Today I continue the series of Crime Writer Halloween Guest Blogs. Scroll back to check them all out and the list of Halloween Mysteries. Today I welcome mystery author Sharon Fiffer.
Sharon Fiffer is the author of the Jane Wheel mysteries published by St. Martin's Minotaur. Jane Wheel is a PPI--picker, private investigator, whose talent for spotting treasures among the trash is essential to the crime-solving half of her business. Although she's a city girl now, Sharon grew up in Kankakee, Illinois where her parents ran a lively local tavern. She mines her own memories of growing up for Scary Stuff, number six in the series. Number seven, Backstage Stuff, will be published by St. Martins, January 2011. Here, Sharon shares a childhood Halloween memory that did not make it into Scary Stuff.
Tricky or Treated by Sharon Fiffer
Halloween was always my favorite holiday. No pressure to make or buy just-right gifts for parents or brother. No obligatory visits to grandma wearing a stiff scratchy dress with pinchy shoes. No unrealistic expectations of ponies grazing under a decorated tree. Just comfortable wacky clothes, an empty pillowcase, a walk through crunchy leaves after dark--and candy, candy, candy all for me, me, me. Half magic, half greed--isn't that what childhood should be?
I must have been six years old when I heard the whispering campaign at St. Pat’s. "Did you hear? Sanborns are going back to making taffy apples this year!" Taffy Apples? Crunchy, sticky, juicy and sweet--my four favorite food groups all rolled into one treat--so exotic, yet so homely! The humble apple dressed for company! My mouth watered when I heard the news. The best part? The Sanborns--an ancient couple whose children were grown and gone-lived on my corner! Right at the end of my block of Cobb Boulevard. I didn't even have to cross a street or risk cutting through the park where Kankakee Junior High eighth graders lay in wait with cartons of eggs.
What's better than one taffy apple? Two taffy apples! My friend and I decided we would go to the Sanborns first and get one apple, round two blocks of speed trick-or treating (sort of like speed dating, but better--you got chocolate!) then return for another apple. We would then follow our planned route, the map of which we had worked on for weeks. We had drawn in the houses where we expected giant chocolate bars and starred homes where we remembered the homemade popcorn balls of yesteryear. Proust and his little cookies had nothing on us and our memories of Chunkys and Bit-O-Honeys.
On the day of Halloween—when St. Pat’s school was all word puzzles in the shape of pumpkins and coloring pages of witches on broomsticks silhouetted against full moons-we heard the taffy apple rumor, part two. "The Sanborns make you come in their house and look you over. That's so they can remember your costume in case you try to come back for seconds." If the high five had been known to us, my pal and I would have been up high and down low, since we had already thought of this. We planned costume adjustments between our first and second visit. First round—boy hobos with hair bunched up under our brothers caps. Second trip? Girl hobos, hair down and burnt cork applied on the fly as we deposited our first apple at home and flew back down the block for seconds.
It was a good plan and a smart one for a first grader. But a six year old is no match for a couple of sixty-somethings who had spent the day over a steaming vat of caramel trying to do something nice for the neighborhood. We were greedy and we were tricky and we were deceitful but we weren’t liars. Lying, after all, was a sin. When presented with the “sign-in book” by Mr. Sanborn where we had to write our names, first and last, and our addresses, we dutifully did as asked. Not one kid I knew—and I knew some pretty rotten kids—had the guts to out and out lie or make up a name and address so they could later return—or had the foresight to be Jane Doe on the first round and reclaim true identity for taffy apple #2.
So we made do with one taffy apple…and 4 popcorn balls, 8 Chunkys, 3 Mounds bars, 12 tootsie roll pops, dozens of caramels, snickers, bags of candy corn and more…all for us, all kept in our rooms, unchecked for foreign objects by our benignly neglectful parents whom I’m sure knew that evil existed, but just didn’t believe that it had come to our neighborhood…and who were blissfully ignorant of the dangers of sugar, red dye #2 or high fructose corn syrup. Half greed, half magic—just what childhood should be!