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Trick-or-Treat has changed since I was a kid

My childhood memories, most of them anyway, are as sweet and comforting as the very smells that I associate with them. Mine are vanilla and cinnamon. Mmmmm the very thought of those two smells makes me feel all warm and well, happy.

Carole Townsend

My favorite memories from kid-dom waft sweetly from holidays and I have to say that all things considered, Halloween and Christmas ran neck-and-neck for first place in my young mind and heart.

Now before I ruffle someone’s feathers by typing “Halloween” and “Christmas” in the same sentence, remember, I’m talking about a 6-year-old girl’s memories, not a grown woman’s beliefs about life and death.

I wonder how many of you remember going to Zayre , or Grants, or Treasure Island to pick out your Halloween costume. Oh, it was an annual pilgrimage at our house, and each of us kids had in mind what character we wanted to be for the Big Day. Rarely were our choices licensed characters seen on TV or in the movies. They were generic princesses, or cowboys, or scarved, dancing Arabian girls, or giant, 6-year-old-sized insects… the possibilities were endless. And each of them came with that awful plastic mask that made us both sweaty and prime targets, begging to be hit by cars. We’d choose our costume, and we’d choose the plastic pumpkin with which we’d collect our goodies on Halloween night, and then we’d painstakingly mark off each day on the calendar that stood between us and glorious October 31.

Now there were two sets of kids out collecting candy on Halloween night. No, make that three. There were the nerdy kids (that was us); there were the kids we called the “mean” kids, those who hijacked other kids’ candy, visited the same houses twice, and soaped windows. I always got the feeling that my sister and brother would have belonged to Group #2 if I hadn’t been tagging along, but I suppose that may be just the remembrances of a little girl long gone.  

The third group of children I mentioned were those who collected for U.N.I.C.E.F. every year. I was in awe of those kids; they were so selfless on Halloween that they thought of other kids more than themselves and on the Queen Mother of all kid nights! I was in awe of their selflessness, but I also felt kind of sorry for them. I used to tell myself that their parents still had big bowls of candy waiting for them when they returned home from a night of U.N.I.C.E.F.I.N.G. Maybe they did, who knows?

It all seemed so innocent back then. Oh, I don’t mean that children today are any less innocent. I simply mean that marketers and costume companies are a lot more savvy . I know this, because we have a two-year-old granddaughter. She wants to be Nemo this year. Nemo’s a little fish who’s appeared in not one, not two, but three blockbuster movies. Of course, that means that a cheaply-made Nemo costume will cost about $50 bucks (Trust me.  We bought it and when we put it on her, she looked like an adorable little blonde girl wearing an orange garbage bag).  Here’s where the fun starts – the accessories, all PURCHASED SEPARATELY. You can actually buy enough accessories to make an orange trash bag look like a cute little fish, for just under $100. Be careful though, that plastic rips easily.

I suppose that writing a little something about Halloween today is only appropriate since we covered Granny’s celebrations and then mom’s. First, I feel bad knowing that something as innocent and fun as trick-or-treating will have to be closely monitored by adults (remember when our parents would just let us go, with a warning to “be back by 9, you hear?”). Several communities have gotten together to offer trick-or-treating on nights other than October 31. And some families, too wary of all the possible dangers lurking in the dark,  have simply called it off.

Well, I bet I know one tradition that hasn’t changed, from my Grandma all the way to today:  the safety check. Name one kid who didn’t walk in the front door of his house after a respectable night of candy earning and swapping, just to hear those dreaded words from your parents: “Now dump out your bags. We need to check everything to be sure it hasn’t been poisoned or tampered with.”

And just like that, they had you. Using their eyes only, my parents could spot a tampered piece of candy from across the room, culling it out of the rest of the mound (but, not throwing it in the trash just yet). This would go on for what seemed an eternity and without fail, my parents would end up with a pretty big pile of primo chocolate candy, all of which had been “tampered with.”

I never once saw a box of DOTS or Sweet ‘n Sours in the tampered pile. Not once.

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published April 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are written with Southern humor. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on, Barnes &, and at When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family and living in her beloved South.