I wonder if my mother will make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight.
Growing up, there was a pretty strict rule in our house: eat all your dinner, or you do absolutely nothing fun for the rest of the night.
Nevermind that this might have encouraged chronic overeating because there was more food on the plate than our appetites cared to consume; it’s an age-old rant for every parent who works to buy the food they cook for their children’s nourishment, and they aren’t about to waste it because your eight-year-old self decided overnight that you don’t like egg noodles anymore.
(For the record, I don’t like egg noodles anymore, and I don’t know when that happened, but it was probably when I was freed from living at home and eating them on the nights we didn’t have some form of potato. I may have eaten them twice in the 16 years since I moved out of my parents’ house. Both times, I was at my parents’ house.)
Sorry, back to the point: eat everything, or there shall be no fun. Never was this rule – and the dinner that lent itself to it – more important than on Halloween night.
A debatable dinner could contain any one of the following foods:
- Cube steak
- Any vegetable other than green beans, canned zucchini in tomato sauce, or corn – mixed vegetables being the absolute worst choice possible (salad was acceptable)
- Certain preparations of pork chops
- Most kinds of soup (exceptions: Campbell’s tomato, Lipton chicken noodle)
- Anything overcooked to the point of dryness or mushiness
- Anything rendered cold by hesitation to eat (reheating was forbidden)
- Numerous other variables depending upon children’s moods
Production of any of the above unfailingly resulted in:
- Children not eating everything
- Angry father glaring/yelling at children
- Mother giving father dirty look for saying there would be no trick-or-treating, making children cry, ruining Halloween
- Argument between mother and father over dirty look for ruining of Halloween
- My mother learned after a few years that, if she wanted a peaceful evening that did
- include trying to scrub facepaint mixed with tears out of shirts, she had to make a dinner everyone would eat without objection. From that year on, it was spaghetti and meatballs with salad every October 31st.
- Halloween dinner was earlier than most other nights of the year; we were at the table by 5:30, latest. There was none of this trick-or-treating at 4pm. No, it was long dark and at least 7pm before we headed out. We had to be back by 9. Dad was always the one who took us out; that’s why he had no problem with cancelling the whole event for vegetable-related offenses. We ate at a table covered in a fun, cartoonish tablecloth: a black background with orange and green and purple and white and yellow ghosts, goblins, pumpkins, witches and spider webs. Once the dishes were done (and some years Mom did them to cut down on the drama), we high-tailed it upstairs to get in our gear.
- Some of the costumes I remember donning:
- Tweety Bird (age 5 – this was the year Sister 1 was Strawberry Shortcake and spooked at the first house we went to when she saw Frankenstein, which sent her screaming back to our house, never to come out again)
- Slot machine (age 9)
- Cleaning lady (age 10)
- Hobo (age 11)
- Mime (age 12)
- Punk rocker (age 13 – my last year begging for candy)
- Charlie Chaplin (age 16, for a party)
My mother would want me to tell you that when I was nine, I was actually a one-armed bandit. She would want me to tell you this because she created the costumes that year, the same one for all three of us, and it meant covering boxes with aluminum foil, cutting out a slot and using a toilet paper roll with pictures of fruit glued onto it as a jackpot roll, and — this is the key part — cutting a hole in the side of the box so we could stick one arm out to function as the lever. The other arm stayed in the box so that, if anyone pulled the lever, we could use that hand to spin the toilet paper roll. AND… (major, major detail for Mom) we wore bandit masks.
Get it? One-armed bandits.
Twenty-five years. She’s still talking about it.
My favorite part of that year was when a five-year-old Sister 2 tripped and fell flat on her front, and got stuck there because she only had one available arm and it was too short to reach around the box to the ground, and her knees were inside the box so she had no leverage. She just flailed while my father and Sister 1 and I laaaaughed and laaaaughed and laaaughed. Then she cried and my father said, “Oh, knock it off,” and picked her up.
We would come home and dump out all our candy onto the table, where Dad would sit down and start going through it all to check for needles. True story. As he did it, he separated everything into two categories: Chocolate and Not Chocolate. The Chocolate stuff went into freezer bags and then into the freezer (after Mom stole a couple Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Dad stole a bite-sized Snickers or Baby Ruth). The Not Chocolate stuff went into a big bowl. We sisters were allowed two pieces of candy that night. We generally had enough loot to last us til Easter.
Some years, Mom had to run to the store for more candy because it was a particularly busy night. Some years she just turned off the porch light when she ran out. The light was always turned off by 9, and the door was not answered after that, because nothing good could possibly happen after 9pm (this was also the absolute latest time any decent person could call the house unless someone had died). Anybody who knocked or rang (or called) after 9pm was deemed a hooligan, poorly raised.
When I had my own place, at 22, I was working the graveyard shift on Halloween. (Haha… I’m so clever.) I was asleep from 3 to 9pm and therefore put a big bowl of candy outside with a note that said, “Please take two – don’t knock!” When I left for work at 10:30pm or so, the candy had been untouched. It was the first of what, so far, have been 12 years sans trick-or-treaters. It’s kind of sad. Because of work, I’ve never gotten to go see my nephews on Halloween. I miss seeing flocks of kiddies in their ghoulish or cutesie garb, overtaking the streets of suburbia with little pumpkin pails or pillow cases in hand. Some years, I’ve found myself driving home from work wondering why there’s some guy dressed as an angel walking alone down an empty street, because I’ve forgotten it’s Halloween.
Angels walking alone down empty streets are creepy, by the way.
These days, I put candy out in a bowl in the hall for my neighbors and their visitors. The cartoon tablecloth has been handed down to me, because I was always the one who liked it the most. I watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” without fail when it comes on ABC. And if I think about it, I kind of miss the old haunts of Halloween.
But I get to eat whatever I want for dinner.