by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
October 30, 2007
I'M NOT AFRAID OF FRIGHT NIGHT
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Being afraid of the Big Bad Wolf was child's play compared to being scared - heart-thumping scared - of being caught for ringing a doorbell and running away. But we didn't reserve that for Halloween. We did that for amusement on many hot Summer nights in the 1940s.
Every generation believes theirs is the best generation. I know I wouldn't trade mine for the generations in full swing now. And the generation that followed mine wouldn't trade their rock 'n' roll and heavy metal for the hip hop and rap of today. These are our identifiers, our admission into the club of those born within five years of ourselves.
Today, Halloween overshadows any suggestion of what went before. It is the biggest celebration outside of Christmas - both in the family and in the marketplace - and looked forward to for a month or more. This morning, Kelly Rippa said during tv's "Regis and Kelly Live" that her children love the carving of pumpkins, the decorations and costumes, the going house-to-house getting candy - from everybody! They don't even have to say "please."
And that's a fact! We had a time for dressing in raggedy clothes and, with a pitiful look on our faces, saying at each house: "Anything for Thanksgiving?" And this was on Thanksgiving morning, not Halloween.
On Halloween, we'd go out in the dead of night and toss eggs at basement windows and soap up the windows of cars. We would find a brave soul among us who would dare to creep up a path and stick a pin in the doorbell to keep it ringing and then run, run, run with the rest of us until we couldn't go any further.
When we caught our collective breath, we would find some dog poop and very gingerly get some into a paper bag, put lighter fluid on it, ring a doorbell, drop a match on the readied paper bag and run, run, run, while the homeowner answered the door and hurriedly stepped upon the flame to snuff out the looming danger. It was a very small bag and the flames would do no damage but the contents, well, there was what we laughed at, imagining the man scraping the sole of his shoe against the curb.
These are not the stories I told my children about ways we spent Halloween. I thought it was funny then, but not now. It was a great trick to have a skeleton key and find a lineup of garages next to an apartment building. The doors were padlocked and the older kid on our street methodically went from one to the other swapping locks. No need to run from that dastardly deed, but I've felt the shame for 60 years. My brother said: "What if someone was having a baby and her husband couldn't get the car out?"
Oh, my. Things we never think of when we're teenagers looking for thrills on Halloween night. And we never thought of candy as part of the mix.
Whatever mother started the trick-or-treat tradition really started something for the better. Having had enough years of the kind of "tricks" my generation pulled, householders were only too happy to have Tootsie Rolls on hand as an alternative.
My children wore the kind of costumes we see today, only when they were very little; after that, it was dark t-shirts, jeans, smudged faces, bandanas and the general look of an old-time bank robber or pirate. They carried pillowcases for the loot and got their hearts thumping not from the fright of being chased but from planning to get to as many houses as possible before the 8:00 p.m. curfew.
They no longer had to miss out on the fun just because they became 14 or older. The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund inspired the young to collect coins for UNICEF. It appealed to the idealistic youth in our communities.
There was one serious threat on this otherwise memorable tradition in all their lives: In the '70s there was a widespread rumor that some Halloween sadists would deftly put a razor blade into another perfect and plump shining apple.
This created such a scare that third graders were writing pitiful letters to the newspapers begging those reading the letters not to put poison in their Halloween treats. A hospital in North Carolina offered to X-ray the loot bags. According to a report on the social construction of urban legends, California in 1971 and New Jersey in 1982 passed laws on Halloween sadism and schools trained their students to inspect their candy.
Like most families, we and our neighbors sincerely believed there was a growing number of sadists out there; however, this report suggests it was widely exaggerated in news reports and "can be viewed as an urban legend, which emerged during the early 1970s to give expression to growing fears about the safety of children, the danger of crime, and other sources of social strain." Joel Best, chairperson of the UD sociology department.
Our fears continue to grow regarding the safety of our children, the danger of crime, and other sources of social strain - movies, television, video games, and song lyrics. And yet, Halloween comes around and they all want to be scared out of their wits. They watch blood and guts and chainsaws with a sound track of screams and whimpers. And, they shiver and hide their eyes.
We would sit around on the front stoop those Fall evenings and tell ghost stories. There was always a new one but it would still be about someone trying to sleep and hearing the front door squeak open. Wide awake now, the one alone in her house would start hiding under the sheet while the storyteller among us would slowly tell the tale of her hearing him on the first step.
She would let her eyes get used to the darkened room and then she'd hear him on the second step. There would be long pauses so the narrator could allow us to hold our breath in anticipation. "She heard him on the third step," and so on, ever so slowly and dramatically, until the man stepped onto the 13th step and walked slowly across the hall, squeaking the floorboards as he walked.
This story would be told on a night designed for ghost stories; slightly foggy but warm with the moon a burnt orange casting no light but its own, creating no shadows except the ones in our imaginations.
As to how the story ended, well, it was always different but never bloody - except for the time it ended with her dog jumping from her bed to grab the "visitor" by the throat, allowing her time to call the police. Usually, as soon as the door to her room squeaked open, she woke up.
"Oh, you," we'd say, not wanting to acknowledge we'd been taken in.