Halloween, both a strange and wonderful tradition, conjures up mostly fond memories for me. Strange because the night before—Cabbage Night to us in New Jersey. Mischief Night to others—we smashed pumpkins, toilet-papered trees, shave-creamed front doors and egged everything in sight. And yet wonderful because the next evening we returned to those same houses—in disguise—said, “Trick or treat,” and collected a sweet reward. Since we did no serious damage, we felt no guilt.
As soon as the sun hit the horizon, we hit the streets. Armed with flashlights and pillowcases—no paper shopping bags could handle the loot we hoped to haul in—my brothers and I raced in opposite directions, gathering up goodies. We continued non-stop until the last house on the last street went dark. If anyone handed out a favorite treat, we’d make a quick costume change and return for a second helping. If our costume was a hit, people invited us in to get a better look. But who had time for chit chat? We had work to do.
At the end of the night, we dumped our loot on the living room floor to see who got the most. Michael, the oldest, covered more ground and usually won. But for diabetes, there were no losers. After the victory celebration ended, the trading began. Twizzlers® and Hershey® bars with almonds were my favorites. A close second was Red Hots® or Peanut M&M’s®. PayDay®, Snickers®, BabyRuth®, Goobers®, Necco Wafers®, Smarties®, Sno-Caps®, and SweeTarts® were always good bargaining chips. The worst; raisins. Raisins on Halloween? What’s wrong with people? They ranked down there at the bottom, along with candy corn and pennies. Nasty Mr. Tiegent—who put up a fence, blocking a public sidewalk so no one ventured near his house—always gave five pennies instead of a treat on the one day of the year he allowed us to grace his domain. We did so more out of curiosity to see what evil looked like up-close. And we got our five cents worth every Halloween.
One year, a couple of lowlifes robbed Michael of his entire bounty, leaving him unharmed but devastated. We all pitched in candy to make up for his losses, though I can’t guarantee any of my favorites made it into the charity bucket.
Mom loved Halloween. And why not? It gave her another excuse to shop. But she also enjoyed greeting all the neighborhood ghosts, pirates, princesses, fairies, and superheroes. Instead of candy, she handed out sugar-free fare; potato chips, Cheetos®, Fritos®, and pretzels. And never the dreaded raisins.
My favorite costumes were Zorro and Frankenstein. But the cool on the outside, hot on the inside green rubber mask required too many breaks to mop the buckets of sweat blurring my sweets-seeking vision. So, Zorro became my go-to. But they came years after recovering from the psychological trauma inflicted on me by Mom. She dressed me up as “Madeline” two years running. That getup must have been on sale, and Mom had no intention of letting it go to waste. And like Cinderella and the glass slipper—lucky me—I was the only one that adorable outfit fit. And for those two Halloweens I did my best to disappear under that yellow hat, curly red wig, and scores of freckles. The giant yellow balloon almost made that costume worth it. Almost. But I always wondered if Mom really wanted a third girl instead of a third boy.
In High School, Halloween parties replaced trick-or-treating for most of us. Before heading out, I’d relieve Mom at the door of 247, sometimes in costume. I greeted one kid with, “My costume’s better than yours.” And as he watched in horror, I dipped into his plastic pumpkin for my own treat. His mother, a few steps away, couldn’t help but laugh. But before he totally lost it, I returned his candy, added a bag of chips, and sent him on his way. Late one night, a classmate, way too old for trick-or-treating, rang our bell dressed as Superman. My “Really?” sent his sad superhero-ass away, embarrassed, and empty-handed. Sorry, fake Superman, treats are for kids.
It had been many years since the Porros celebrated Halloween at 247 Emmett Place. Many of the new neighbors didn’t know Mom or how much fun she was. I thought it was time for an introduction. So, I went shopping. I know, I know, it’s in my blood. Get over it. I searched far and wide for costumes for both of us and settled on the ever-popular Kermit the Frog & Miss Piggy. But in 2012, Hurricane Sandy wiped out Halloween on the East Coast. So, I mothballed the Muppets until the following year.
On October 31, 2013, Kermit & Miss Piggy made their 247 Emmett Place debut and entertained the entire neighborhood for hours. The local kids loved it, and Mom had a ball. It turned out to be her last Halloween, but she went out with a bang and a Miss Piggy “Hi-yah” karate chop.