Tripping over the too-long hem of my Casper the Friendly Ghost costume, I elbowed my way past my friends, the Lees Avenue Gang, to the top of the steps and held out my pillowcase. We all chanted:
“Trick or treat
Smell my feet
Give us something good to eat!”
“And who do we have here?” asked my neighbor Mrs. Powers (my future high school English teacher a decade later).
She called to her husband, the Rev. Dr. Powers, to help her guess the identities of the ghosts and cowboys demanding Halloween treats. After they tried and failed, we pulled up our sweaty plastic masks to reveal ourselves. The Reverend and Mrs. Powers conferred, then decided they had better give us some treats because they did not want any tricks. Mrs. Powers always gave us apples, while the Reverend contributed some coins so that we could pick out our own treats at the “corner store” on Belmont Avenue. Yelling our thanks, we marched to the next house. The sidewalks were full of groups of costumed kids. We were the Baby Boomer Generation. Hundreds of us jammed the sidewalks and front porches of Collingswood in 1960. As one group left each front door with their treats, another group tripped up the steps to take their place. By dusk, my pillowcase was heavy with candy, and I was exhausted. After my parents checked our treats for pills and razor blades, we spent the evening examining our haul and trading candies. Hershey bars, Tootsie Pops, Bit O’Honey, Almond Joy, and Reece’s cups were my favorites (candy corn and Three Musketeers bars, not so much).
In 1960 in South Jersey, Halloween was not a simple one-day event. Preparations began in mid-October, when we taped cardboard cut-outs of witches and ghosts in our windows, and ended with attendance at Mass on All Saints’ Day. A few weeks before Halloween, we made the trip into Camden to select our costumes at Banasz’s or Woolworths. The store shelves were full of boxes containing badly sewn costumes and plastic masks. The opaque masks had tiny holes cut out for eyes and a flimsy elastic band that always broke halfway through the evening.
A few evenings before Halloween, we drove to Haddon Avenue, where a parking lot had been transformed into a pumpkin patch. Selecting the perfect orange candidate for our Jack O’Lantern was almost as exciting as selecting a Christmas tree. When we brought the perfect pumpkin home, my dad carved triangles for the eyes and nose, plus a crooked grin with square teeth. He then salted and roasted the seeds (one of his few annual culinary duties besides hamburgers on the grill and hard-shelled crabs). While the seeds were roasting, my mom placed a lit votive candle inside our Jack O’Lantern.
We resembled a little religious procession as we walked behind her through the house and outside, where we reverently placed the illuminated pumpkin on the front steps. We checked on Jack O constantly, fearful that one of the boys from another street (not ours, we trusted the Lees Avenue gang) would steal it and dash it to squishy, orange bits in the street. We were especially fearful on Mischief Night, the night before Halloween.
Mischief Night was a big holiday in South Jersey. As families stayed safe indoors, kids bent on mischief roamed the outdoors. The early evening brought out the younger children, who rang the doorbells, then hid in the bushes. If rain kept us indoors, we would call a relative or family friend, identify ourselves as the Electric Company, and ask them to open their refrigerator door.
“Is the light in your refrigerator on? You must go check it,” we asked, barely suppressing our giggles.
If they replied in the affirmative, we yelled,
“Then shut the door!”
We slammed down the phone and dissolved into cackles of laughter totally disproportionate to the joke.
As the dreaded midnight hour approached, teenage boys lurked in the shadows. Car windows mysteriously filled with soapy squiggles and slogans. Streams of toilet paper sprouted from the tree branches. But by 1963, Mischief Night seemed to turn nasty. The DeLucas’s house was egged and took forever for Mr. D to clean. We heard the sound of peas and beans hitting the houses and wondered if BB guns were next.
So, the next year, nine years old and growing in bossiness, I decided to guard the house. I filled a bucket with cold water and hid behind a bush bordering the sidewalk. After a long, freezing night of waiting (about a half hour later), I heard voices and pinging sounds. Aha, the boys had pea shooters this year, not as awful as eggs but still dangerous! I waited until the voices were right in front of me and the beans were flying over my head. I jumped up and heaved the water in one beautifully fluid motion into the faces of three teenaged boys from Merrick Avenue.
I froze. Those boys were almost a decade older than me. They had lethal pea shooters. I had an empty bucket. I expected death. Instead, the face of the leader crumpled. I thought he was going to cry.
“No fair!” he yelled at me. “That’s just not fair!”
And they ran away.
That’s what Deb Said.