Halloween and Thanksgiving always get mixed up in my memory bank. It seems that when I was a kid, I, and all my friends would dress up like tramps on Thanksgiving morning and go from door to door looking for treats or for money.
A polite knock on the door, or a gentle push on the bell button, and the person opening the door would be greeted by .."Anything for Thanksgiving?" The standard uniform for a Ragamuffin would be old or ill-fitting clothes, and a crumpled hat worn over a face streaked with dirt or charcoal. Bought costumes hadn't been developed yet, so everyone looked pretty much the same.
The response from the homeowner was pretty predictable too. Pennies, or nickels were given out, and even an occassional cookie or candy. Sometimes we would travel in packs, but mostly it was an individual expedition with the focus on the houses that were most generous at past Thanksgivings.
All this activity took place while Mother was baking and cooking for the big feast. I suppose it was her way of keeping us from being underfoot while she was concentrating on the preparation of the turkey and all the fixings. Eight or ten people would sit at the table in the late afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, usually including Grandma and Grandpa.
Halloween, on the other hand, was divided into two parts. First, after school was Chalk Halloween. When it became dark, the trick part of the day kicked in. Chalk halloween was relatively harmless. A long stocking (we all wore long stockings) was filled with a cup of flour and knotted at the toe end above the flour. This allowed a kid to swing the stocking at another kid and on contact left a white mess on clothing or hair, and a few tears from some luckless girl!
The chalk part happened when various colored chalks were used to mark sidewalks, walls, and other kids with stripes or other "artistic" modes of expression. Today, it would be called vandalism, or even malicious mischief! But, in those days, the cops turned their backs because they were saving themselves for the onslaught of Halloween night.
Wise homeowners were also preparing for the night. Porch lights were turned on after first taking in carbage cans and lawn furniture, almost like todays preparation for a hurricane. The younger kids scurried home as darkness approached and the big kids started to appear on the street. Their pockets would be stuffed with the materials of the night: A tic-tac-toe, a few rubber bands, and some staples and a couple of pins. And...a roll or two of toilet paper.
The tic-tac-toe was fabricated ahead of time from a small square of inner tube rubber (yes, this was before tubeless tires), a nail, and a long length of string with a series of knots close together at one end. The other end was tied to the nail and pushed thru the center of the rubber, and tied on to the nail. When the rubber was licked and pressed on to a glass window it stuck and allowed the user to creep to the other end of the string and hide in some nearby bushes. The cord was pulled taught and the knots run through the fingers to produce a woodpecker-like rat ta tat on the window, and an angry homeowner at the front door.
The pins were for sticking in doorbells so that they would continure to ring after the prankster was long gone into the night! The staples and rubber bands were for improvised slingshots to get the staples and a window together, sometimes to the sound of beaking glass…
The toilet paper rolls usually required a team effort. The stronger boys could toss a roll (with the free end held) over the roof of a house as many times as the paper lasted, while the less athletic boys (or girls) would run around the house as many times as they could leaving a trail of paper behind them. If it rained during the night the homeowner found the evidence hard to remove the next day.
Of course, trash cans, or better than that, ash cans, were as a matter of course overturned, and lawn chairs sometime mysteriously appeared the next day on shed roofs, fish ponds, or other unlikely places. Milk bottles breaking on the sidewalk added sound effects to the regularly quiet mischief that was being perpetuated. Many other dark and dire things occurred that night which are better left untold. The statute of limitations for punishment for such deeds never really runs out. Some of the kids were unlucky enough to run into the cops whose summary punishment included cleaning up and then an escort home to face the parents and their ire.
The Ragamuffins of Thanksgiving were usually a morning affair, and much tamer by comparison, than the trick or treaters of today. Money, rather than candy was the desired treat, because the bounty of the feast ahead was always anticipated. Three kinds of pie and a bowl of mints on the table was a powerful attraction, and the cold glasses of apple cider to wash down the obligatory vegatables was welcomed.
Days before Thanksgiving schools received the canned goods that were brought in by the students to help the needy. I used to like to help filling the bag because I could get rid of the canned food that my mother insisted was "..good for you". The needy never got any of the good stuff that I liked! And, of course, Thanksgiving was always special because school was always closed the next day!
The chestnuts that were roasted and peeled in the morning tasted so good in the stuffing, and the white and sweet potatos were easy to eat. At the end of the meal there was always a choice to make among the offered pies. Apple, pumbkin, mince and lemon meringue made it hard to choose which one to eat first.
After the grand feast was over, the pie and the coffee finished, the women would usually retire to the kitchen while the men and the older folks would remain at the table and talk. That was the best time of the day, when we kids could listen to stories from the adults. The day would always end on a pleasant note as the Ragamuffins of the morning went to bed with filled tummys and pleasant dreams.