Many times, when I was much younger, I was a bum.
There were even times I encouraged my sons to be bums.
Well, actually I think the word my Dad used was “hobo.”
He’d bring it up before Halloween each year.
It was the perfect costume for trick-or-treating — a dirty face and a red bandana tied to a long stick.
I remember my Dad saying, “Be a hobo.” Then he did his magic. Well, it was magic to me.
He found a cork, pulled out his lighter and began to burn the cork. I just watched and wondered.
My eyes got a bit wider, though, when he said, “Come here.”
He cupped my chin in his left hand then began scrapping that burnt cork across my forehead and into my cheeks. I could tell he was creating.
Didn’t take long. I ran to the mirror and saw my scruffy face. It was great. Perfect. (And painless!)
The hobo became my favorite costume. Easy. No plastic or rubber mask to blur my path or fog my glasses. (I think I skipped the long stick and bandana, too. I wanted nothing to slow me down.)
Because … my mission was CANDY! As much as I could get. Please understand … in our house candy was rare. Not part of the food budget or the healthy diet.
But Halloween was different. Once a year there were no rules. Well … fewer rules.
I took a pillowcase and hit the streets. Running.
Cold. Rain. Snow. The weather did not matter to me or my costume. (A winter jacket would not cover my “beautiful” face.)
I hit every house. Like most kids, I knew the best stops. Where the full-sized candy bars were waiting.
But … it didn’t really matter. I wanted it all. Even the apples. Hey … stop judging. I was a kid. The sweet stuff was gold.
I came back when the “sack” was full and heavy and calling to me.
I dropped to the living room floor and poured out my pillowcase. I spread my treasure out to pluck and pick and separate. (Which my parents also enjoyed. They had their favorites.)
I grabbed and gobbled as I counted … until I was told to stop. And that was OK. My booty would last for days.
I was one happy hobo.
Now, I have to admit some sadness. Maybe even grief because this kid became a teen and I was too old to chase candy.
But make no mistake. That kid is still inside me and sneaks out when he can.
I did plenty of stealing from my own sons’ candy buckets through their trick-or-treating years. And a certain amount of pleasure came into play when we bought more candy than needed each year.
Sadly my boys preferred Spiderman and Power Rangers over hobos.
I was ready to burn that cork and start etching whiskers and dirt on their cute little faces.
But they didn’t seem thrilled with that idea. … “You want to do what?”
(I’m even wondering as I write this if they cared more about their hip costume than the candy. That’s right. The candy!!!)
I expect I am not the only one who wishes Halloween had not faded into what it is today. Time limits. Sugar alerts. Stranger danger.
And this pandemic, of course, makes it worse. Masks will be covered with masks. More porch lights will be turned off.
Perhaps kids cannot miss what they never had. But I think about it.
I looked forward to those days as a hobo. No fears. Trust in neighbors. The glorious free-for-all race across front lawns to bring home a mound of candy.
And — this is the important — a moment of freedom. The kind of freedom you lose as you age into the grownup world. Lots of rules come with being an adult.
But Halloween offered the freedom to be different. Be something else. Someone else. To have fun.
For a while at least, we were free to be kids.
LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the retired managing editor of The Times. Email to [email protected] or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.