By Janey Womeldorf
The first time trick or treaters ever came to my door, I said “Trick.” I was new to this country. I didn’t know.
My journey here had begun years earlier when I met the man of my dreams – a proud member of the U. S. Air Force stationed in my home country of England. When he proposed, I said “Yes” immediately. I knew marrying him meant moving to the U.S. but it didn’t matter. I loved England, but I loved him more and when you are that much in love, you will give up anything – including your country.
No sooner had we arrived than the military, unexpectedly (major understatement) sent my husband “to the desert.” It didn’t matter to me which one; all I knew was that seven days later he was gone, and I didn’t even have my U.S. driving license yet! It wasn’t quite the welcome-to-the-U.S.A. I had imagined.
I soon realized that military stores paled in comparison against the enticing Wal-Mart Supercenters that were the size of English villages. You could lose hours in those stores – as I often did – especially on lonely Saturday nights. Sam Walton was my savior though, and I loved that every store layout was the same; familiarity is comforting to an outsider.
Just as I was starting to feel like a local (albeit with a funny accent), orange and yellow bags appeared everywhere confusing everything. Shelf upon shelf of colorful candy replaced the stationery section which was disturbing for two reasons: One, I moved here when people wrote real letters on real paper and two, I didn’t eat candy. The latter was especially distressing because “buy one get one free” had quickly become my favorite American expression. Shopping deals like that just didn’t exist back in England; unfortunately, at that time, neither did the practice of trick-or-treating.
On the night of Halloween, I answered the door to find Superman and Minnie Mouse gazing up at me. “Trick or Treat?” the little cherubs muttered.
“Trick,” I replied with naive enthusiasm.
The whoosh of painful silence engulfed us and for a few uncomfortable seconds nobody moved.
“You’re supposed to say treat and give us candy,” stammered the pint-sized superhero.
“But I don’t have any candy.” I replied. Within seconds, I saw Minnie Mouse’s bottom lip start to quiver. “I’ve got apples.”
“Okay,” said my dejected visitors.
I left my door wide open, went inside, and returned with two big, shiny green apples. Strangely, Minnie looked close to tears, so I wondered if I should have given her an orange or some cheese instead. Before I had a chance to ask, they turned and left, and I returned to my evening, none the wiser.
A few Halloweens later, I was visiting my in-laws when a princess and a witch knocked on the door. I was now well aware how lucky I had been that my first experience had been with pre-schoolers and not teenagers and knew only to say “treat.” Unfortunately, I was the only one home and despite a thorough search for my mother-in-law’s stash of candy, I could not find a single piece. The only thing I had was some jumbo atomic fireballs which I had recently grown addicted to. Not wanting to burn their little mouths off, and fearing the witch may cast an eternal spell on me, I gave them each a dollar which I felt sure was preferable.
The next morning, I told my mother-in-law what had happened and sensed once again I had messed up. She should know.
She grew up in the farmlands of Missouri, with parents and grandparents who had lost everything in the Great Depression. Back then, sheets were used for “ghosting” and you relied on whatever was in the house for costumes. One Halloween, she dressed up as a gypsy using her mother’s clothes. She finished off the look with a pair of big earrings, and then headed out with her Mom to one of the neighboring farms. When the homeowners answered the door, they looked down at her with startled expressions. “Trick or treat,” she uttered. Unfamiliar with this practice, the elderly couple looked confused as to why a young, disheveled gypsy was standing at their door. They had no candy to give her but generously went back inside in search of something. When they returned with a newspaper, she graciously accepted their “treat,” and thanked them politely. Then, newspaper in hand, she hitched up her skirt, turned around, and headed back to the farm. Over sixty years later, the child in her still remembers this, so I took her word for it when she told me only one thing matters: candy.
The next day, the two little girls returned. They knocked on the door and looked up at me with puppy eyes. They lived across the street, and when their father found out I had given them money, he told them that the right thing to do was return it. I painstakingly accepted their dollars, but fortunately, had since discovered that the candy lived on top of the fridge – who knew? – and handed them each a fistful. As they smiled and skipped away, a huge grin spread across my face. It may have taken me a few years, but I had finally got it right.
I’ve lived in this country now long enough to know what to do – don’t give apples or newspapers, and never say trick. Ironically, since I left England, my home country has adopted trick or treat. Maybe it had something to do with Wal-Mart opening up there and filling the shelves with candy. Even though part of me feels sad that I have no childhood memories of trick or treating, I’m glad that I’m making up for it here, especially since there is one thing this country is still so much better at – nothing beats the thrill of buying candy when it’s “buy one get one free.”
It’s what American fridges and Halloween were made for.
About this writer
- Janey Womeldorf is a freelance writer who thrives on writing about the humorous, the poignant, and the continually-surprising sides of everyday life. She drinks too much coffee and scribbles away in Memphis, Tennessee.