Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays. Anything to do with dressing up, showing off, and getting free candy was all right by me. As the time drew near, brother Bill and I would check the costume stash, a collection of odd clothing items collected over the years, and try and figure out what we could “be. ” Each year, we’d hopefully inspect the wardrobe selection — a long flannel granny skirt, a battered cowboy hat, a frizzy, gray Afro wig abandoned by one of our big sister’s college roommates. The selection was always pretty much the same, so we’d usually end up portraying some variation of hobos or gypsies. Sometimes we’d go as ghostly hobos and zombie gypsies. Sometimes we’d disguise ourselves as clown hobos and happy gypsies. But if your doorbell rang, and a bedraggled hobo and gypsy pair stood before you, holding out their candy bags, more than likely it was Bill and me.
We’d shout in snaggle-toothed fervor “Trick or treat,” longing to finish the rhyme that our friends taught us at school. “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.” But our mama watched from the open window of the car, making sure we said “please and thank you.” If we had yelled out the rest of that rude poem, she would have descended on us like an avenging angel, switching us all the way home. Besides, deep down, we knew better. You just weren’t supposed to act that way.
Since we lived in the country, where houses were a civilized quarter mile apart, trick or treating was never a pedestrian sport. We had to pile into our junebug green stationwagon and wriggle impatiently as Mama drove around our neighborhood, from farm to farm. Now, I have to tell you. Farm folks are good folks. They help each other when there’s trouble. Comfort each other when there’s grief. But their Halloween treats always left something to be desired. They weren’t big spenders when it came to such frivolities, so we got lots and lots of popcorn balls. Corn was good enough for the chickens, so it was certainly good enough for some goofy kids in hobo disguises.
The next day at school we’d shrewdly trade our Halloween hauls. Bill and I were horse-traders early on, but you can only do as well as your raw materials. Our friends, the ones who lived in subdivided paradise, always brought in their hauls of Hershey’s mini-bars, assorted tootsie rolls and plastic vampire fangs. We’d pull out our popcorn balls with as much flourish and fanfare as we could muster, but there just wasn’t much trade value in that homey treat.
Now that I’m grown, I still enjoy this time of year. The weather has finally cooled off enough to make the nights chilly. The leaves are turning, falling, making a crunchy carpet across our county. And I still look forward to Halloween, although living in the country makes for a slow night of trick or treating. Every year we invest in the good stuff. Hershey’s mini-bars, plastic vampire fangs, assorted Tootsie Rolls, but the doorbell only rings a couple of times, leaving the candy stash almost untouched. Johnny and I end up eating it all in a post-holiday binge.
But treats aren’t the only part of this season. It seems like this year there is more trickery going on than usual. You can see it on Facebook, where people post incendiary quotes that malign both political parties. People don’t check their facts, they just read and re-post, spreading untruths across the American political landscape.
Television and radio ads aren’t much better. The political “handlers” are crafting messages that they think will get us to the polls. Are they malignant? Yes. Are they mean-spirited? Yes, they are. Are they true? Some, not entirely. It makes me not want to vote for anybody. All that money spent on plain old meanness.
It’s not just on a national level. I see it in local politics too. As our county grows, as folks move in from different places, things are changing. Some for the better. Art and culture are growing leaps and bounds. We even have a symphony orchestra of our own now. But some unsavory aspects of the outside world are creeping in. More and more I’m seeing a spitefulness and lack of civility that makes me ashamed of the people who use I see using it without discretion.
Honor and nobility, merit on the strengths of one’s own works aren’t enough anymore. Instead of standing on their own achievement, their own records, many politicians feel the need to tear down other people to make themselves look bigger. And that’s a trick I think we can all do without.
Gentry, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian.