The year was 1963, and it was my first Halloween since we moved to Little Canada from Dracut. When you lived in a town, it would take forever to fill a bag of candy because you could only go to one house at a time, and none of them were bunched together like in Little Canada. There, you could score candy like we were those kids in a real-life Candy Land game.
Since just about every building had multiple apartments, including the big tenements with as many as nine to 12 units, we could just go knock on two doors on each floor and sometimes score six times at one doorway, and even EIGHT times in the four-story buildings. And everybody gave out stuff, including the stores that stayed open late. I had to go home and get a second shopping bag before we were done because my first was full.
But just as much as the nonstop river of candy flowing into our bags, the best part of Halloween in Little Canada was the place itself. It felt like Halloween with its smelly canals, dark alleyways, and the scary shapes of large mill buildings in the moonlight looking down Cabot Street. Add hundreds of other kids in cool costumes crisscrossing each other, scurrying for treats as fast as they could, and you can imagine how it seemed. I dressed up as Dracula that year after buying a cheap and cheesy vampire outfit at Woolworth’s. You could see through the flimsy cape even though it was black. It also had a gold-colored plastic amulet to wear around your neck over a fake-looking tuxedo top that only covered your chest. You had to wear a half-zipped coat to make it look like you had a full tuxedo shirt underneath.
Finally, of course, were the plastic vampire teeth that you couldn’t keep in your mouth if you tried to talk. Probably the best part of my costume came from my mom, who used her red lipstick to draw what looked like drops of blood dripping down my chin.
What made Halloween best for me and the other kids who went to St. Joseph’s, a Catholic school, was getting the next day off because Nov. 1 is All Saints’ Day, a holy day of obligation. Though we didn’t have to go to school, we were supposed to go to church like it was Sunday, or we would go to hell if we skipped Mass and died before making a confession or saying an act of contrition. You can imagine how I felt about that. We could hang around and eat candy all day. Of course, nobody’s parents would allow that, so we all had to go through the act of turning over our bags and pretending we were letting them sort out how many pieces we could have each day. Of course, every kid was smart enough to do like a squirrel and hide a large stash of candy before showing the bags to their parents, so there was plenty of candy left. I guess for that offense the prescribed punishment might have been a couple of eons in purgatory, but since I’d already skipped All Saints’ Day Mass, what did it matter? I was already sentenced to eternity in hell.
[Charles Garguilo’s forthcoming memoir will be published by the Loom Press in 2022. For details, visit LoomPress.com.]