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Published October 27, 2020



Why are these costumed kids asking for candy?

By John Toth / The Bulletin

It was October 31, 1967. I was 11 years old and landed in a strange new world just 15 days earlier. It was about to get a little stranger.

My mother and I were walking down the street after shopping, and all these kids in costumes ran around us, asking for candy.

“What are they doing?” she asked me. I had no clue. It was only my first week in a brand new school, in a country with a brand new language and customs.

I sat in the classroom all day long trying to make sense of my new school. Math was familiar, but all the other stuff was French to me. I was making out a few words here and there because I already knew German, and the two languages have many similar words and expressions, but I could not string together sentences. In other words, I had no clue what they were talking about.

These things take time. I also knew Hungarian, but that was no help at all. No words matched - not even close.

I was just beginning to climb another language barrier, and Halloween got lost in translation.

“It’s Halloween,” said a friend we met on the way, who had lived here for a few years. “They’re trick-or-treating. They’re having fun.”

The friend handed the kids a nickel each after she ran out of candy.

“Johnny will be doing it next year,” she told my mother.

Not really. I never went trick or treating as a kid. I became Americanized very quickly in all other ways, but I never warmed up to trick-or-treating.

I could buy all the candy I wanted in those fancy, bright supermarkets around us. A&P not only seemed like a food amusement park to me, but I could also buy stuff with their green stamps.

I had to file all these nuances away quickly because this was probably the last time we would country-hop. As it turned out, it was.

“Did you get a lot of candy last night,” asked one of my classmates the next morning in school. Her name was Susan, and her parents were Hungarian immigrants. She was born here, but spoke Hungarian. She translated for me some when I was hopelessly stuck in the language maze. No one in the class spoke German, even though the school was adjacent to a German neighborhood. I was glad that Susan was there.

I told her how I found out about Halloween, that it looked like a lot of fun. “Maybe I’ll try trick-or-treating next year,” I said.

“I never go. My brother likes it, but I always stay at home,” she said.

A year passed. My language skills progressed. I understood the rules of baseball and football, and I rooted for my favorite teams. I played street hockey with the neighborhood kids, listened to Top-40 AM radio and wore bell-bottom pants.

On Halloween 1968, I was having a great time playing board games at Susan’s home while our parents talked about the old country. Then Susan’s brother came home with his stash, and we stuffed ourselves with candy.

Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween, dear reader, in any way you choose.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)