There were unspoken rules to trick or treating in 1953 and I was already a seasoned veteran at 9 years old. Number one was that if you were not old enough to make your own costume, you did not go out for trick or treats. Number 2 was that our parents were not allowed to follow us and third, tricks were just as expected as treats.
Our neighborhood, on the shores of Lake Ontario, had its own traditions. One tradition we enjoyed was visiting the Brighthaupt family exactly one month before Halloween. Five or six of us would go to their house at dark and yell trick or treat when Mrs. Brighthaupt came to the door. She always let us pick a nice crisp apple from the bushel basket on her back porch, which we would take out to the beach to eat while we discussed our upcoming plans and costumes for the real thing.
Costumes were always homemade by us, rarely would our parents be involved. This year I decided to be a hobo. I took a cork bobber from my fishing tackle box and carefully burned it with the flame on the top burner of our gas stove. Then I used the burnt end to mark my face and hands to look like the dirt that I imagined a hobo would be covered with. I put on a pair of torn jeans pulled out of the rag pile. (Note we would NEVER wear torn clothing on purpose in those days). I put on one of my Father’s old flannel work shirts that I also found in the rag pile. I secured it with a rope around my waist. The sleeves were too long so I cut them into strips up to my wrist. I added a red and white paisley handkerchief filled with more rags and tied to the end of a long stick to complete my hobo costume and I was ready to hit the rails.
This year, my hobo was joined by an Indian. Nancy’s long hair was braided. She had a ribbon around her head. Seagull feathers were shoved into her braids and head band. Thin lines of red and yellow paint on her face, moccasins on her feet and a necklace made of shells completed her costume. We were joined by Kathy who was wearing her white confirmation dress with a piece of netting over her head held on with bobby pins. She was wearing lipstick and carrying plastic flowers. She was a bride. Eileen was dressed as a Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. She had on old clothes with real straw coming out of her blouse and pants at the neck, hands and feet. She also had straw mixed into her curly hair. She looked great. We were all happy with our costumes and excited to begin, so holding our department store shopping bags by the paper handles we began our quest for treats.
We lived on a dead end road on old Edgemere Drive, where numerous summer cottages were nestled in among the year round homes. We knew the names of all the people who braved the cold winters with us, and we also knew who to visit for treats and who to trick with soap or eggs on their windows. Our neighborhood consisted of eight winter homes with a total of 11 girls and no boys. Four of us were the same age, with five older sister’s within two years of our ages. For Halloween we would usually break up into two or three groups, with the younger girls going out first for treats and the older ones looking for tricks and treats a bit later. Our system was always the same. We’d walk on the lake side first, all the way to Spitz’s Hill, where Dewey Avenue met Edgemere Drive. Then cross the street and work our way back home. We received a variety of items. Apples were common, sometimes money, a nickel from Dr. L, small bags of popcorn or bags filled with penny candies and wrapped candies like tootsie rolls, necco wafers and my favorite, a roll of assorted life savers. All were welcome treats for greedy little goblins.
There was one house we were always afraid to go to. It was known as the witch’s house. A little house on the lake side with a tall wrought iron fence around three sides. The grounds were neglected. Overgrown with high weeds and tall rambling bushes that hid the house and walkway. The house itself was not very tall, and the roof and walls were all dark as night. The street light caused shadows of light to fly about wildly as if playing hide-go-seek and leaves flew about our heads as the wind tore them off the weeping trees. The were lights on inside as we huddled outside the gate trying to decide if we should go to the door. It was on the side of the house, which meant that once we went to the door, we would be hidden from anyone walking or driving by on the street. We had passed by this house last year, but our older sisters had laughed at us and said we were sissies. Challenge accepted, decision was made, we were going in!
We slowly walked to the side door and made a futile attempt to find the doorbell. It seemed the night had become darker just standing there. We whispered what to do next and bravely decided to knock once and if there was no answer we would leave. Nancy put her fist to the door and knocked. We held our breath. I counted in my head, one, two, three… the door creaked opened a crack. A little old lady peeked out at us. We stood our ground, though truth be told, if any one of us had moved an inch, we all would’ve fled.
The door opened wider and we could see inside, into her kitchen. Everything was OLD, very OLD. The door opened wider, “Come in. Come in children,” she said in a very creaky voice. Even though she was old and bent over, her hair was long and black. Black as midnight on a moonless night. We looked at each other, but knew we could not be rude,,, so we shuffled in, holding hands and feeling very much like Hansel and Gretel. I felt the warmth of the kitchen wrapping around me as we entered. The door slammed shut with a loud bang. She told us to sit down at her kitchen table. She shuffled over to her icebox and pulled out a jug of cider. She went to the counter and retrieved a box of sugar donuts which she placed in front of us. She poured us each a glass of cider in a small paper cup and told us to help ourselves to a donut. We ate quickly, thanked her and scrambled to the door and the safety of the outside as fast as we could.
Once back on the street, we all laughed at our adventure at the Witch’s house and then we happily continued on down the street feeling quite confident and proud of how brave we were.