The Very Best Milky Way
November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment
Halloween is a tough one. It’s the only holiday I can think of that is so utterly centered on the joyful celebration of cheap candy. I mean, total junk. Every year my kids come home with an incredible assortment of not just the classics- Tootsie Rolls and Hershey bars, but some truly weird stuff: eyeball gumballs encircled by bulging veins, gummy cheeseburgers, packages of barbeque chips and unlabeled “mystery taffy.” The Halloween candy bag is the graveyard where crappy candy goes to die.
Even after a hefty parental culling and sorting process, it takes us months to get through so much as a small portion of their gargantuan haul, mostly because we adhere to a strict one-piece-per-night-and-maybe-not-even-then policy. It doesn’t help that I fully resent the role I am pulled into of being a spokesperson for the candy companies: I explain what each one is, impatient for them to choose so we can move on to our bedtime routine. “Snickers? well that has caramel and nuts inside. Three Musketeers? Well, it has this mush inside… I don’t know how to describe it. You just have to try it. Skittles? Well they’re like fruity M&Ms. Yes, they’re good! They’re all good! It’s candy for crying out loud!” How did I get roped into this, anyway?
Three days before Halloween this year I realized we still had half-full bags of last year’s candy in the back of our top pantry shelf and I, heaving a huge sigh of relief, finally pitched them into the trash without remorse. I have several friends who would likewise pitch the entire trick-or-treat business with similar enthusiasm. One family we know avoids the whole business altogether and just stays home, while others go out grudgingly, knowing full-well most of the evening’s proceeds will have a date with the garbage can before Thanksgiving rears its equally gluttonous head.
Me- I’m pretty conflicted about the whole thing. On the one hand, I have memories of trick-or-treating being one of the high-points of my childhood years, to the point that when my friends started deciding we were “too old” to go I was genuinely mystified and definitely disappointed. Why couldn’t we still go? Who doesn’t like to dress up in costumes? And get free candy? Instead we got cheap cans of shaving cream and— being too timid to assault any actual property— started spraying each other in the street. The cops showed up in about four seconds. Welcome to the suburbs.
As we parents all sit around the library or school parking lot kvetching about the impending Holiday-o-Sugar, I get a little quiet. The thing I’m too timid to tell my friends is that I love trick-or-treating with my kids, way more so than I even loved it as a kid myself. Why? Because here- unlike where I grew up- you actually know the people on whose door you knock. These door-answerers are even more delighted by the short, costumed figures when they recognize them through all the fake blood and fairy glitter as kids of their friends- or friends of their kids. Usually when Halloween night rolls around, most families here head for the village- the only place where the houses are close enough together to make Trick-or-Treating not seem like training for a decathalon- and certainly the only time of the year we ever actually walk around the town in the manner which such towns originally evolved to accommodate. We roam the streets in packs of laughing grown-ups with gargantuan flashlights, breaking off conversations mid-sentence to admonish small costumed persons on improper street-crossing while they gleefully run ahead, tripping on their capes and forgetting to say “thank you” or to ask for pennies for Unicef or even to say “Trick or Treat.” Clearly, it’s all just too exciting.
I remember that. The novelty of being outside in the cool October dark, encountering jovial groups also wearing too much mascara or maybe a plastic mask of Darth Vader. If it was an especially cold night everyone’s mother would make them wear turtlenecks under their ballgowns and parkas over their spacesuits till no one could tell what anyone was supposed to be anymore- but we knew who we were.
Sure, the candy is nutritional dog poo. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all agree to give out fruit-juice popsicles and bran cupcakes instead? Maybe. I’m not sure. Maybe the whole point is the unusualness of it all- the costumes, being outside at night, knocking on our neighbors doors, and yes, the candy.
Our “next-door” neighbors live a good quarter-mile away; we can see their driveway light from our window at night. They’re elderly and retired, and we have come to consider them as something like foster grandparents to our girls, whose actual grandparents live in other states. All the same, between soccer and school and ballet practice, we don’t see them as much as we’d like either. But we always see them at Halloween. We’re they’re only Trick-or-Treaters, and every year, at the end of our evening we always find their light still on, waiting for us with a bowl of Milky Ways that we know they bought just for us.
Despite everything, despite the fact that I’ll go home and dole this stuff out to the kids like methadone for what will seem like a freakin’ eternity, maybe Halloween is worth it, just for that. Turns out, all Milky Ways are not created equal.