Robert Cox

Writing on the Wall

Robert Cox is associate editor, online editor and lead designer for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CCNnews@cox-internet.com.


"Trick or treat, smell my feet ..."

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sunday is Halloween!

Time for costumes, candy, scary stories, candy, all-night horror-movie marathons, candy, school parties, candy, grown-up parties, candy, pumpkins and letís not forget the candy!

Well, at least thatís the way it used to be. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, in Charleston, Mo., a small town at the top of the Missouri Bootheel, minutes from the Mississippi River. Like many people in my generation, especially in small towns, Halloween was a mostly unsupervised event with the coordination of a military exercise.

You teamed up with your buddies, charted out the best routes based on intel from previous outings and early reconnaissance, set rendezvous times and planned for contingencies, including, in some cases, setting up additional costumes for the occasional second round.

After the plans were laid out, training commenced. Quick changes, scare tactics, target practice ... well, maybe not so much the last one, at least in my case.

I like eggs too much to waste them, and Iíve never quite gotten the hang of throwing a properly unraveled roll of toilet paper.

Younger readers may wonder what Iím talking about.

You see, that thing you say to get free candy used to carry consequences for the people handing out treats. If they stiffed you or shorted you on the ďtreatĒ side, you were obligated to ďtrickĒ them in return.

This could take many forms, from egging their house or festooning a tree in their yard with enough toilet paper to last a month to a simple ding-dong-dash.

You read that right. Trick-or-treat is basically a pint-sized protection racket. When organized crime does it, itís illegal. When kids do it, itís holiday fun.

It even follows some of the same rules. In some places, smaller kids must pay respect to the older kids, handing over a portion of their take in order to keep most of what they collected.

Things are different nowadays. The costumes are still there, the candy is ó mostly ó still there, but our childhood scheming has mostly gone the way of the dodo.

Now, in many places, itís all ďtrunk-or-treatĒ where the candy-rich drive their cars to a big parking lot and distribute their wealth to the candy-poor, who still dress up in their holiday finery to receive their handout.

The kids still say the words, but the implied threat is no longer there. Itís just something you say.

I blame the parents. They remember what it was like in the old days and maybe some of them are still smarting over incidents from their own past.

But, ďThis is safer,Ē you say. It is. Thereís no arguing against that. All the weirdos who have popped up in the past few decades kind of saw to that. Then again, are there really that many more now than 40 years ago?

I donít really know, but I do know that I wouldnít dare let my two grown daughters do most of the things I did as a kid. And I was pretty harmless, aside from having BB-gun wars in the woods with my friends.

I think most generations feel the same way about the ones that follow them. My grandfather used to tell me stories from his childhood that left me shaking my head, specifically about going to the movies and riding trains.

My grandfather grew up in Poplar Bluff in the 1930s. His father ó my great-grandfather ó worked for the Southern Pacific railroad, so Grandpa got to ride the rails for free.

If he managed somehow to get a bit of money, and sometimes even if he didnít, he would hop a train to St. Louis for the day. At 12 years old. By himself.

As for the movies, well, as the story goes, the theater in Poplar Bluff often had special screenings, where an adult and a child could get in for a reduced price.

My granddad and his friends would set up camp outside the theaters and wait for older guys without dates to show up and go in with them to take advantage of the deal.

Even by 1980 standards, both of those just sound like they should have ended badly.

Luckily they didnít, or I wouldnít be here.

On second thought, maybe this whole trunk-or-treat thing isnít such a bad idea after all.