2009-10-29 / Sam Bari

The haunted holiday – the way it used to be

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Halloween is different than it was when I was a kid. It’s easy to tell why. Everything looks normal the morning after. The trees are not decorated with toilet paper, nothing smells like rotten eggs and little kids have shopping bags full of healthy, store-bought candy. Yuck!

When I was growing up, trick or treating was a serious matter. Halloween took weeks of planning, gathering intelligence and developing strategies. Parents were not involved in the festivities. They were at home protecting their house, as they should be.

I had a nameless gang of young ruffians that hung together in the best interests of surviving childhood. We quickly learned that there is strength in numbers. In my neighborhood, we were involved in an all-out war against the big kids. They lived to make us miserable.

They may have been big, but we were smart, and most of the time, we managed to foil their nefarious plots to take our candy, steal our money or see that we were blamed for their stupid pranks.

Halloween was the perfect time for the big kids to do their worst. So we pooled resources at secret meetings and prepared to do battle. We looked forward to the big day with feelings of eagerness and trepidation.

We were eager to get bags full of candy, but we feared that the big kids would steal them. However, one particular Halloween comes to mind that brings fond memories of defeating the big kids at their evil games.

A man named Elvin Tanner lived in a broken-down farmhouse he inherited from his parents. He was an out-of-work mechanic who had issues with alcohol, and he hated kids.

When developers came into the area to build our subdivision, Tanner sold them 100 acres of pasture surrounding his house at an enormous profit. However, he wouldn’t sell the house or move.

Consequently, right smack in the middle of our neighborhood, was Tanner’s house on an un-kept half-acre plot. Even with the profits from the land sale, he was too cheap to part with enough money to install indoor plumbing. Tanner had the only outhouse in town. This was the object of the big kids’ Halloween prank.

The big kids were mad at Tanner because he took their baseballs whenever they landed in his yard. He would laugh and tell them to play somewhere else.

Anyway, the big kids decided that on Halloween night, they were going to get together and move Tanner’s outhouse back a couple of feet so the entrance was just over the edge of the waste hole.

My little gang was great at gathering intelligence. We knew the big kids’ younger siblings. They were good at eavesdropping when the big kids made plans. A cookie, piece of candy or bubble gum bought a lot of information from boys and girls who were not too happy with the way their older brothers treated them.

Through the little kids’ neighborhood network, we heard about the “Tanner Halloween outhouse caper.”

We knew the big kids were going to wait until late on Halloween night to move the outhouse. We decided to get there ahead of them and do it first. At least one of them might slip on the edge of the hole if things went as planned.

We donned our costumes, which in those days were nylon stockings stretched over our heads, or old sheets with holes for our eyes to make us look like ghosts. We weakly resembled a gang of short bank robbers doing a stickup.

At nightfall, we sneaked into Tanner’s yard. Eight of us pushed and shoved with all our strength and managed to move the outhouse.

We then went trick or treating. We gathered two hours later across the street from Tanner’s house when the big kids planned to show up. Sure enough, they arrived, and two of them slipped at the entrance while trying to move the outhouse in the pitch-black darkness. They almost fell into the partially exposed hole.

When they slipped, they let out distinctive yelps. That brought Tanner running out to see what was going on. He caught them redhanded.

The big kids left their candy bags in the field next to Tanner’s property so they could move the outhouse unimpeded. While they were explaining their activities to the police, we took their candy.

Sometimes life was good growing up in a system we can’t understand.

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