Frank Mayhew: Recalling Halloweens of long ago

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Halloween remembrances are probably a good record of one’s maturation process.

My earliest memories of Halloween are of being escorted by an older cousin along Oliver Street in Conway, Ark. My “costume” consisted of a pasteboard printed mask. The mask was a cutout promotional item printed on the back of Post cereal boxes. Mine, a devil mask (some said a very prophetic choice), came from a box of Post Toasties. In addition to Satan, Post offered other mask choices such as a cuddly-looking bear, a skeleton, a ghost and the ubiquitous witch’s mask.

We probably employed the traditional “Trick-or-Treat” plea bargain, I can’t recall. However at our age, it would have been a rather toothless threat without any real menace of “tricking” anyone.

As we aged, that would all change.

It seems that with each passing year the “tricks” portion of our petition, i.e. soaping windshields and windows, “rolling” yards, etc., became more important than any “treats” our mild extortion threats might produce. At some point, we began concentrating on the “tricks” and no longer sought the innocent bribes that had so intrigued us in our earlier days.

At some point, the rather mild “tricks” from our introductory Halloween adventures grew ever increasingly more destructive, i.e. flat tires, stolen bicycles, broken windows, etc.

Interestingly, something that seemed perfectly logical and hilarious to us on that magical night looked quite different in the light of the following day. Watching the old maid schoolteacher, Mrs. Prince, try to change a tire early the next morning, it was sometimes quite difficult to remember just how funny that had been only a few hours earlier, as we let the air out, and just how unfunny it was now.

In the next phase, we all thought we were “too big” for such childish hijinks, so we gathered up in groups and relived our more vivid memories of past Halloween “accomplishments,” most of which were nothing more than elaborate lies.

The next chapter in our development saw some of us become the “elder” cousins. It then became our turn to shepherd the very young “ghosts, goblins and a Satan or two” around the neighborhood. Even at our still quite young age we were envious, or even jealous, of the young one’s absolute innocent enjoyments of a holiday we had “outgrown.”

In the next segment Halloween parties, dances, movies, commercially developed haunted houses, and other such “planned and supervised” activities once again allowed us to dress up and celebrate an occasion that by all rights belongs to the pre-teen group.

At some point, without warning, most of us realized that where Halloween was concerned we were no longer relevant; we had gone from “participant” to “observer.”

Beginning in September we stock up on anything black and orange. We buy huge amounts of candy and gum and on the evening of the event, we stockpile these next to the front door. We “ooh” and “aah” at every little bright-eyed visitor, making note of whatever is the “costume of the year” this year. Darth Vader is out and so are cowboys, Indians and hobos.

Angels, witches and vampires are always plentiful, and at least one Batman or Batgirl will usually appear.

Anxious and protective mommies and daddies wait and watch from the shadows, ever alert and encouraging, as their charges go forth. Always reminding the little ones to end their negotiations with a “thank you.”

Each year, we see some petitioners that we think are entirely too young to be out without adult supervision, but they are; we see some that we assume are probably making their last costumed visits; we see whole carloads arriving from far away neighborhoods; but if we look real close, we may also see a little blue-eyed “Satan” with a cereal box mask.


FRANK MAYHEW is a Denton resident and a professor of American and Texas history at Collin College in McKinney.


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