Trick or Treat (or Trauma?)

Oct 31, 2012 | 3 comments

Even though I look back on the Halloweens of my childhood with a sort of nostalgic glow, I can’t really think of much I enjoyed about the holiday.  Those were the days of dressing up and going around the neighborhood trick-or-treating with a group of also-costumed friends.  And, since I lived in Alameda, California (where there were real neighborhoods with blocks and sidewalks), we did actually go door-to-door to the homes of people who we more-or-less knew.  In fact, as far as I can remember, we were unaccompanied by an adult.

First of all, there was the angst of “what to be.”  I don’t remember ever having a store-bought costume.  (Were there such things in the 1940s?)  So it was always a matter of what you could do with a sheet or one of your mother’s cast-offs waiting to be remade into its next incarnation.  I can’t recall any of my costumes until I reached the gypsy stage which must have been in my pre-teen years.  By then, the makeup and jewelry made all difference!

Then, there were the “scary” houses – mostly old Victorians (like ours now) with one or two elderly occupants (like us now) and sometimes a ‘mean’ dog.  The dogs, of course, played with us in the bright light of non-Halloween days, but became menacing on that particular night every year.

We always took a piece of soap with us just in case someone refused to put a treat in our proffered bag.  That never happened that I remember but I still feel guilty that we soaped the windows of people who had the audacity not to be at home.  I do remember the thrill of dumping all those treats out on the dining room table later and being especially excited about any pennies or nickels among them.  The candy was doled out in my lunch box every day for weeks and the coins were mine to do with as I pleased.

I don’t think I got an allowance in those days – just a dime each Sunday to put in the collection basket at church.  Having my own money was a Big Deal.  I probably spent it right away – I never have been very good at saving.  However, the angel that has graced the top of our Christmas Tree for the past 70 years was purchased with squirrelled-away coins that could have been from Halloween.  I think she cost 29 cents at the Variety Store around the corner on Encinal Avenue.

I don’t recall going to any Halloween parties in those early days.  Not until I was in high school.  That was traumatic, too.  I hated all those games – bobbing for apples and pinning the tail on the black cat.  It always seemed to me that I was a total klutz and struggling with clothespins and bottles or eggs and spoons just gave everyone a chance to laugh at me.  (I felt that way at birthday parties, too.)

Although we were a family that posed for lots of pictures, there are none of me in my Halloween regalia.  I do have one of my son, though, taken in 1963 when he was seven.  He was dressed as a scarecrow and was on his way to a party down the street.  His costume involved a broomstick stuck through the arms of an old jacket (along with his own arms, of course) with bits of straw sticking out around his hands.

The expression on his face tells the whole story.  I can scarcely look at those sad eyes.  I don’t remember that he protested but, in later years, he has said how uncomfortable he was and how humiliated he felt when he had to ask his friend’s mother (the hostess) to take his costume apart so he could use the bathroom.  Surely that year it was “Trick and Trauma” not “Trick or Treat”…


  1. Kathleen Shaw

    Oh, that truly is a sad-eyed photo of Charlie! But I envy you living in Alameda with those absolutely marvelous Queen Anne Victorian houses. In case anyone reading this doesn’t know, if you like those kind of houses, Alameda is an absolute treasure trove. Lucky you, Sydney!

  2. Marion

    I too remember how hard it was to come up with an appropriate costume for Halloween. As a child in Ocean Park I went with my big group of friends and remembered being invited in at Mae Johnson’s for some hot cider or hot chocolate and a donut. Those were the safe and happy days!

  3. Stephanie Frieze

    In the 1950s they had store bought costumes and it was always fun deciding what to wear. Sometimes we cobbled together a costume from things at home and sometimes I got to pick out one of those thin costumes that came with a plastic mask. We trick or treated all over the subdivision of Lake Hills in Bellevue, largely unaccompanied. I think when I was in the lower grades my dad came with me, but later on we went in groups. We got full sized candy bars, home made popcorn balls, and homemade cookies. We didn’t worry about anything being tainted. One year a man answered the door with a big bowl of pennies and told us to take a handful. Sometimes there were Halloween parties where we bobbed for apples and played games like dropping clothes pin in milk bottles, etc. Thanks for sparking my Halloweens of the past memories!


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