a trip down memory lane

(Editor’s Note: This was originally published in November of 2010 – but still very much relevant.)

When did Halloween become a week-long event?  When I was a kid growing up in Southie, Halloween was for one day and one day only.  You were limited to some candy at school and then went out trick or treating at dusk.  The costume options were also extremely limited.  You either wore a homemade costume – if you were a boy, you were a hobo or a ghost, and if you were a girl, you were a gypsy or a  witch – or a store-bought costume.

The store-bought costumes consisted of a plastic smock and one of those masks with the elastic string on the back made to look like your favorite cartoon character or superhero. They were sold together in a package, and you could buy them at Store 24 or Flanagan’s Supermarket (now Stop and Shop).

We didn’t have Target or Party City with hundreds of options like a giant whoopee cushion or make-believe mass murderers like Jason or Freddy. I always wore a homemade costume.  The store-bought ones were for kids whose parents didn’t love them enough to give them an old sheet with eyes and mouth cut out or make them a stick and bindle and smear their face with Vaseline and old coffee grounds.  Add one of dad’s old sports coats and a scally cap – instant hobo.

My two boys wore WWE wrestler costumes, which my wife ordered online.  The John Cena costume was on backorder and we hit panic mode briefly when we thought UPS wasn’t going to deliver it in time for the 18 events my son had on his social calendar.  But luckily, in the nick of time, it arrived in our hallway for the Magical Halloween Castle at Castle Island.  Ironically enough, the Rey Mysterio costume my son Henry wanted to wear –  which was not on backorder –  did not arrive So out came the stick and bindle and the fake stubble, and Henry was a hobo.

So we went to the Magical Halloween Castle – an elaborate production put on by the good people of the CIA (Castle Island Association, not the other one).  As we entered Fort Independence, we were greeted by happy senior citizen volunteers who informed us there were two ways to walk through – one was for little children, and it was not scary, and a second which was “very scary.”  We chose the “very scary”. In the back of my mind, I was secretly hoping to have a Spooky World type experience where “Leatherface” from Texas Chainsaw Massacre would hop out at us from a darkened alcove.  No such luck.  The scariest thing we encountered was another senior volunteer wrapped up in toilet paper like a mummy sitting on a chair, really still like a statue.  As we walked past, he reached out toward us.  I suppose it would have been scary if I hadn’t already seen him reach out to the group of people in front of us. Regardless, the decorated sets in each of the rooms that wound through Fort Independence were festive and fun, and my family and I had a terrific time.  Thanks, CIA.

Rey Mysterio finally found his way to our doorstep on Wednesday, October 27 – thank God – I don’t think Henry would have bought into the Hobo thing again. So we had the costume just in time for Trick or Treating on Broadway.  We’d start on Broadway and hit all the businesses and residents up and down East and West Broadway.  But at the end of it, the kids had full bags, and they were satisfied to make just a few more stops on the walk back home.  Thanks, Chamber of Commerce!

So John Cena, Rey Mysterio, and my wife and I walked up the two blocks from our home to East Broadway.  We were greeted by a sea of over 1,000 kids and their parents in search of candy.  We pushed our way through Mario Brothers, Princesses, tiny bunnies, and teddy bears being pushed in carriages up East Broadway, stopping at Jack Conway for a photo and some Reese’s.  We went past the Pam and Leila at Habit.  There was major gridlock in front of South Boston Online – apparently, they thought it was a good idea to set up a banquet table on the sidewalk to distribute candy.

We headed out into the street and bypassed that fiasco to Karen and Don at Karen’s Boutique and Betty at Stapleton’s, and then we bumped into my sister-in-law heading towards us from I Street.  “I think you guys are going in the wrong direction,” she informed us.  When we asked her what the hell she was talking about she went on to explain that she thought you were supposed to head up East Broadway on the side where RiteAid and The Playwright are and then make the turn on West Broadway coming down the opposite side, sort of like a road race.   It was a genius idea that has not been implemented yet. (Hint- Hint – Chamber of Commerce) (Update 2023 – the flow of traffic is now a thing!)

So we continued trucking against the crowd up towards the Java House.  They had run out of candy.  Brian, the owner of the Java, had spent over two hundred dollars in candy and had run out a little more than a half-hour into the event.  That’s what you call a crowd. We heard one business owner purchased over $500 worth of candy.

We made the turn at Dorchester Street, not having the energy to tackle West Broadway, and headed back down East Broadway on the other side.  The whining then began. Legs were tired.  Treat bags too heavy.  My wife was in desperate need of red wine. After idle threats and one meltdown, spirits rose when we stopped at Federico’s.  Federico’s Bike Shop is never a disappointment – always giving out full-size bags of potato chips.  The Hub was out of candy. We stopped at Dorgan’s for a much-needed bottle of wine.  There were happy faces still giving out candy at the Cranberry Cafe.  We then ended our journey with Bobby, Jimmy, and Ann Marie of Remax Real Estate near the corner of L Street.  They still had candy left and the good stuff like Kit Kat’s and M&M’s.  And they still had warm Halloween wishes for the trick-or-treaters and looks of sympathy for tired and weary parents.

We walked home, put the costumes in the washing machine, poured some wine, and waited for the pizza to be delivered.  The next day, I had to go to work, and my wife had not one but two Halloween parties to go to with the kids. When I called my wife later that night to check in, she described her day as feeling as though she had run a marathon.  She physically ached and was emotionally exhausted. She told me how her night ended with two over-tired kids collapsed into a mess of tears and her threatening never to celebrate Halloween again.

Vintage image via pinterest