In the land of childhood, Halloween is the most magical night.
The anticipation builds for weeks. Pumpkin patch visits. Parties at school, thinly veiled as politically correct harvest hoedowns though nobody is fooled. Fake tombstones marking the untimely loss of Ima Goner and Hugh R. Next pop up in the nicest yards.
The trappings are fun, but it's the candy that holds the most sway. A costume and some walking in exchange for a pillowcase of sugary goodness? A deal, for sure
On Halloween night, there's that time just before twilight when Cinderella and Superman beg to get going. Mom is demanding one more bite of real food and saying it's not quite dark enough to start out. Daylight trick-or-treating is sort of like opening Christmas presents at noon on Dec. 24.
Wait until the shadows go long, maybe a bit spooky, and then hope, hope, hope it's true that the rich lady on the corner is giving out full-size candy bars. Hey, Dad, let's go there first just in case she runs out. How many could she actually have?
There's plenty of effort put into the costumes, but oh how we love the booty.
Free candy? More, sir.
Kids don't care that big people spend more than $2 billion a year on Halloween candy, which translates to about 600 million pounds of sweets like M&M's, Kit Kats and Blow Pops, according to the National Confectioners Association. Kids don't care that all that sugar can be lousy for teeth and waistline, or that the caffeine in the chocolate will prevent sleep. In fact, that sounds sort of fun. Plus, it keeps them going through the sorting process. Chocolate here; fruity things there; stuff that will still be around on New Year's Day pushed to the back.
What they do care about is Mom saying she's running low and that she might have to dip into their stash if the doorbell keeps ringing. What? A protective hand circles the chocolate. Not these. No.
Take the lollipops. And the gum. Smarties if you have to.
Mitts off the peanut butter cups, Snickers and Milky Way, or what's left of them. Yeah, there are a lot of empty wrappers in the bottom of the trick-or-treat bag. So what?
That's the scene from the kids' side of things. Perspective changes as we get older.
• • •
Americans love candy, and they love the stories attached to it.
I remember the ribbon candy that my grandmother used to store in pretty glass jars on the top of a kitchen hutch. Little kids got a special treat from the jar if they were good. (My husband has some warm-and-fuzzies about saltwater taffy — chocolate only — at the Jersey shore.)
I remember those candy necklaces purchased from the snack shack at the ball field and the awful sticky pastel stains they left on my shirt. Who invented a candy that you suck on and then wear? Sort of hard to fib about eating candy with that telltale ring.
And I remember the time my wolverine said he didn't get the point of Halloween. Can't we just go get candy at the store?
Could this really be my flesh and blood? Didn't he understand how much fun he was going to have?
He did question the lousy candy choices in the orange-and-black bowl that came down from the top shelf once a year. Whoppers and SweeTarts? I might as well have been giving out wax lips. Or worse, small dispensers of dental floss.
What he didn't know was that I bought candy that I didn't like so I wouldn't eat it all before the witching hour. That's what I mean about changing perspective.
But you see, he never had the mother who eyed his bounty to bolster her offerings. (I always buy plenty.) He didn't have a sibling who tricked him into trading his chocolate for gum drops and two nights of dishwashing duties.
And he didn't get to go by himself until he was almost too old to go at all.
• • •
Thursday night, just about 6 p.m., I'll make sure my candy bowl is full. Sunset will be an hour away but I know the princesses and superheroes on my street could come at any time. Just like I did, they want to get going.
It's a magical time, and even though I am not dressed as a fairy, I am happy to sprinkle a little dust on them in the form of candy. This year, plenty of chocolate.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.