In the mid 1970’s, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, me and my pals always looked forward to this time of the year. Sure, school was in and our warm, care-free summer days were gone but, the Packers were practicing and football was the talk of the town. But underneath all the sports talk and evening pick-up games of two on two or four on four, we would plan our trick or treating route through our neighborhoods.
Me being the local paperboy, I was continuously pumped for information as to which house tipped when they paid and which houses were behind on their payments for their daily dose of local news. I believe it was my long-time pal Fish, otherwise known as Al Minnow, who started the questioning and when asked why he wanted to know who was paid in full and tipped and who was behind, he simply answered “Well, if they are paid up to date and can tip then they have money to buy good candy, if they aren’t paid to date, then they will have the cheap candy. We’ll only go to the houses who’ve paid in full. And we’ll ignore the late payers.”
We all nodded in agreement. After all, it made a ton of sense to our almost teenage ears.
Two weeks before the fall looting and pillaging of the streets of Green Bay, we would sit around in our fort, or on the curb and discuss which costumes we’d wear. It was Finn, Jimmie Finnegan, who came up with the idea that we should all make sure our masks would be large enough to fit each one of us and that we should all wear at least two sweatshirts or t-shirts depending on the weather and make sure we each carried extra pillowcases in our pockets. You see kids, back in those days, no one ever spent money on a candy bucket in the shape of cheap plastic jack-o-lanterns. Nope we used either paper shopping bags or pillowcases.
Pillowcases were better, if you dropped it, it would not break and spill your candy all over the street or someone’s sidewalk. And, pillowcases carried more loot, in volume and weight than a paper bag.
On the great day of free candy we always met at my house. Well, that is to say, between my house and Finn’s house since he lived next door to me and Fish lived about a half mile away. You see, after school let out, Fish would ride his bike home as fast as he could and Finn and I, who usually walked to school together, pretty much ran to our houses.
Finn went to his house to change, and I bolted into my room to get ready. Since the day was warm, I put on two t-shirts, one had a cowboy on a horse and the other was just plain white but had dark blue trim on the neck and sleeves. I remember thinking I should wear one of my Packer t-shirts but I thought better of it. What if one of the candy givers made a comment about my love for the team and I was forced to talk? What if they were giving out good candy, like snickers or Hershey bars? And when we went back they remembered the shirt except this time I was wearing Fish or Finn’s mask? We’d be busted. Nope, go with something people would likely forget and move on.
I took my pillowcase off my pillow, it was a bit grungy, hadn’t been washed in a week, nut it was pale blue and didn’t really smell, I stuffed it in my pocket, went to the laundry closet and grabbed a fresh white one to start the night off. Then I headed out to Finn’s house.
He beat me to my own back door, he was wearing a tan t-shirt and I could see the sleeves of another t-shirt sticking out from under the tan sleeves, his plastic mask dangled around his neck as he came in our back door. “Skip, you ready?”
“Yeah, I was just heading over to get you. You got everything?”
“Yup, two cases, two t-shirts and a sweet tooth ready for some candy.”
“Cool, seen Fish?”
“Nope, but he’ll be here soon. Hey, aint you forgetting something?”
“Where’s your mask?”
I smiled, reached into my right front pocket and pulled it out. It was a Lone Ranger eye mask. I’d tried to talk my mom into buying me one from the store, but she insisted she could make one cheaper from all the cloth lying around the house. You see, out of the three of us, I believe my family was the one in the worst financial straits. Which meant a lot of my jeans had home-made patches on them, I had a lot of thrift store shirts and hand me down shoes. I never really thought much about it then. Now, it is an interesting look back at my childhood.
My mom, true to her word made the mask and it was black and it fit great. She even made it large enough for my pals to wear. I dangled the mask in front of Finn and he just looked at it as if it were a wash rag that needed to be thrown away.
“What the hell is that?”
“It’s a bandit mask, like the Lone Ranger. My mom made it for me.” I said a bit defensively.
“I thought we agreed on full face covering masks? What if someone recognizes you? What if we get busted going to the same houses again and again?”
“I thought about that, look, when I wear it, they might notice my hair or my mouth, when you wear it you have different hair. Same goes for Fish, we all look different. And, this way we don’t have to worry about big kids trying to snatch our bags. I can see better in this than those full face plastic masks.”
Finn turned his back to me, pulled his mask up and turned around with both thumbs in the air. “Ayyye! Ritchie, tell Al to bring me a cheeseburger!” he said in his best Fonzi voice. He was wearing the “Ben Cooper” Fonzi mask. I laughed.
“Nice! Your mom got you the “Ben Cooper” costume! Nice!”
You see, the “Ben Cooper” costumes were the best ones in our eyes. They always had a decent shirt or jumpsuit and the masks looked almost realistic. We all wanted them. It seems most of my friends always had them. However, in my case, I only had the opportunity to get one in my brief stint as a 1970’s kid. That was the “Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man”. I thought it was a great costume. My pals, not so much. But that is another story for another time.
Finn pulled the mask off his face “Let me see your mask.” He said with his hand out. I handed it over.
A minute later he was wearing it and dodging imaginary bullets from behind our kitchen table. “You’re right, I can see better with this than the Fonzi mask. Okay, but whoever is wearing it has to keep a look out for the teenagers.”
Which is when Fish showed up. “Finn, what the hell are you wearing?” was all he said from the landing to my back door.
“It’s a bandit masks. Skip’s mom made it. It’s pretty cool. And I can see better than with my Fonzi mask. What are you going as?”
Fish pulled his mask up and let out a loud roar from inside his Frankenstien mask. “Fire Bad!” he added in a low guttural tone.
Fish and I busted up laughing.
After a few minute Fish punched us both in our arms. “You two finished, we’re losing daylight.”
To be continued...
Have a great week.