I would get home, peel out of my Halloween costume and toss it aside. I’d lean up against the heavy wooden door of my closet, and peer into my bag of loot.
Gripping the paper bag by the string handles, I opened it wide and put my face inside, taking a long, deep sniff. The smell of Halloween.
My mother didn’t stock a lot of candy around the house. She wasn’t particularly opposed to it, but with six kids it was barely worth the bother. The first of us who got wind of it would eat it all and hide the evidence. I didn’t much like red licorice, but I’d eat it anyway just out of principle, because I knew my siblings would do the same.
Mom wasn’t against candy. If I bought it myself, she figured I was entitled to it. After school I’d head to Bob’s Kwik-Shop with my friend Harold, where we’d blow all the money in our pockets on candy bars: big fat chewy ones, sometimes three or four. Usually I’d get a few standards—Snickers, Nestle’s Crunch, Mr. Goodbar, Reese’s (there were no “Pieces” back then, and the chocolate/peanut butter pie was noticeably bigger)—and then branch out, try something new. The Cherry Mash looked pretty good, and I remember it being the most disgusting thing I ever put in my mouth, after goat cheese.
I’m not that picky. In fact, I consider myself a food slut. To this day, goat cheese is the only food that I have physically wiped off my tongue.
Tootsie Rolls took a little thinking. A popular commercial of the day featured a wise owl extolling the virtues of licking your way to the chewy center. I began to feel guilty about crushing the Tootsie Pop between my molars, and always tried to suck my way into it. Leave it to me to create rules about candy. Perhaps once or twice I actually licked to the middle, only to discover a slobbery Tootsie Roll inside, which I could have just chosen in the first place.
We’d go back to Harold’s, because both his parents worked and we had the house to ourselves. We’d eat all our candy while listening to his Man of La Mancha soundtrack or some other show tunes on his record player. At the time, that seemed perfectly normal.
So after a few long, exultant breaths, I’d pull my face out of the trick-or-treat bag and dump thine holy contents onto the carpet. There were always a few eyebrow-raising standouts: Scored a Salted Nut Roll. A whole, regular-sized Hershey bar. Who were these people? What do they do for a living, that they can give this stuff away to strangers? I wanted to join their family.
There were the obvious turds in the punch bowl. The apple: I appreciate what you’re trying to say, but keep your Lefty politics off my Halloween. Do you think I’m dressing up in disguise and shaking down my neighbors with threat of tricks because I want to do the right thing? Necco Wafers: near as I can tell, it’s candy made from colored baking powder. You’d only give this to kids you hate, so I see I have enemies. A religious tract: it’s inevitable that someone takes the chance, hoping some eight-year-old kid will stop in the middle of his Pixie Stix and say, “I have emptiness in my heart, and I’m asking Jesus to come in.” I was church-raised, but if I had emptiness in my heart and I was facing a tiny Jesus cartoon book and a King Size Kit Kat, I know what I’d reach for to fill it.
The sorting begins. The “individual size” candy bars go in the keeper pile, even though to me the big Hershey bar was individual-sized. Today, Halloween candy bars are about the size of a thumbnail, and they’re called “Party Size,” which I might understand if it were made of Ecstasy. But for a candy bar, it’s the equivalent of a birthday cupcake.
Tootsie Rolls, chocolate bars, Kisses, candy corn: into the keeper pile.
Out: Circus Peanuts, those spongy tan things that don’t taste like a circus or a peanut. The hard, no-label candy wrapped in orange and brown wrapper. Peppermints. Candy necklaces. All these go into a separate “Out” bag.
For popcorn balls, I couldn’t resist taking a bite, surprised every time that the colorful sphere was a sticky, gummy ball of stale Karo Corn Syrup. Toss the rest into the Out bag.
About then, my mom would walk in. “It would be nice if you would share with your brothers and sisters,” she’d say. “You’re the only one young enough to trick-or-treat.”
“I know, Mom, I was already going to,” I’d say as I handed her the bag.