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Silver Threads: How to know when you’re too old to trick or treat

One Halloween night, when I was 16 and my little brother was 3 or 4, Mother asked me to take him several houses down our street for trick or treating. That was only the second time I’d been out like that myself; 1951 had barely seen the beginning of the tradition of going around and collecting candy in a bag.

At the third house we visited, a woman wearing a scary animal mask and howling ferociously opened the door, and plump little Robert dropped his goodies and fled down her steps bawling for mama all the way home. I was laughing so hard I fell off the neighbor’s porch and skinned my knee. “Oh I didn’t know it was a baby,” she said, tearing off the mask and trying in vain to get him to come back.

On the All Hallows Eve before that, four or five of us teenagers had decided to go trick or treating and had been rewarded by a smirking man doling out cellophane-wrapped and beribboned pieces of what looked like divinity fudge. One of the boys bit into it, discovered it was soap, and tried to convince us to go back and assist him in putting the bicycle in the man’s yard on his roof. We didn’t.

In my tiny hometown in east Texas, the big Halloween event was the carnival in the school gymnasium for which princesses and princes were elected from each class, processing out before the 12th-grade king and queen to the strains of “Funiculi, Funicula.” The year before I finally got to be a princess and wear an evening dress with sleeves that my cousin had worn in a piano recital, I was part of a musical number presented by the fifth grade girls. We wore white blouses and short, orange crepe-paper skirts, and as I was running to the schoolhouse to change out of my costume and into clothes for the rest of the carnival, a nasty little third-grade boy ripped the crepe paper clean off me. I was in my white panties, screaming at the top of my lungs, and Mother was brought out from the kitchen where the ladies were making hamburgers for sale at the festivities. She advised me to put a plug in it. Story of my life.

After I got married and our son was born, I made a trick-or-treat costume for him out of a pillowcase. He was a precious little ghost, and over the years many costumes were devised for him and his sister by a mom who couldn’t sew, at a time when there weren’t as many cheap costumes for sale as there today.

Our most memorable Halloween came the year our very tiny 3-year-old daughter dragged her trick-or-treat bag along the sidewalk from house to house and discovered a big hole in the bottom — and not much candy. Her daddy took her back over the entire route. But her troubles weren’t over.

Our chihuahua liked the treats as much as she did and followed her about the house for the next few days, stealing candy as she continued to drag the bag.

These days we do Halloween at a fun party at some friends’ house. But for those seniors tempted to go out on the town, here are 10 ways — emailed to me by a friend — that they can know they’re too old to go trick or treating:

1. You keep knocking on your own door.

2. You remove your teeth to change your appearance.

3. You ask for soft, high-fiber candy only.

4. When someone drops a candy bar in your bag, you lose your balance and fall over.

5. People say, “Great Boris Karloff mask!” and you’re not wearing a mask.

6. When the door opens, you yell, “Trick or —” and can’t remember the rest.

7. By the end of the night, you have a bag full of restraining orders.

8. You have to carefully choose a costume that doesn’t dislodge your hairpiece.

9. You’re the only Power Ranger in the night on a walker.

10. You keep having to go home to pee.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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