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If my daughter, Betty Jo, goes trick-or-treating on Saturday, her first stop will be the homes along Buford Circle, where homeowners like Robert Sistare and Diane Gaskin will greet them with sweet treats of every size and flavor.
To be honest, I like going, too.
Diane, whose maiden name was Bryant, and I grew up as Thompson Avenue neighbors on Erwin Farm.
Now in the 1960s and ’70s, Halloween was a big deal in the tightknit community.
The streets were spotless. We made sure of that by spending the previous months collecting every returnable soda bottle that could be found. That meant checking storage buildings, back porches and ditches.
Once we had an old assortment, the bottles were stacked into brown bags and hand delivered to Ribelin’s store on Grace Avenue. And holding a sack full of soda bottles in one hand while holding onto the bicycle handlebars with the other could be a pretty tricky proposition.
The only thing harder was riding a bike while holding a yellow Prestone Antifreeze jug filled with lawn mower gas in your left hand and a loaf of Sunbeam bread in your right hand while holding onto the high-riser gorilla handlebars at the same time. Now, that's a real balancing act.
This ride home wouldn’t be quite that difficult, but I would have a tight grip on what I had redeemed the bottles for.
The bag was holding treasure. No, it wasn’t sack full of Jack’s Cookies from the big glass jars on the counter.
It was filled with a dollar pack of Black Cat firecrackers, 144 bottle rockets and a Swisher Sweet cigar to light them with. The most important thing about Halloween wasn’t the trick-or-treating; it was the firecrackers. I had my mind set on the pack that was a long as a caballero’s shoulder gun belt.
This was a typical Erwin Farm trade, witnessed by Mrs. Ribelin’s right-hand man, “Pop” Robertson, who lived just across the street from us. You could see the dread on his face. This was going to be a rather noisy Halloween on Thompson Avenue.
After a little dickering, Mrs. Ribelin put my fireworks, including “the gunbelt,” in a brown bag. I hit the door in a hurry.
The afternoon sun was sinking and there was little time to waste.
I took the well-worn shortcut through the Carnes’ and Craig’s yards instead of going the long way down Hampton Avenue and Patton Street. I didn’t have very much patience.
I jumped off my bicycle by the picnic table and let it topple onto the ground, rather than lowering the kickstand.
I knelt on the bench, pulled the fireworks from the bag and spread them out.
I had work to do.
Carefully and meticulously, I unwrapped my Black Cats and bottle rockets and put back in the bag.
For my brother and I, and our cousins, the three Workman boys, David, Phil and Danny, Halloween was the second biggest fireworks night of the year behind Christmas Eve.
The five of us, plus Gay and Lucy Bryant, were a Magnificent Seven who were about to set out on our annual Halloween trick-or-treating/firecracker-popping pilgrimage.
Just after dark, the dull hum of the street lights filled the air as every block of Erwin Farm came to life. We met at the mailbox by the end of Bryant’s driveway and set out. The girls each had one bag to collect candy, however, we fellas had two.
One was full of firecrackers and one was empty. Before the night was up, the opposite would be true and my hands would be coated with a thin layer of silver gunpowder as proof.
By the time we got to stepping, every porch light in the five street, 10-block community was burning. We knocked at every door, opened our bags and yelled the magic words “trick-or-treat” almost in unison.
My favorite stop was Buster and Tommie Carnes’ home with its talking pumpkin. Buster had rigged up a small public address system and concealed it on their porch. Whenever you knocked at the door, you were greeted by a booming “who is at my door?” from the pumpkin placed on top of a barrel. We knew the voice belonged to Buster and he was hiding behind the window curtains within an earshot, but we went along with it, anyway.
For me, Buster’s talking pumpkin was as big of a Halloween tradition as tossing my bottle rockets into the night sky.
While we looked forward to Halloween, it had to be a dreadful time for our grammar school teachers.
We collected so many Baby Ruths, Zeros, BB Bats, Pixie Sticks, Mary Janes and packs of Juicy Fruit and Clove chewing gum that Rita Rollings, Jane Brigman, Julia Beckham and Erwin Farm Grammar School Principal Leona “T.K.” Cunningham could count on candy paper strewn in and around our desks for the next five days.
We hung onto those candies as long as we possibly could.
But one Halloween treat didn’t make it any farther than the Grace Avenue sidewalk.
It came from a lady I had never met in person until that night. Sadly, I never got her name.
I often passed her neat, white asbestos-sided house after school when walking to my grandparents home, but I had never seen anyone there.
We knocked at the door and were greeted by a grandmotherly smile before saying the magic words.
“You know, I almost forgot it was Halloween. I have something special for you if you’ll just be a little patient,” she said, while counting noses.
I wasn’t in the mood for patience. My stogie was low, but there was still plenty of firecrackers left in my bag.
“Let’s see... one, two, three, four, five, six seven. Is seven right?” she asked.
Someone answered with a quick, “yes ma’am.”
“I’ll be back in a jiffy,” she said, as she drew her side door shut. In a few minutes, she returned with seven triangular-shaped bundles wrapped in aluminum foil.
“One for you,” she said to each of us, while handing out the ultimate Halloween goody.
When she got to me, I could feel the heat coming from inside of what I was holding. It was a piece of warm pound cake that had just come from the oven.
We told her thanks before leaving, and then stopped on the sidewalk in front of her home, unwrapped the cake slices and made them disappear.
You know, that was the only time all night I turned loose of my firecracker bag.
It just goes to show that on Halloween, some things are more important than fireworks.
Spooky Graveyard Pie
3 cups (about 32) finely ground chocolate sandwich cookies, divided
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 can (12 ounces) Nestle Carnation Evaporated Milk
1 3/4 cups (11.5-ounce package) Nestle Toll House Milk Chocolate Morsels
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
8 chocolate filled vanilla wafer cookies
Black and purple decorator writing gels
Assorted Nestle Halloween candies
– Combine 1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs and butter in 9-inch pie plate. Press crumb mixture onto bottom and up sides of pie plate. Set aside remaining 1 1/2 cups crumbs for dirt topping.
– Whisk together evaporated milk, egg yolks and cornstarch in medium saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is very hot and thickens slightly; do not boil. Remove from heat; stir in morsels until completely melted and mixture is smooth.
– Pour heated mixture into crust. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs. Press crumbs down gently. Refrigerate for three hours.
– Decorate cookie tombstones with writing gels as desired; let set. Insert tombstones around edge of pie. With spoon, mound cookie crumbs to form fresh graves.
– Recipe from Nestle Foods
Squirmy Wormy Sandwiches
1 package (16 ounces) hot dogs
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
Dash Liquid Smoke (optional)
6 hamburger buns, split
– Cut each hot dog into eight strips. In a large skillet, saute hot
dogs in oil until golden brown.
– Stir in ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and
Liquid Smoke if desired; heat through. Serve on buns.
– Recipe from Taste of Home
1 tube of refrigerated breadstick dough
– Unroll a tube of refrigerated breadstick dough and separate the rectangular pieces.
– Working with one piece at a time, stretch the dough to lengthen it a bit and then use kitchen scissors or a knife to cut a 1.5-inch slit in the center of each end.
– Roll or shape the resulting four flaps of dough into knobs that look like the ends of a bone.
– Place the dough bones on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them a few inches apart, and sprinkle on a little coarse salt. Bake the bones until they are light golden brown, about 12 minutes.
– Recipe from Family Fun magazine