Halloween Haunts: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Lara Frater
Halloween Haunts: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
by Lara Frater
I would like to take you back to a magical time. Before streaming and when few had cable. We only had 7 channels and the extras PBS ones were snowy and British. Where computers meant the Commodore 64, and VCRs were high tech.
This was the late 70s/early 80s. Okay, not such a magical time. Actually, kind of a messed up time. If a Gen Xer or Boomer tells you the 80s were the good old days, they are liars.
I grew up in a suburb of Queens in New York City. At the time, New York averaged about 2000 murders a year (It’s now about 600 a year, which is very low for a major city. We’re not even in the top 20 of murders in major cities. Despite what you might hear on Fox “News”).
In my suburb of Queens, I felt untouched by NYC crime. Even though there were stories of corner houses getting robbed and one time someone left an abandoned car in front of our house. Also, kids were terrified to get unwrapped Trick or Treat candy or Apples. Apples had razors inside and unwrapped Trick or Treat Candy had poison added by a random psychopath who randomly liked to kill children. (I learned later razor blades were never in apples and the only case of poisoned candy turned out to be a murder cover up.)
Halloween to me was the most important day of my year. I loved it more than any other holiday. Years before being an avid horror fan. Before I cracked open a Stephen King novel or thought of zombies, ghosts, demonic pests, or pumpkin spice on everything. Halloween was costumes, free candy, it’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and my favorite TV shows having spooky episodes. In school and at home, I would (badly) draw pumpkins, witches, and ghosts decorations for my window. I consider this obsession with Halloween as my launching pad for my love of horror.
When I was a kid, I didn’t do scary costumes (except for a black cat which I didn’t find scary, I just loved cats). The first Halloween costume I remember was being a clown (Scary now, not then). The costume had a clown suit probably made of the same materials as plastic garbage bags. It came with a harder plastic mask kept on your face by a plastic string. When you wore it, you had no peripheral vision and could barely see forward. (How we didn’t get run over by cars I don’t know.) My older brother was Dracula. When my mom took pictures of kids in the neighborhood together. She wanted one with our masks on and another with them off. My brother refused to take his mask off for either.
Halloween was always a source of enjoyment for me. For my mother, probably not so much. My mom wanted to make costumes for us, but we wanted the store-bought. Homemade costumes meant you were poor or something, so better to wear the garbage bags. My mom got her wish when I saw Grease. I told my mother I wanted to be Cool Sandy. My mother dressed me in a poodle skirt, a sweater, and put my hair up like Square Sandy. The following year, I begged her to make me a Cool Sandy costume. My mother finally relented and dressed me in black leotards, curled my hair and gave me a pair of wood heeled clogs. She made me wear a jacket (not a leather one) because it was “cold”. No one that night guessed my costume.
I didn’t learn until I was older about the sexual nature of Grease. Sandy became cool because she was now willing to put out. But me being 9, I thought wearing all black and a leather jacket meant being cool. (And an FYI, cigarette smoking in movies did not make me want to smoke.)
Halloween night also meant a massive pile of candy at my feet that I had to sort. Unwrapped candy went into the trash, coins would go into my whale bank.
Pile one meant the best candy. Chocolate bars except for Mounds or Almond Joy (I feel like shredded coconut and chocolate did not mix well). If I got Hershey, Twix, BabyRuth, Milky Way, Three Musketeers, Rollos, and Snickers, it would be gone within a few days.
Pile two would be the non-chocolate candy I liked such as smarties, sweet tarts, Good n Plenty, Candy Rings, and Tootsie pops (It was more lollipop than tootsie roll.)
Pile three would be the leftovers. With all the good candy gone, I moved on to the ones I tolerated. This meant Dum-Dums, gum, jawbreakers and here were the Mounds, Almond Joys, and Whoppers.
Pile four came from actual monsters. Mary Janes, Necco Wafers, and Buttons. (It’s no shock these nasty candies were all made by Necco). Still, I had them because I had eaten all the good ones. There were also wax lips. WTF? This is not candy.
I also sometimes got Candy Cigarettes. Not the best candy, but you could make smoke with the powdered sugar. (This also did not encourage me to smoke).
After Trick or Treating, I lay in my bed having enjoyed the day but sad, knowing Halloween was over until next year. I would start switching my bad Halloween drawings for ones of hand turkeys. Stores and TV shows would start moving to Thanksgiving/Christmas. Scary TV would move to sentimental goofiness. (And while I love horror movies, my favorite movie is actually It’s a Wonderful Life which due to a copyright issue was shown about a thousand times every Xmas season from the years 1974-1994).
As I got older, Halloween changed. I moved away from Trick or Treating and moved on to shaving cream fights, going to the Halloween parade and parties. As a working adult, Halloween activities decreased. Writing, reading, and watching horror had replaced these activities.
I do my best to enjoy spooky season and like when I was a child, I felt it came and went too fast. I’d make plans in September for activities and then life happens and I can do maybe one on my list. Sometimes I make it to a haunted house and I always went in costume to New York Comic Con. I can’t eat candy the way I used to but I enjoy Reese Pumpkins. The costumes are now made of fabric. And there is an entire fandom for cosplay for now just Halloween.
While I’m sometimes nostalgic for (obviously flammable) garbage bag costumes, avoiding the random candy poisoner and having to wait for when the Halloween special aired, I’m okay with things changing. Everyone gets their own Halloween traditions, and I had mine.
Afternote: Growing up, my friend’s mom smoked and her house always stank, which was why despite Grease and Candy Cigarettes, I didn’t want to smoke. I tried smoking a little when I was a teenager, but I didn’t like it.
To read more about poisoned candy https://www.history.com/news/how-americans-became-convinced-their-halloween-candy-was-poisoned
Lara Frater is an author and librarian. She writes long and short horror, sci-fi and dystopia, non-fiction and essays about being fat, library science, and also poetry. Her short stories have appeared in Tales from the Canyon of the Damned, Soul Scream, and Necrotic Tissue. She’s the author of the paranormal suspense series Paranormal Pest Control, the zombie series: End of the Line and the nonfiction book Fat Chicks Rule. Her essay “Fat Heroines in Chick Lit” appeared in the Fat Studies Reader. She’s also had essays and poetry published. Find her at https://larafrater.com/