Forty-plus years ago, my mom fashioned my hair in two head buns (Princess Leia-style, only higher) to resemble monkey ears. I was dressed in leotards, tights and ballet slippers. Mom made up my monkey face and pinned a homemade tail onto my back side. I was ready for Halloween.
I joined a large group of neighborhood kids and we hit the streets. It was the mid-1970s. A couple of parents trailed behind to keep an eye on the smaller children. We made our rounds, accepted homemade popcorn balls and other treats, along with candy. And we ate those homemade treats. Cookies from the neighbor up the street were safe enough for mouths that sampled mud pies in outdoor play kitchens.
Urban legends about mean people tampering with Halloween candy had been around since the late 1960s. But, those were stories. Things got real in the early 1980s — after my trick-or-treating days had passed. Halloween of 1982 was the year it all changed. "That year saw a number of tragic and random non-Halloween poisonings of both foodstuffs and medicines, including the Tylenol poisonings that killed seven people," according to Snopes.com, the hoax check website.
Parents became more guarded in the ways children were allowed to celebrate Halloween. The house on the corner and its inhabitants were greeted with a more skeptical eye. They weren't neighbors anymore. They were potential witches with poisonous apples and pin needle-laden candies.
Parents limited where children could treat-or-treat. Large groups started visiting only certain neighborhoods. Overrun by candy-seeking superheroes, porch lights went dim in those areas. To keep everyone safe, churches, schools and community organizations began hosting fall festival or Halloween events.
As events became more festive and the pumpkins more creative, a niche industry was born. Adult costume options were added to the increasingly lavish choices available for children. Families arrive at Halloween carnivals in movie-themed costumes.
The National Retail Federation reports that more than 179 million Americans plan to partake in Halloween festivities this year, up from 171 million last year. Spending is projected to reach a record high in survey history. "This year, consumers are expected to spend $9.1 billion, up from $8.4 billion in 2016," NRF said.
What? Your eyes aren't fooling you. Stores sell $100-plus blow-up lawn ornaments and other decorations because people buy them. Candy budgets make for big business. So do all of the costumes and accessories. When a party store chain exists on money made by nothing but seasonal-themed items, you know those profits are sweet as a bag of miniature chocolates.
While I love seeing the photos of friends and their children dressed up for Halloween on social media, I do miss the days when they showed up on the doorstep and in person. I suppose I could borrow a kid and go to an organized community event on Tuesday, but I will settle in with a bowl of popcorn and watch Halloween movies — and reminiscence about a monkey who loved homemade popcorn balls.
And Wednesday, I will stop by the store for some deeply discounted Halloween candy and scowl at the nearby Christmas decor.
Shea Wilson is the former managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SheaWilson7.