who never got the computer training in school, because most of our schools couldn't afford them when they first started rolling off the assembly line.

However, I digress.

This piece is about a favorite Halloween memory. The backdrop is a time, not too long ago, when one knew their neighbors. When children actually played outside in the sunshine. When one didn't worry about what they ate, being politically correct or staying out after sundown.

The time was 1977.

I was in 6th grade that year. My mother had informed me that since I was on the cusp of becoming a teenager, this would be my last Halloween.

I was devastated.

You see, Halloween was really special back then. It wasn't all horror, gore, and Freddy Kruger.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="150" caption="devils nite kit, sans the rotten food"]

It was a time of bon-fires. Of hayrides, bobbing for apples and the Keetch's haunted corn maze.

It was who grew and carved the biggest pumpkin, salted pumpkin seeds warm from the oven and sharing fresh apple cider and homemade powder sugar donuts (that left nifty little white mustaches.)

It was of garages turned into haunted houses, complete with cold 'intestines' pasta, peeled 'eyeball' grapes, Jell-O 'for brains' and a multitude of gross food items that when blindfolded, could freak even the strongest of us kids out.
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It was of Devil's Night; innocent pranks of robbing hen houses of eggs and gardens of their frost bitten tomatoes still the vine. Of toilet papering trees, soaping windows and smearing shaving cream on door handles.

It was ghost stories being read by a teacher, the homemade and very creative costume contests at school, of the parades through the high school classes to show off said costumes and of the party of candy before going out and getting more candy.

Oh - and speaking of the goody run, it was a time where you could expect EVERYONE to have their porch lights on. You could EXPECT to bring in a mother load of stuff to last you until January. You could EXPECT full size candy bars and not worry about needles and razor blades.

And it just wasn't about manufactured candy. There were Mrs. Brown’s popcorn balls. Mrs. Robertson’s sugar cookie ghosts with flooded white icing and smarties for the eyes. Mrs. Hunts Carmel apples - with or without nuts, your choice. Moreover, one could always expect a bottle of orange soda from the neighborhood "bachelors" (that's what we called the two gay guys that lived together since the Korean War.)

One time I brought home a real kitten in my sack of goodies. My parents where ‘thrilled’.

Another thing you could expect was at least three inches of snow to be on the ground. After all, Halloween night was only 15 days away from Open firearm Deer Season - a holiday in itself, as we got two days off from school to go to deer camp.

(Deer camp. Ahhh, yes. What good memories those days had – and a post for another time.)

Being that it was so cold out, it was hard to come up with good Halloween costumes that you could actually see and keep warm at the same time. Nothing was more disappointing than going to a door, yelling "Trick or Treat" through chattering teeth, and stand there for 10 minutes freezing your butt of while Old man George and his wife Helen tried to guess what you were.

This is where ingenuity came into play.

Some of my friends wore snowsuits, along with old electric guitars and painted their faces, KISS style. Others sewed a couple of old shiny raincoats coats together and looked like spacemen. Playing on the coat theme, some mothers would take old coats and turn them into furry-headed jumpsuits, allowing the wearer to go as a demented bear. Or werewolf, depending on the shape of the ears and tail.

My best buddy Bart dressed up as a woman in a mink coat for a few years. (He's also the one, during our last year of high school, wore a dress into a Marine recruiting office. And no, they didn't sign him up, but he did get a few dates out of the deal.)

[caption id="attachment_3749" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Men in drag, 1920s"][/caption]

My favorite costume I wore year after year? The mysterious dead hunter. It was an old, warm hunting jacket, donned with fake blood, a few 'animal' nail shreds, a ratted wig and hat, a pair of 'Blues Brothers' type sunglasses, a fake cigar, complete with a scruffy drawn on beard and mustache and a gun. (Yeah, this was back in the day where you could carry a reasonable look-alike weapon and not get a second glance.) Not only did this outfit keep my ' little naughty bits' toasty, but also I won several costume contests. Nobody could figure out who I was.

So why, after all these years, do I remember the Halloween of 1977 the best out of all the Halloweens there were?

Because it was the last one I ever celebrated.

Oh, and because on that last Halloween of my youth, I received my first kiss on the neighborhood hayride!

I told you that hunter costume was something else!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

14 comments:

  1. What a depressing post! You're right, George. Look at the fun we're missing out on. I've got a soon to be 13 year old son who never leaves the game room. When we went on vacation recently I messed with him nearly the entire trip: "See that, son? That's the sky!"; "See that, son? That's the sun!" Luckily he survived. I should have treated him like the kids in "The Others" where Nicole Kidman was afraid the sunlight might kill her children.
    I never did half of the things that you did in that magical year of '77, and I felt a twinge of regret while I read about what was missed. How sad things have degenerated...
    I've really got to get that kid out of that room.
    Thanks, buddy.
    -Jimmy

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  2. I loved your post, George. Oh the trip down memory lane: smell of hot apple cider, homemade goodies and the "fun houses" we creatively thought up on our own. We did one for our youth group at church and it was so realistic, some of the parents insisted on looking behind the curtain to make sure there weren't real dead animals or body parts. We had a ball. Back then, anybody could dress in any gender and it was totally accepted. I had more than one friend from high school who actually dressed up prettier as girls than the girls did!
    Deer Camp. Now that's not a term I've ever heard before, being raised in Northern California my whole life. I can only imagine, and can't wait to hear about it.
    1977? Yup. I think I got pregnant with my first that year.

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  3. George,

    That is definitely a trip down memory lane. As kids we always had fun. We were 'safe' enough to go out with our friends up and down our country road and not have to X-ray candy to look for needles etc.

    As for 1977 I was in second grade and I believe I was a poodle -- a friend of my mom's made our costumes every year. I had a hat with floppy ears, a collar and leash and anklets with fake fur and of course a tail.

    Fun times that's for sure. Thanks for the memories..

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  4. So, I'm guessing it was "treat" that year.

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  5. Oh, those were the days. You're right. All the porch lights were on, save for the grumps in the neighbhorhood. You only heard stories about razors in apples, but it never happened to people you knew.

    I didn't have the hayrides (as I was in the suburbs), but I did freeze my assets off. Still, it was worth it for the candy (except for the clump of ribbon candy that you couldn't undo). I remember my mother checking the bags of me and my brothers "just to be safe." Somehow, the cans of soda never made it back into the bags.

    In later years, we had Halloween themes at the community centers, bobbing for apples and being blindfolded as we sampled Halloween treats that were disgustingly described. There were costume contests.

    Unfortunately, we all grew up while the world got creepier.

    Thanks for the memories, George.

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  6. Um, yes. That and a new stretchy wraparound red dress I was going to wear to a Memorial Day picnic that I wore for I think all of 5 minutes!

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  7. Wow, George! Great post.

    1977 was the year I first stepped foot on US soil. I had a few hours on my own in New Orleans, having left my ship loading a cargo of grain bound for Rumania! After a taxi ride from the docks I walked down Canal Street, turned up a side street, found a shop and bought a pair of cowboy boots and a hat – I had always wanted to be a cowboy! Not for me the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween...

    But reading your post makes me wish I had paid more attention to Halloween when I had been younger. But of course, in the UK, many of us didn't really "do" Halloween then. We imported the US-style approach in later years. Instead, we messed around burning effigies of one Guy Fawkes. Now my 9 year-old son revels in dressing up as something scary and going round the neighbours collecting a goodly load of candy which will last him until Xmas! (…possibly!)

    At least in our village many of the porch lights still go on, bowls of candy appear and my son (who moonlights as the village armourer) is free to wander around with (almost) replica firearms :)

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  8. Jimmy - yeah, I totally agree. I remember my mother and grandmother bemoan the fact that kids were missing out back when I was a kid -- but in all honesty, I really think today's children are getting the raw end of the deal.

    They might have all these technological advances and things right out of Star Trek episodes - but with broken families, drugs, crime, loss of innocence, the non-stop assault of up to date news and information, the pressure to keep up with society and future college entry demands -- ugh! It makes me want to run and take cover just thinking about it!

    Today's kids are really missing out on the simpler things of life and man, it makes me really glad I'm not a kid growing up in the United States.

    I also feel an overwhelming sense of sadness as well. My lost generation may be the last generation to have a free childhood.

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  9. Sharon - here is a little taste of Deer Camp. Hopefully, I'll be able to write more about it in November...

    Deer camp always took place November 15th-3oth. Schools in Michigan used to have November 14th and 15th off, as half of the kids wouldn't be in school as it was.

    Hunting families would pack up and drive to their ancestral communal hunting lands - and it was there, along with other hunting minded relatives, that family traditions and stories were nurtured and passed down, just like at Thanksgiving (without all the fattening food) or Christmas (but without the presents).

    For a good five days, men (and a few brave women and children) would bunk in a cabin or a trailer, along kerosene lamps, a wood stove, cases of beer, card games, guitars and harmonicas, sleeping bags, dogs, guns and cleaning supplies, cigarettes, cigars, and pipes -- and MOST IMPORTANT --- one out house with a Sears catalogue dated around 1956 and a new wasp nest built in it over the summer.

    (This was really important, because if nobody shot a buck on opening day, we had to eat chili with LOTS of beans. Have you ever been around a bunch of smoke sweaty men who have been drinking beer and eating bean chili all day? It's not pretty...)

    This time spent in nature gave us a chance to get back to our roots. To drink coffee so strong it would grow hair on your chest and testicles. To reconnect with nature and learn new ways of cussing and sneaking looks at the dirty magazines under Uncle Bob's mattress.

    It also gave us an excuse not to bathe for 5 days, as all the water was brought up either from the stream or carted in recycled gallon milk containers.

    Truly, it was a magical time, a chance for all generations of men to bond and more often than not, the deer lived to see another year, because after opening day, most of the men were too busy with 'manly games' (aka drinking beer and playing cards) and indulging in bragging rights to care.

    You really missed out on something wonderful, I'm telling ya!

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  10. Kris - well, that explains everything, dear! You were even an animal activist back then! (And please tell me, that while you were a poodle for Halloween, you weren't sporting a 'poodle perm' the rest of the year!

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  11. Gregory - you know what was missing in my pillowcase after the parent inspection? The Resesses Peanut Butter Cups and the Moon pies. And if my brother came home (he was 10 years older than me) he would take all the Milkyway and Snickers bars.

    And you know what? I did the same thing when my kids came home from 'Trunk or Treat" (put on at city hall as an safe alternative from going door to door.) Except my candy of choice was the Sweet Tarts, the Smarties, the Bottle Caps and the Nerds. Oh - and the Junior chocolate mints.

    Can you believe my children STILL whine over that? (They are 27 and 26 years old.)

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  12. David - To show you how self centered Americans can be, I never really thought of other countries NOT doing Halloween until an author friend of mine from Australia spoke up after viewing photographs of my grandchildren standing inside a carved out pumpkin.

    You would have made a handsome cowboy!

    Here's hoping your son has a happy and safe Halloween - and tell him I said not to forget to brush his teeth! THATS what some folks should hand out - tooth brushes and toothpaste - in the travel size of course!

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  13. Love this post! Okay, I wasn't even born yet in 1977, but it did take me back to my childhood, when Halloween was much more fun. My mom used to host a Halloween party at our house every year, and we'd go all out turning the entrance and the basement into a haunted dungeon. Everyone and their dog would come! My friends, my siblings' friends, family, friends of my parents and their kids ... it was crazy but we always had a blast. And our number one rule was that EVERYONE had to be in costume, even the adults. Unfortunately, there was a death in family just days before Halloween, and we haven't celebrated since then. But it's still my favorite holiday. Now that I'm 25, I still celebrate Halloween with my friends, but it's not the same.

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