Long before the sun ever thought of setting on Halloween, we were all lined up in our home made costumes, clutching our paper bags - the very most important part of a successful costume.
When mom passed them out, they were smooth and stiff and it took a bit of talent to roll the top down into a comfortable handle. But as we watched the clock roll around to twilight, we practiced numerous times on proper bag management.
It was the only thing that had to survive the night.
Forget the bed pillow as a belly, Dad's house slippers on small feet, or jewelry, wigs and gloves. They were all dispensable. But the paper sack? Well, it was the symbol of success, happiness, and love.
There are Halloween nights from my childhood that I can only remember through two small slits of a cheap mask. I remember high heels flopping on broken sidewalks, itchy wool sweaters, dripping makeup and insufficient flashlights. I can remember freshly mowed grass sticking to my shoes and dew soaking through my socks. I can still see jack-o-lanterns beneath porch lights, sheet ghosts in the bushes and crowds of neighbor kids like gangs, forcing a candy handout with the quick whisk of a open paper sack.
It was worth every stumble, every leap across ditches and obstructive landscape...every long ,weary mile of the candy crusade. Because once we were under the protective halo of our own porch light again, we knew we had made it. We were home. Our sacks had survived. We had persevered. We were as close to heaven as children dared to be.
After ripping off the costumes, washing our lip-sticked faces and mosquito bitten hands, we changed into some warm clothes and sat Indian-style on the floor. In the perfect hollow of our crossed legs, we each poured out the contents of our bag, being extra careful not to cross the boundaries of one another. One stray Bit-o-Honey or a chunk of Double Bubble was totally up for grabs, no matter who had spent two chilly hours walking door to door for it.
By this time our paper sacks were thin and wrinkled, with a soft, pliable handle like the smoothness of old leather. Ripped, torn, and previously bulging, we used it again and again in the next few weeks to harbor our candy stash.
I always ate the chocolate first. (Things never really change, do they?). Then I chose the butterscotch, starlight mints and English toffee. I traded away my Tootsie Rolls, licorice, and Mr. Rainey's traditional red-delicious apple.
Within a week, my paper sack rolled up nicely to the size of small town newspaper, hidden away in the back of my drawer with only a few sticky bits of gum and jelly beans clinging to the inside.
It's almost sad to think how important Halloween night used to be. But in our large family, candy was a luxury - known only at Christmas. Halloween was our jackpot. Our lottery of lollipops. Our only chance to savor, hoard, and possess the sweetness of rich peoples treats.
Eventually the paper sacks were empty. Our efforts to extend the life of Halloween night soon faded into thoughts of Santa.
But I have never forgotten how a simple paper sack gave us such immense joy. How one scary night was was one we remembered for years to come,
every time we relished a piece of candy or a stick of gum.
Thank you, mom. For letting us out into the dark with our paper sacks to bring back priceless memories.