Friday, October 31, 2014

Dried Corn and Bars of Soap

During the last week of October when I was a child our quiet evenings at home were interrupted.  Neighborhood kids -- usually teen boys -- collected dried ears of corn from the fields on the outskirts of town, removed the kernels, and, by the handfuls, threw them at our house.  They clattered and banged against the windows then clattered again as they fell onto the porch.  The quantity of kernels and the force with which they were thrown varied the announcement of Halloween.  "Those kids are out already!" my mother would say.  I assume that having an attractive teenage sister encouraged the boys to run by the house with their pockets bulging and their hands overflowing.  The next five or six mornings my mom swept off the porch after having heard the clatter the night before.  Then magically, it all stopped after October 31.

A quieter trick involved soaping windows.  Kids would pilfer bars of soap from their closets or sinks at home.  During the week before Halloween they roamed the streets of our community, stealthily crept onto porches, and rubbed the bar of soap across the windows.  I don't remember that they wrote any messages or drew pictures.  They just left scribbles and marks.  My mom disliked the soap more than the corn because it was so difficult to remove.  She determinedly cleaned the windows but I think I remember her once insisting that my sister help.  (As if my sister had any control over the other kids.)

My mom would never have considered spending money on a pattern and fabric for a costume, nor taking the time to cut out and sew one.  Consequently, our costumes were simple affairs:  what we could make from clothes at home or from a trunk of old clothes in my grandmother's closet.  The most common costumes were hobos, gypsies, clowns, or old women, but really, anything that made us look unlike ourselves worked.  We hid our faces behind half-masks that covered our eyes and the tops of our noses.  They wrapped around our faces, held in place by an elastic band that stretched around the backs of our heads.

There were only about a dozen homes on our street and only about 4 or 5 more streets in our village, each with as many or fewer homes than ours.  Trick-or-treating was slim when I was a child.  When I was 5 or 6 my mom walked with me to several houses and stood on the street while I walked up the steps and knocked on the doors.  At every home the person who answered the door tried to guess who was behind the mask.  If unsuccessful after about 3 or 4 guesses, we were asked to remove our masks and identify ourselves.  We received a treat only after the person at the door knew who we were.

Our community was so small that we never collected much candy, but always I sorted mine:  chocolate; other desirable-but-not-delicious candy; and the stuff I wouldn't eat (including chocolate with coconut or almonds).  I can't remember but I doubt I was allowed to eat more than a few pieces a day.

When I was 10 or 11, I sometimes went trick-or-treating with a friend or two.  But by that time throwing corn and soaping windows had completely gone out of style.  I missed my chance.

Happy Halloween to  you.

--Nancy.

Copyright © 2014 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

10 comments:

  1. I've never heard of the corn throwing thing -- but I grew up in the city. I've heard of people soaping windows but don't remember anyone doing it. I also usually had homemade costumes. My favorite was always the gypsy -- loved the makeup and jewelry part of the deal. We had a few people who wanted to guess who we were, but our neighborhood was too big for most people to know everyone.

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    1. I think the joy of throwing corn was probably the imagined shock to the people inside the homes, Wendy. I can imagine the kids throwing and running, then watching somewhere safely hidden. I think trick-or-treating in the city would be very different than in a small village like the one where I grew up.

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  2. I've never heard of the corn throwing either. I've heard of soaping windows, but not associated with Halloween. It's funny how each community has their own thing. My mom did sew and make our costumes, but they were always pretty simple, certainly nothing like they are today. Fun memories Nancy.

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    1. Michelle, if not for Halloween, when did people soap windows? It never occurred to me that different communities had different traditions, especially with Halloween. I'm not much of a celebrant of Halloween or I would give it more thought and maybe do a little research. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment, Michelle.

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  3. In my small Western Pennsylvania town the boys threw dried corn kernels (not cobs) and soaped windows and we called it tick tacking. Also, my great grandfather was John Alexander Umbarger, a brother to the Lucy Umbarger Irwin who married your Ellis Bickerstaff. I really enjoy your posts.

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    1. Hi, VirginiaMom. I've never heard it called tick tacking but it seems a likely name. It's interesting to learn of our connection to our ancestors. I haven't researched Lucy and know little about her other than a few newspaper articles I've seen and her death certificate. Did she have children with her previous husband? Do you happen to have photographs of Lucy and/or of Lucy and Ellis?

      I'm glad you enjoy my posts. Thank you for visiting and for leaving a comment.

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  4. Where I grew up in southern Ohio we also would throw corn and soap windows at halloween but some of the more ornery boys would use a bar of paraffin and would wax windows (very hard to remove) or they would wedge a stick holding the horn ring down on someones steering wheel. Your post brought back a lot of memories!

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    1. Now that you mention it, Jimmie, I remember wax on the windows. That was the worst. Everyone with windows probably hoped for soap instead of wax. I guess, with the horn ring down, people would remember to lock their cars or put them in the garage at night. I think my parents tried to "secure" everything. I know there have been lots of tricks through the years -- I just didn't know many people who pulled them.

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