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A Senior Moment
'Shell Out'
by Rev. Bob Johnston

October 30, 2016
www.saugeentimes.com

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Note: The above title is not a typo. I am not referring to some “sell-out.” I am simply describing an old-fashioned jingle we would sing while knocking on neighbourhood doors at Hallowe'en:

Shell out! Shell out!

Or we’ll blow your windows inside out

Our ritualistic and admittedly somewhat threatening little song has long been replaced by the American-originated and more benign “Trick or Treat!” As I reminisce in advance of the 31st, my thoughts meander back to my own boyhood Hallowe'en adventures.

As kids still do, we would spend weeks before the big night deciding what our disguises would be. Of course, there were no ready-made costumes to be bought at the local big box stores. Some years my father would burn the end of a cork with a match. I would smear my face with the smoky residue to create an image of the rough-looking hobo or pirate I decided to be. Other times, lipstick and rouge were generously applied to our boyish faces, long before we knew what cross-dressing was all about.

When the big night came at last, we would rush through dinner, even politely and surprisingly declining dessert. We needed to leave ample stomach space for those anticipated piles of junk food soon to be collected. After several years of shelling out, I saw myself as a veteran scavenger. I knew how to prepare: gloves (never awkward mittens) for the cold weather, long underwear and a woolen toque for the same reason, warm winter boots to keep my feet from getting wet or frozen and finally, a sturdy pillow case to hold the treasured collection.

I don’t recall ever seeing parents accompanying their kids. Little ones just tagged along behind older brothers or sisters or neighbor children, trying desperately to keep up the frantic pace, but soon tiredly dragging their heavy, half-filled pillow cases behind them along the sidewalk.

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After dinner, I reviewed the route my friends and I would follow. Mrs. Graham handed out sticky candied apples, provided we got there early enough before the supply ran out. Down that same street, Mr. Thompson offered little salty bags of hot buttered popcorn (although each of us had to perform some song or poem to receive our prize.) The Baxter family gave out generous squares of sugary, homemade dark fudge. Other houses produced more modest offerings: molasses candy kisses, each individually enclosed in a black and orange wrapper, multi-coloured jelly beans, small packs of raisins, quarters or dimes packaged in wax paper or a handful of peanuts hidden in their shells.

There were also huge oranges and polished large red or golden apples given by more health-conscious adults, even back then. Sad to admit now, these were not valued because they were neither candy nor money. They usually ended up being tossed away or destined to be relegated to our mother’s safekeeping for baking purposes or breakfast juice.

Once the long hunting expedition was over, we wearily, but triumphantly, marched homeward, carrying our booty like some proud, ancient Roman general proudly bearing his looted treasure. Bulging bags were then ceremoniously dumped in the middle of our living room rug. We quickly began to sort out and “pig out,” even as our mother would weakly make her annual plea for us to ration our goodies so they would last longer. Within 48 hours all that remained were a couple of stale peanuts, a sticky hard candy and one bruised apple.

These days, something about Halloween has changed. It’s not just those store-bought ready-made costumes that deny children a chance to creatively use their imagination. It is the almost total absence of any homemade treat –casualties of the rare, but dangerous discovery of a razor blade or fear of the unknown lurking in that enticing fudge or popcorn. Of course, parents or other adults now always ride shotgun for their little ones. The loot is better rationed and consumption is extended. UNISEF offerings are sometimes included in the bags.

On the other hand, Hallowe'en still retains the best of its fun and magic. Some kids do bang on my door with do-it yourself outfits. And admittedly, those store-bought ones can be quite cute, spectacular and innovative. Each child, but especially the younger ones, still has that excited gaze of anticipation as they eye what we have waiting for them in our bowl. The older ones still carefully map their routes to cover the most homes to harvest the most loot in the least amount of time. Many still make good use of pillow cases.

On Monday night , I just wish someone would occasionally belt out “Shell out; Shell out!”—for old times sake --- just as long as they don’t blow my windows inside out.
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