“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.” ~ Dr. Ben Carson, Neurosurgeon
It was the early 1970’s and my family and I grew up poor, but I didn’t realize how poor we were until the holidays approached us. We weren’t a family that had stacks of gifts lined up underneath the tree at Christmas time or a table full of delicious delicacies at Thanksgiving, with different entrees or desserts ready to be eaten, nor did we celebrate birthday parties with our friends, acknowledging another year older. But, like most kids, Halloween was one of our favorite holidays. It was our chance to get a treat, free candy, and all we had to do was knock on a few doors, say a few words, and candy would be tossed into our bags like riches. However, this particular Halloween would be different than the others and it will be a part of my past that will always be embedded into my memory forever.
My brothers, Steve and Jeff, and I didn’t have Halloween costumes that year, which meant no trick or treating for us. We knew there were no plans for us to go from block to block, building to building, door to door, shouting those three infamous words that would give us lots of candy, filling our bags to heaviness. I was about ten years old and my younger brothers and I were waiting for my mother and Melvin to come home, with Halloween candy, we hopped, so that we could at least pass it out to the kids who did have plans to haunt that night.
It was becoming darker and darker and mom and Melvin were still not home. I knew what it meant when it became dark outside on Halloween night; the trick-or-treaters would soon be knocking on our door. Unfortunately, we had no candy to hand out to them and I was starting to feel bad.
We lived in an apartment building on Sheffield Avenue, just off Montrose in Chicago. Our building had had three floors, with several apartments on each side of the building. I shared with Steve and Jeff that we had no candy to give to the trick or treaters, but if I dressed them up they could go gather enough treats within our own building so we would then have at least few treats to hand out until mom came home. I knew we would never be allowed to leave our building, traveling the neighborhood, so I told my brothers that they could only trick-or-treat, collecting candy, within our own building.
“One must be poor to know the luxury of giving.” ~ George Elliot
I decided to dress Steve up first, but as what… Not having any Halloween costumes of our own, we suddenly had to be creative as to what Steve could be. Looking around our apartment, I asked Steve to put some of Melvin’s clothes on which, obviously, were too big. Disheveling Steve’s hair from left to right, he started to look like something out of a cartoon. With mom and Melvin being smokers, I took ashes from the ashtray and spread them all over Steve’s cheeks, around his chin and under his nose, making him look as if he had a three-day beard. Taking a cigarette butt from the ashtray and placing it into his mouth, Steve’s costume was suddenly born! Steve was transformed into a bum! Not bad, I thought.
Steve hobbled to the front door, wearing Melvin’s oversized shoes, holding onto his pants with one hand and his pillow case for a candy bag with the other. I felt that we created a pretty good costume, convincible, as he went to ask for Candy, not for himself, but for the kids who would soon be knocking on our door.
Steve went to all three floors, from apartment to apartment, collecting as many Halloween goodies as he could. Once Steve returned home and looking into his pillowcase, I knew that he didn’t have enough candy that would last the evening. Looking at my brother, Jeff, it was becoming apparent that I would have to dress him up as well. Once again, looking around our apartment for ideas, we soon came up with a costume for Jeff to wear. Taking some of mom’s make up; a little lipstick to paint his nose red, some eye makeup, along with some of mom’s mixed matched clothes, Jeff was transformed into a silly looking clown.
It was now Jeff’s turn to enter the hallway of goodies. Going from door to door, I was hoping that he would collect enough candy for the evening. Moments later, Jeff returned, but still not having enough candy to hand out. Any moment, I knew kids would be knocking on our door yelling, “Trick or Treat!”
Steve excitingly volunteers to go one more time. Surely, he felt as if it was more like a game instead of a dire mission to collect Halloween candy for other children.
Taking another glance around, we came up with the idea of making him look like a hobo. To be completely honest, there wasn’t much of a difference between Steve’s first costume, which was a bum, to his second costume, which was now a hobo. They both looked the same, no matter how much we tried to change! However, being young kids, with very few resources, ideas were limited, and we were really hoping that nobody noticed.
Opening the front door, Steve is quick on his way as he ventures out for his second journey through the building in search of candy. It was almost as if he was on a race, trying to beat the clock before the buzzer went off. Steve hurried, knocking on all the doors once more, making his way up to the third floor and winding back down to the first.
Steve finally returns home, where he said that one of the tenants in the building commented that he looked awfully familiar, asking if he had already been there before trick or treating. Shaking his head no and saying thank you, Steve scurries back home to our apartment to share his bag of Halloween goodies.
With finally more than enough candy to hand out, we placed all the goodies that Steve and Jeff collected into a kitchen bowl. We all stood over the bowl, as we eyeballed each and every piece of candy. There were Mary Jane’s, Pixie Sticks and Root Beer Barrels. There were Smarties, too. Then, there was my favorite, the orange and black peanut butter kisses that everyone seemed to hate. Someone in the building even tossed in a large walnut! What are we going to do with that, I thought. We decided to keep that treat out of the bowl.
Our trance that we held over the Halloween candy was soon interrupted, as my brothers and I heard a knock at the door. It was our first trick or treater for the evening! With smiles on our faces, we grabbed the bowl of treats from the table and ran to the front door. As if on cue, the little boy in front of us yells, “Trick or Treat!” as we opened the door to greet our Halloween goblin. As Steve grabbed a piece of candy, tossing it into the treater’s bag, we couldn’t help but to be excited handing out the Halloween candy with delight!
I don’t believe my brothers and I showed any selfishness that particular Halloween afternoon. Not once, did we think of ourselves or why we couldn’t go out and participate in the holiday ritual that so many other children around us were. It was within the innocence of ourselves that we wanted to share with others. That day, it was all about how we could help and give to others; to a child who was soon to knock at our door, a child who we didn’t want to leave without a piece of candy. We may not have had the opportunity to walk from street to street trick or treating ourselves, but we still had fun creating costumes and collecting and giving candy to others. Perhaps, this is why Halloween today is my favorite holiday of the year and, anyone who knows me, would agree. It’s a chance where I can create and be expressive and hand out candy to all the goblins that knock on my door.
That Halloween day, we may have been poor in candy, poor in money, poor in life but, I believe overall, we were very rich in spirit.
Have a Happy and Bootiful Halloween!