As a kid growing up in Shelton, Halloween always seemed extra exciting. Not only were the town colors the official colors of the holiday, but the city was also home to the world famous ghost hunters, Ed and Lorraine Warren. And, of course, the Melonheads!
But the thrills and chills were not the main draw for me.
What I really wanted was the candy. And Shelton — with its tightly clustered neighborhoods and friendly citizens — was the perfect place to collect it. So long as you had a costume.
Now dressing up has never been my thing. Whether it’s a wedding suit, work uniform or scary costume, I’ve always preferred to just be myself. But Halloween sort of requires it, so while my friends spent much of the month designing elaborate disguises, I was content to make do with whatever was in the beat up old box my dad hauled out of the attic every year.
Usually I settled on being a “Hobo,” a costume requiring nothing more than some raggedy clothes and a dirty face – pretty much my year-round appearance anyway. But since it was Halloween my mom would add a special touch by smearing my skin with some charcoal tablets from an ancient tin she kept in the medicine cabinet. Years later, I was shocked to learn that these tablets were not created for their decorative purposes, but were actually made to be eaten (to alleviate what the label discreetly described as “stomach maladies” — A.K.A. excessive gas — something that would have added a bit more realism to my hobo costume!)
But I wasn’t interested in authenticity. All I cared about was the candy. And I knew that the more creative my costume was, the longer I’d have to stay in each neighbor’s house while I explained how I made it, posed for some pictures, and waited impatiently for disinterested husbands to be dragged from their hiding places to come see what a cute little alien, monster, etc. I was, which would cut into my trick or treating time.
So hobo it was. The way I figured, if I was going to be begging for candy anyway, why not look the part? Unfortunately my friends had other ideas. Ones that usually involved a group theme, which is how we’d wind up touring the neighborhood as a weird version of “The Wizard of Oz” (Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man — and a Hobo!) Or some twisted take on “Happy Days” (Richie, Potsie, Joanie, the Fonz — and a Hobo.) This confused the neighbors, and wasted time as they tried to figure out how I fit in with the group. “And who are you supposed to be?” they’d ask, eyeing me as they dropped some candy into my pillowcase. “Toto?” “Chachi?”
But such embarrassment was a small price to pay for free candy. And since back in those days, everyone handed it out, I would arrive home with a serious sack full of treats. Literally pounds of the stuff. Enough to last me through Thanksgiving, when the After Eight dinner mints came out.
Nowadays, kids come back (if they go out at all) with their pathetic plastic pumpkins “filled” with maybe a dozen “fun-size” candy bars and most of the good stuff already eaten by their flashlight wielding fathers (something else we never had to deal with as kids).
But I know what my neighbors will be saying when my son and his little group of trick-or-treaters show up: “Oh, who do we have here? A Princess, Harry Potter, Spider Man, and…” eyeing me at the bottom of the steps, “a Hobo!”
So whether you’re home handing out candy, taking the kids trick or treating, or heading out to a costume party, I hope you have a safe and Happy Halloween.
And if you happen to overindulge, my mom might still have some of those charcoal tablets for you!
This column is dedicated to the memory of Joseph Geffert Sr., a wonderful man, father, friend, and neighbor who made Halloween, and every day in between, something special for us kids.
Mike Wood is a life-long Shelton resident and author of the coming-of-age novel, Alchemy, available locally at Written Words, Linda’s Story Time in Monroe and nationally at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.