We had just moved from the apartments on Riverside Drive to a new, two bedroom brick house on the east side of town. And the biggest news was that we now had sidewalks. Sidewalks were a luxury and made going out on Halloween easier and safer. We lived on Congress Avenue and to this four-year old, the street seemed miles and miles long. When I went back to visit my parents as an adult, the street seemed smaller and much shorter, but that did not minimize the memory of my Halloween adventures on Congress Avenue.
There was only Sissy and me at that point-no baby brother or sister-and we did almost everything together. This included shopping for Halloween costumes and trick or treating. I don’t remember where we found that year’s costumes, but my guess is we shopped at either the S.S. Kresge five and dime or the ubiquitous Sears and Roebuck department store to find the perfect costumes.
There was no fairy princess wand, witch’s black hat, or Dorothy’s ruby red slippers for the Strange girls. In 1954 we decided to both dress as frogs. Definitely random. When was the last time you saw a frog costume? Remember, this was before the days of Kermit the Frog. Nevertheless the costumes left an indelible impression on me as here I am decades later recalling the details of that night in October.
The body of the costume was made of some type of green cloth. I don’t know that polyester had been invented as yet, but it was a one-piece deal that I pulled on over my clothes like a jump suit, all the way to the neck. A black plastic tie held the two sides together as it encircled the neck of the costume. It was too cold in Indiana on Halloween to go without clothes underneath, so a larger size was required to make up for the extra room needed for the bottom layer of clothing, which would keep us warm. Shoes next, and then we were off.
The mask was made of hard, thin plastic and was the best part of the costume. The frozen, painted face of a smiling, happy frog greeted everyone on the other side of my face. The mask was also the worst part of the costume. Underneath, it was hot, hot, hot and by the end of the evening, the experience, while entertaining and fun, was truly claustrophobic. But we didn’t dare remove our masks during our journey up and down the street, because the neighbors would then discover our identity-which would be an unforgivable consequence of not being able to bear the heat of the mask.
Of course, Daddy was standing not too far behind us on the walkways leading up to the houses as our protectorate in arms, so it was not as great a mystery as we liked to pretend. Red, curly hair and straight brown hair sneaking out from under the elastic bands that held the masks to our small faces usually was enough of a clue to let the neighbors know that it was the Strange girls. It really didn’t matter whether we kept our masks on or not, but I was not going to be the first to fall victim to the temptation of unmasking and revealing my identity.
“Trick or treat” we shouted out in unison as each of our neighbors opened the door feigning great surprise. Our intent was always to secure a treat and never to trick-a thought that had never entered the minds of two frogs just looking for candy. “Thank you,” was our genuine response as the neighbors loaded Halloween treats into our personally designed, brown paper grocery bags, which we had laboriously decorated with our small hands and crayola eights. After trying to view the generosity of our neighbors in the dark as their hands reached into our bags, we squealed in delight running back to our father. We excitedly described the comments and surprise of Mrs. Smith or Mr. Jones-Yes, there really were neighbors on our street named Mrs. Smith and Mr. Jones-as we skipped happily to the next house.
Once the trek was completed up one side of the street, on the blessed sidewalks of course, and down the next side, we returned home to count our loot. Mother waited at home serving treats to all the other neighborhood kids and we ended our evening knocking on our very own door and collecting the very best treat of the evening from her. A hug and a kiss for these little frogs.
Once home, the masks came off as we poured the entire contents of the bag on the living room floor, exclaiming at some of the prizes we discovered in our bags. Full sized candy bars, home-made popcorn balls, candied covered apples in luscious caramel or a sweet, sticky cherry glaze, and occasionally a full pack of gum. We traded the candies we didn’t like with each other and put our favorite ones together in piles on the floor and surrendered some of the loot to our parents, who helped keep the sugar rush in check. We blew out the pumpkins, tucked our costumes away in a drawer for safe keeping and staggered off to bed-after of course brushing our teeth with Crest-satisfied with the evening and our innocent deception.
In the fifties, we didn’t worry about crazy people putting razor blades or poison in our candy. We knew everyone on our street and we were happy with what we received-small tokens of neighborly love. Well, there might have been that one house towards the end of the street we avoided. Not very friendly folks lived there. But for the most part, we felt safe and secure.
We didn’t worry about tooth decay, stomach aches or the boogeyman. And we certainly weren’t worried about offending any particular religious group or being accused of worshipping Satan. We were just two little girls, dressed up as frogs, running through the neighborhood with our father collecting sweet treats from our neighbors and reveling in exclamations of “Who are these cute little frogs?” Halloween in the fifties? Safe and fun, which was its intent. Witches, ghosts and goblins, oh my! And frogs on sidewalks, too!
Don’t you wish you could be a frog-if only for a night? On the sidewalks of Indiana? Boo-ribbit!