It was an annual embarrassment. I still hang my head in shame.
Every Halloween, we were one of Those Houses. The ones that kids went to only because it was on the way from the house on the left to the house on the right.
We often handed out lollipops, one per disappointed child. Sometimes it was one of those inferior brands of SweeTarts, the ones that look like SweeTarts and kind of smell like SweeTarts but taste like brightly colored plaster.
I can only thank the heavens above that we never handed out the dreaded Mary Janes. Or if we did, I have successfully blocked the memory from my mind. I do know that I ate a Mary Jane on Halloween, 1968, and I think some of it is still stuck in my teeth.
My mother has many fine qualities — a warm and caring personality, an excitement about life, advanced academic degrees. But she is, in a word, cheap.
Three hundred and sixty-four days a year, that doesn't make a difference. But come Oct. 31, all the children in the neighborhood suffer the consequences.
Admittedly, the consequences are fairly mild. As night descends, the children pour out their bags and compare their loot: “I got a Milky Way.” “I got a Kit Kat.” “I got — what's this? A lollipop? How did that get in there?”
It got in there because my mother does not believe in extravagance. In her mind, candy is candy. Inexpensive candy is preferable to expensive candy, because it has the virtue of costing less money.
But to children anticipating a big Halloween haul, candy is not candy. Snickers are Snickers. Butterfingers are Butterfingers. But Doodle Pops taste like asparagus.
Perhaps the family thinking went like this: No matter where we hide it, our children will find and eat all the candy in the house. Therefore, we will get the worst candy we can find. That way, they may actually leave some for the Trick-or-Treaters. And if they do eat it all, at least it didn't cost much.
But more likely, the thinking went like this: It's 4:55 p.m. on Halloween and the Trick-or-Treaters are going to start showing up at any moment and the grocery stores are completely out of candy and I wonder if the gas station has anything left?
Oh, look! Doodle Pops!
Even though the candy was terrible, my brother and I still managed to eat much of it. But this is important: We didn't like it. It was part of our duty as children, a standard to uphold. And uphold it we did. We closed our eyes and thought of England.
To be fair to my mother, who reads this column (Hi, mom!), other houses were worse. At least we tried. At least we gave out something that was recognizably candy.
Every neighborhood has a family or two that thinks the children ought to be eating healthier foods, so they hand out apples. I always liked fruit, so an apple wasn't a hardship, as long as it was just one or two.
But what I never understood was the people who gave out popcorn balls. The Millers, who lived on the next block, gave out popcorn balls and I never could understand why because they seemed like nice people otherwise.
Why would they try to poison us with unbuttered, unsalted popcorn held together by Elmer's glue?
So on behalf of children everywhere, I ask you: This Halloween, hand out the good stuff, if you can afford it. If you can't afford it, at least hand out something sweet.
Even if it's Mary Janes.
Contact Daniel Neman at
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