Come late October, fall reigned in Tennessee. The changing leaves, overhead and under foot, always thrilled me on the walk down the lane to catch the bus as a child. The cooler weather with its sighing breezes invigorated me, and though it stripped away, patch by patch, its exotic, multi-hued cloak that hid our little home from the world, late October brought with it Halloween. In all its trick-or-treating glory, it presented us with a new multi-colored splendor to relish: candy.
There was very little decorating in our house. The only thing I can remember is a scarecrow with accordion legs dangling from our living room closet door. How I loved to see that scarecrow! He cemented my admiration for all such persons fashioned from straw, sticks and old clothes. But no ghost, witch or ghoul friends bore him company in the vigil for Halloween.
It didn’t matter that decorations were sparse; no trick-or-treating would take place at our home or those of our neighbors. Trick-or-treating would have entailed walking the half mile or so between houses - uphill both ways, of course - and likely as not, if we had attempted it, we would have been greeted by bemused stares and given a crumbly corn muffin, hint of mashed potatoes on the corner, left over from our neighbors’ dinner.
So we ransacked our house on Halloween night to find the things that added up to a presentable costume (like a scavenger hunt, you couldn’t be sure what it all might signify at the end), and anyone who needed make-up of some sort presented themselves to Mom. Then we drove 30 minutes into the town of Dickson, and Dad navigated the car into one of the fancier neighborhoods where we were certain to amass a splendid cache of sweet booty. Out of the car we four kids spilled onto the sidewalk. Costumes straightened, treat bags ready, Dad would point out the first street to attack and away we’d sprint.
Looking back, Halloween was like a date night for my parents. I envy what they were able to glean from it. They strolled down the tree-lined sidewalk, holding hands. They had their conversation, and Mom’s laughter would drift through the air to us kids as we stood before a door with treat bags spread wide. They seemed so relaxed, so thoroughly in the spirit of things, and thankfully oblivious to the school day usually waiting on the morrow.
Occasionally, they did call out to us to keep us in line, prevent us from tripping over garden gnomes or yard lights or from decimating flower beds in the eager rush from door to door, and to keep us from grabbing more than our fair share from unattended candy bowls with signs that courteously commanded, “Please Take One”.
We cut through a lot of yards on Halloween night, flashing through the easygoing grass. The only lawns to which we gave a wide berth were those inhabited by vampires and smoke, webbing and bubbling witches’ brew. Inevitably, Nate and Annie egged each other on to those houses, returning with abundant candy for their bravery.
When our bags strained our wrists, we beat it back to the car where Dad popped the trunk for us to spill our treasure into waiting receptacles. Then with empty, expectant bags we felt re-energized and doggedly pursued fresh streets with untried houses.
So it continued until we stumbled to the car at an hour when most respectable revelers conceded to give up the treat hunt, leaving the teenagers to toilet paper houses and smash Jack-o-lanterns until some ungodly hour of their own choosing.
The car ride back to the boonies let us weigh the fruit of our efforts by the amount of pressure our bags put on our tired legs, and it also served as a necessary opportunity for our stomachs to settle with all the candy we had sampled between doors. Heaven knows, as soon as we dumped out the glorious piles of booty on the living room floor, we would eat a hearty second round of gut-busting sugar with unabashed glee.
And that’s when my sister Vinca and Dad unleashed their strategies. Vinca waved all kinds of miraculous bite-sized chocolate bars and little bags of candy corn in the air to beguile us into relinquishing our stores of bubble gum. We were weak and took what she proffered, trading over fat rounds of Dubble Bubble. Unfortunately for us, our candy always disappeared much quicker than her gum stores. She would make them last for months afterwards, and we were left to ask covetously now and then, “Is that from Halloween?” Vinca would nod, chew, and blow boastful bubbles without even looking up from her book.
Dad, of course, sat in his chair and called for his “daddy tax” (most have heard of this tax, because dads are upfront in their claims on candy, while moms, cackling like wicked chocolate-seeking witches with lusty thighs, simply raid the bags when their sweet, silly children are asleep). My dad demanded his share of Sugar Daddy suckers, and, as most would agree, they had his name on them, so it was only fair. Besides, we couldn’t begrudge him the suckers, because the only other thing he really took was something we didn’t want at all: Elephant Snot.
“Ewww,” we’d say when we’d find them, “Gross!”, or “Uggh, not these again!”
And then Dad would grin and wave us over, “Bring them here,” he’d say. “Bring me the Elephant Snot, kids.”
So we’d pick the plain orange or black wrappers out from our decent candy between thumb and forefinger, taking handfuls over to dump on Dad’s lap. He’d unwrap them and stuff the wrappers in the corner of his recliner as he chewed comfortably on their peanut butter filling, saying for our benefit, “Umm, Elephant Snot – good stuff!”
I never knew the proper name of the candy. Dad’s pet name for it seemed so much more appropriate, especially given its color. They were bite-sized chews with peanut butter inside and I don’t know what kind of horrendous coating on the outside, almost like peanut taffy. I haven’t seen any in years. Perhaps people wisely stopped patronizing their manufacturer, perhaps they were banned for their atrocious flavor by the FDA, or maybe my dad orders buckets upon buckets of them for himself each Halloween, and so there’s none left for the stores. But if I ever see any Elephant Snot come through my kids’ treat bags, I know just where to send them, along with the memories that spring from their gaudy little wrappers:
For you, Dad
Some elephant snot