Monday, October 24, 2011

Trick or treat, smell my feet...

By Jim Heffernan
First Captain Underpants book
Three of my grandchildren – boys ranging in age from 3 to 5 – are getting geared up for Halloween, it should go without saying. It’s a great observance for that age group, when ghosts really do exist, and goblins…well…I’m not really sure what goblins are myself. But they go with ghosts, that’s for sure.

The older two of these three children, twins, are in kindergarten now, where the real world outside their own home exists with all of its variety. Accordingly, they are learning through their new friends certain Halloween sayings that have not been part of their own Halloween upbringing.

Thus, they have adopted, or at least mentioned, a new phrase for begging for candy on Halloween night: “Trick or treat, smell my feet.” They have taught this to their younger brother, of course, one of the benefits, or liabilities, of being the youngest.

Really, what is the world coming to? “Trick or treat, smell my feet.” Is nothing held sacred these days?

Their parents have admonished them for such a vulgar utterance, and we – their paternal grandparents – have warned them that their neighbors might not give out the goodies if the boys beg with that slogan, but to not-much avail.

“Trick or treat, smell my feet” apparently tickles the children’s funny bone, the way Captain Underpants captured the imaginations of children long ago – around 2004, before these boys were born, certainly – but yesterday in the minds of horror-stricken grandparents of that ancient era.

Speaking of which (ancient eras, not Captain Underpants), I had my day in the harvest moon of past Halloweens, trick or treating through my childhood neighborhood. But we were GOOD children. No smell my feet. Certainly no Captain Underpants, or, if you will, the Bionic Booger Boy. Good, you won’t.

We were enamored of Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, and his ilk, and look how well we ran the country once we grew up.

Our saying at the doors we called on for candy way back in my childhood was not marginally vulgar like today’s, but rather only mildly threatening to donors’ homes (actually non-donors’ homes). We shrieked, “Trick or treat (OK, so far), soap or eats.” Yes, “Trick or treat, soap or eats.”

Just think how clean cut we were in those days. Begging for soap on Halloween. Unfortunately, the soap was not for personal hygiene (we weren’t THAT goody two shoes). It was a threat that if they didn’t dish out the candy, we would soap their windows. Smearing dry soap on windows is an irritant, forcing the resident to wash those windows sometime before the hard freeze or Christmas, whichever comes first.

It was an empty threat, though. We didn’t even carry soap, except for one year when we targeted the home of a really nasty neighbor who wouldn’t even answer the door on Halloween and chased us out of his yard on every other day if we trespassed.

He would not forgive us our trespasses, just as we did not forgive his, come Halloween. So we soaped him. But it might surprise some to learn that a bar of dry soap, say 99 and 44 one hundredths percent pure Ivory, doesn’t really make very good marks on windows at all. We should have used Fels Naptha.

Growing up, I longed for the old days of Halloween pranks described by my parents, the most prominently mentioned being the tipping over of outhouses. There were plenty of outhouses in Duluth in the 1920s and, I’m sure, ‘30s. I have it on very good authority that there were still 900 outhouses in Washington, D.C., in 1939, the year I as born, and adopting the role of Major Diaper.

By the time I aged a bit and made it to the Halloween rounds, though, there were no outhouses in our neighborhood to tip over, so we made do with soap, which we used only that once. I’m a Halloween prankster failure, looking back on it.

Back in the future, I look forward to seeing these three grandsons on Halloween, and hope their parents have persuaded them to beg with something other than “Trick or treat, smell my feet.” Or if they do, I hope their neighbors will forgive them their trespasses, just as we forgive those who trespass against us. Well, almost always. On Sundays at least. And All Saints’ Eve.  


Kath1e said...

Growing up in Bloomington our chant was Trick or Treat, MONEY or eats.

jill said...

I probably Trick or Treated in the same era as you did...we also recited the 'soap or eats' at every door. That is, until my mother told us of a sweet little old widow lady on the next street whose windows got soaped because she ran out of candy. She went outside in freezing weather the next morning to clean her windows and that caused her to get pneumonia and die. I know the story was pure fabrication, but it worked!
BTW...remember getting home made popcorn balls or cookies from your neighbors? Maybe even a cup of cocoa?

Jim Heffernan said...

Kath1e and Jill:
We do sound like we're in that same era. My wife said they used the "trick or treat, money or eats" in her hometown of Rochester MN. But I used Jill's ditty: soap or eats. Pretty inventive of your mother, Jill, to come up with that story! BTW... our grandkids had the good sense to NOT use the "smell my feet" when they went out on Halloween. Somehow they knew it was not appropriate. Besides, their parents were with them the whole time :-) Halloween traditions and memories are fun for kids of all ages. Thanks for your reflections.