John Grindrod: Halloween memories and the thrill of nickel candy bars

By John Grindrod - Guest Columnist

So much in life changes over time. We all know that, despite the fact that sometimes we’re the last to know that the face in the mirror that looks to us the same as it did the day before looks different to others.

And, so it is, I think, with events and not just people, so today’s topic involves today’s holiday, what it is nowadays and what I remember it to be. Nowadays, the date for trick-or-treating often varies, depending on where in the city or in a surrounding community one lives. However, my recollection of my late 1950s and early ‘60s Halloweens is that the date, Oct. 31, was the universal day for enthusiastic little panhandlers in search of sugary delights.

In my mental photographs of Halloween, as far as the actual structure of the event, well, I remember it to be far different, and I suppose that has much to do with the world in which we live today. While today, the treats are dispensed diurnally in a fairly narrow one-and-a-half-to-two-hour window, in my youthful times on Latham Avenue, where there were far more unlocked doors overnight than you’d ever find today, Halloween began right after I gobbled down whatever Mom rustled up when it was still light and extended well after dark. Really, the event lasted as long as my pals and I could see a flickering porch light, which indicated to us that the occupants were still open for business.

As far as a costume during my ephemeral half dozen years’ worth of trick-or-treat moments, well, that never varied. As for creativity, admittedly, give me a zero for my basic hobo look. Since I grew up in the Don Draper 1960s, and my steel-selling father left for work each day in a suit with a fedora riding atop his forehead, it was easy for me to grab a hat he’d taken out of his rotation, cram it down on my own noggin and flip the bill up. A tee-shirt under one of his old suit coats, a pair of jeans and Chuck Taylors and a few facial streaks with a piece of charcoal to present the stereotypical bum look turned me into a miniature Boxcar Willie.

My mates, who also favored the easy-to-accomplish bum look, and I saw our territory for scavenging to be, I think, far more expansive than kids see theirs today, again, perhaps indicative of my having grown up in far less frightening times. We crossed the verboten “busy” streets that were off limits when we had to be escorted by parents of older siblings in our first- and second-grade Halloweens, which meant Cole to the east, Cable to the west and Allentown to the south. North was out of the question because those wonderful woods in which we played extended all the way from the houses on the south side of Latham all the way to Elida Road.

Basically, we tried to listen to other kids’ chatter as far as where the best treats were. If it was loose candy corn or a small single roll of Smarties or, even worse, something healthy like an apple or, heaven forbid, a school supply, like a Ticonderoga pencil, we were absolutely not interested. As for those last two, we weren’t out that night looking to be reminded of either our health or our attempts to master long division!

Of course, word always got around quickly where the rare houses were that were giving away what everyone I knew referred to back then as nickel candy bars, the same ones that can be found today in candy aisles at Walgreens for around a buck.

The one house we could always count on having a nickel candy bar to drop in our pillow cases (the preferred Halloween repository for treats for those of us who considered ourselves Halloween professionals) was one that usually was totally inaccessible. It was the one house we all considered a mansion and occupied the southwest corner of Cable and Allentown roads.

Surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence with a gate that was closed, except, as I recall, on Halloween night, the large brick house is where the MacKenzies lived. Often, when we were on our way to WT Grant’s at the Westgate strip of stores to grab a pack or two of baseball cards, we’d pause on our bikes outside the fence and ask each other, “I wonder what they’re doing in there?” as if it were any different from what went on in our own smaller domiciles. Then, to discuss our versions of what we perceived the occupants’ lives to be in that brick house surrounded by lush and expansive greensward, we’d head across Cable to Eldora for an ice cream cone to hash it out.

And, that’s how I remember it back in my Halloween times, times so very long ago, when little hobos roamed the neighborhoods far and wide in search of the rarest of finds, those nickel chocolate loaves with names like Milky Way, Baby Ruth and Clark printed on their labels.

By John Grindrod

Guest Columnist

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at

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