Column: Halloween fun despite cheap costumes and cheaper candy

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 28, 2002

Halloween is an odd holiday. Children dress up in costumes, parade through the streets at night and come home with a pillowcase full of candy. It basically amounts to anonymous door-to-door panhandling for children.

I loved trick-or-treating as a child, everything from selecting my costume to counting my candy when I got home.

Actually, in retrospect, Halloween had its downside, too. There were some things I didn’t much care for. Those Ben Cooper/Collegeville boxed costume kits were somewhat irritating. Despite their immense variety of costume possibilities, they had those masks that were made out of that not-quite-firm, not-quite flimsy non-recyclable plastic. An elastic string was stapled to the sides of the mask for hands-free wearing.

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The edges of the masks could sometimes be sharp enough to break the skin &045; they gave the plastic equivalent of a paper cut. The eye and mouth holes were too small to effectively see or breathe from.

Trying to breathe while wearing a mask was possibly my introductory lesson to the scientific phenomenon of condensation. Of course, that rarely mattered, since the elastic string would usually break by the time I got to the third or fourth house, anyway.

Besides the mask, the costume part wasn’t exactly well tailored, either. It was basically a sheet of colored plastic with the name of whatever monster/superhero/cartoon character you were supposed to be emblazoned on the front. There were slits through which to stick your arms and legs, and the whole thing tied in the back via two-foot-long strings. And it didn’t matter what size you bought, since they all seemed to be of sufficient length to trip the wearer &045; especially one whose vision was impaired by the mask.

By the time I had moved on to wearing the latex over-the-whole-head type of masks, I was already wearing eyeglasses. It’s difficult to wear a mask over glasses, and contact lenses were not among my options at age ten. I sacrificed vision for mask wearability, reasoning that it wasn’t like I could see all that well through the small eyeholes at night anyway.

Eventually, I moved on to costumes that required makeup instead of masks, and still got away without wearing my glasses, reasoning with my parents that there was likely very little one would find even remotely scary about a bespectacled vampire. Had I been born about 20 years later, though, Harry Potter would have been an option.

Another thing I didn’t like was when my parents would deem the outdoor temperature low enough to warrant the &uot;Fountain Street jacket ordinance,&uot; enforced to prevent me and my brethren from &uot;catching our deaths of pneumonia.&uot; Having to wear a parka takes away from the effect of any costume. Unless, of course, you’re dressed as an Eskimo with glasses, which I never was.

The best part, of course, was getting the candy. We kept track of which houses gave out the good candy and which ones gave out the cheap kind. Houses that regularly gave out rock-hard Now ‘N’ Later, Necco Wafers or those peanut butter kisses wrapped in the orange or black wrappers didn’t get very many trick-or-treaters the next year. Houses that gave out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Kit Kats would run out of candy, year after year. According to the candy that was distributed in my neighborhood, the local stores must have had some great deals on those small packages of SweeTarts in the late 1970s and early ’80s, because that is what I remember getting the most of.

That was years ago. Now, my trick-or-treating days are long behind me. Through the years, Halloween has changed. Children’s costume preferences have changed from Batman and Wonder Woman to SpongeBob SquarePants and the Powerpuff Girls. We used to have to risk the dangers of getting our candy stolen or getting candy with needles in it. Now, in some concerned communities, candy is handed out by mall stores and examined by the local police.

Through everything, though, Halloween’s premise remains the same: Children, for one night, become someone else &045; someone cool, someone scary &045; and they get paid in candy to have fun doing it. I remember the magic of that experience.

It’s nice to know some things don’t change.

Dustin Petersen is an Albert Lea resident. His column appears Mondays.