In those long-ago days of my Texas childhood, my home base was Carleton Street.
Unlike many neighborhoods, our little corner of Ft. Worth, Texas, was settled with families that stayed in one place. We knew all our neighbors and traditions were well established.
One of the advantages of a Carleton Street Halloween was the atmosphere of the neighborhood.
The houses were set back from the street, leaving deep, shadowy yards. A lone streetlight was located at each end of the block along with one set mid-way. Together, the three created a nebulous scene of shifting dark pockets, a spooky circuit for our pack of ghosts and goblins to travel as we trick-or-treated.
On Carleton Street, predictability was an integral part of the Halloween observance.
For instance, Mrs. Young, who lived in the big brick home in the middle of the block, considered the witching holiday an opportunity to try her dramatic skills.
Our group would timidly approach her impressive entrance. Just as one of us got up the nerve to ring the bell, Mrs. Young would throw open the door, let out a gasp and demand, "Who ARE you little ruffians?"
Then, one by one, she would carefully struggle to identify each costumed visitor. The entire act always took quite a while, but she gave us so much individual attention, we were thrilled to be a part of her annual Halloween show. And, of course, her traditional treats of sticky/crunchy popcorn balls were a reward worth waiting for.
At Mr. Vindage's we could count on a totally different response. Instead of sweet treats, Mr. V., a widower who never seemed to remember Halloween, was always caught unprepared. So when a group of us would ring the bell, we could depend on the old man to give our costumed crowd a puzzled look. Then, in response to our timid "trick or treat," he would dig into his pockets and begin passing out change. We learned early on to be among the first to ring Mr. V's bell. When his pockets were empty, he'd simply turn off the porch light and go to bed.
There were others up and down the block who had dependable responses to our trick-or-treat requests, too.
Mrs. Windmiller always had fresh-baked cookies for us. The Riches, who had no children, took the easy way, simply passing out candy bars. E.W. Smith's mother, a health enthusiast, gave a shiny red apple to each kid who came along.
But the best stop on the street was the last place we visited. Mr. And Mrs. Owen, an elderly couple, seemed to enjoy Halloween as much as the kids.
At the end of our circuit of Carleton Street, it was an expected part of the evening's activities that we'd be invited into the Owen's cozy living room. There, the couple would take turns trying to guess who was hiding under those costumes.
Though they knew each of us very well, they made a great show of confusion and surprise while carefully examining each child.
"I think the Gypsy dancer must be Martha Connolly."
"Is that pirate Charlie Little?"
"Why, I'd never have guessed that ghost was Robert Allen!"
After the long, laughter-filled guessing game, the Owens would reward us with their traditional cider and warm ginger cookies before sending us on our way home.
It's been more than seven decades since those long-ago Halloween nights. Still, I clearly remember being part of the costumed gang as we shared the scary thrill of walking down that shadowy street in search of treats.