By Tim Hayes

The trick-or-treaters will soon be upon us, primarily elementary-aged urchins chaperoned by their parents, politely ringing doorbells mostly in the fading sunset, while local police cruisers slowly make their rounds to ensure safe passage.

It’s all so…uneventful.  Rote.  Predictable.  Shrink-wrapped for your protection.  Some communities have parents drive their cars into big parking lots, and the kids go from car to car for their candy.  “Trick-or-trunk,” I think they call it.  Seriously.  What is that?  It’s nothing like the old days, I can tell you.

Halloween used to be a bonanza.  A free-for-all.  A chance to go over the top with your costume and make the rounds of the entire municipality at least once, scarfing up as much sugar-laden booty as your pillow case could hold, and then some, if you had the chance to stop at home and dump it out for the second round.  And it all happened after dark, with every house participating, ready with bags and boxes and barrels of candy bars – the BIG ones, not those sissy Fun Size pellets.

We went out every year, going door-to-door unattended and free, from grade school up through high school, the dragnet widening with age from just our block to as far as our feet could take us.  A few of the better costumes for me included the classic “hobo” (with authentic charcoal beard), a marching band player (super-easy – I just wore my actual high school band uniform), and the crowning achievement of my trick-or-treat portfolio – a housewife, complete with wig, housecoat, and sensible shoes.

In the halcyon days before straight pins in Snickers bars and razor blades in popcorn balls, before American society became convinced that perverts and criminals hid behind every neighborhood hedgerow, we had the run of the borough and knew a raging sugar high awaited us over the next few weeks.  Once home again, we’d empty our pillow cases, separate the peanut butter cups from the Hershey bars, prioritize which treats would be gobbled up first, which would be saved for a special moment, and which ones you’d try to trade with a sibling for something better.

Yeah, Halloween back in the day was something else.

But even amid all the excitement and enthusiasm of those old-time Halloween excursions, one stop on the way always stood out.  It may have partly explained why parents on our block knew to stock up for throngs of kids each year.  About five or six doors up from my house reigned the King and Queen of Halloween, and every trick-or-treater knew that was THE go-to destination.

And why?  For one simple reason.  Fresh homemade caramel apples on a stick.  Good gravy, they were unbelievable.  Why the gods of trick-or-treating chose to bless us screwball kids with such wax-paper-wrapped perfection baffled me then, and baffles me still today.  All we knew is that those caramel apples on a stick were the greatest All Hallows Eve prize in the world.

I don’t know what kind of production system the mom and dad up there had going, or how far ahead they started manufacturing those hand-held diamonds of deliciousness.  But every Halloween night, every ghost or goblin or hobo or marching band member or hairy housewife got one plopped into his or her bag, and suddenly all was right with the world.

It reminds me of how a really popular business generates customer traffic for the other businesses nearby.  People came – kids we never saw before, in school or anywhere else – from all over to get one of those caramel apples on a stick.  And while in the neighborhood, they picked up a candy bar from the other houses on our block.  The original win-win scenario.

Why Kraft never got wind of this phenomenon, I’ll never know.  They could have filmed a commercial – wait, no, scratch that.  They could have made a documentary about how their caramels, melted down then dunked by apples, created Halloween memories that old codgers like me can still smell and taste, decades later.

Hmmm.  Maybe I can find somebody passing out caramel apples on a stick this year, who knows?  Now, where did I put that wig?

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes