Halloween a half-century ago was as much a neighborhood celebration as it was about spending big dollars on costumes and enormous bags full of candy.
Halloween at 5148 Harvard street in my Oklahoma town of 30,000 was certainly about the costumes – as an 8-year-old, you were either an astronaut, a cowboy, an OU Sooner football player or a girl dressed as a nurse or something else – as an 8-year-old boy, I wasn’t paying too much attention to the girls.
But the costume was not the thing, Halloween was celebrated with the treats – and the treats in those days were of the homemade variety.
Our house was popcorn ball central. My parents would make batches of popcorn, pop it in the oven with plenty of corn syrup and a little food coloring. and then encourage their three children – with freshly washed hands – to form the popcorn into softball-sized treats.
The popcorn balls were then wrapped in plastic wrap for freshness and saved for neighborhood trick-or-treaters. In order to make enough for all of the kids in the neighborhood, the process seemed to take most of a weekend day prior to Halloween.
And my house was not the only house for freshly made treats.
The Ragsdales always handed out caramel apples, the Smiths handed out homemade candy and other homes dropped homemade saltwater taffy and other treats into our bags. My two sisters and I did not wander far from our small home at 5148, we didn’t need to – we had all the great homemade candy from the neighborhood.
Of course, this kind of fun could not last.
News and rumors, mostly rumors, of Halloween candy being laced with drugs and pins or needles – razor blades in apples! – put an end to the days of homemade candy being the best treat of all Halloween hauls. We now know that most of these “urban myths” of Halloween poisonings were stories of modern legend, fired by a very few actual cases.
But that type of news, and, I suspect, the advancing age of children and parents, put an end to the Wallace popcorn ball factory. We were stuck with comparing who had the most Snickers bars for the rest of our candy-scavenging days.
In our more modern era, I suppose homemade halloween candy – who has the time to make that stuff anymore? – would be tossed in the trash not because of the threat of hallucinogenic drugs or razor blades, but because parents would not be sure if the popcorn balls, caramels or candied apples were created in a “commercial, health department-inspected, antiseptic kitchen.”
If you have a few hours and want to make a great Halloween for your kids, try some messy, but yummy popcorn balls in your own kitchen. If you are looking for the best local Haloween scene next Tuesday, head on over to the Optimist Club for the annual Optimist Spooktacular. The Journal will be there for our 17th annual spooktacular Halloween photos and there will be plenty of trick-or-treating, games and prizes.
Although you won’t see them in print until the next week – look online Thursday or on the Journal’s Facebook page for a sneak peek! – the fun will be in getting together in one spot, trick-or-treating with friends and having a scary good time.