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Halloween Hijinks

Jerry Nelson recalls tricks (vs. treats) from Halloweens past.

That peculiarly American event is just around the corner, the day when we encourage – nay, reward! – outlandish behavior. It’s OK, on this particular date, for people to say, “Gimme what I want or else!”

Yes, Election Day will soon be here, a day that has many things in common with Halloween. Both events involve scariness, the specter of tricks and promises of treats. The main difference is that on the morning after Halloween, we can trade a yucky packet of candy corn for a yummy chocolate bar without having to wait for the next election cycle.

It seems like the “trick” part of trick-or-treating has fallen by the wayside. When a group of youngsters rings your doorbell and chants “Trick or treat!” you can politely reply, “I will take the trick,” and close the door with little fear of repercussions.

This wasn’t so when I was growing up. The risk of tricks kept homeowners on their toes, which, in turn, resulted in trick-or-treaters routinely reaping individual candy bars that weighed as much as a standard gold ingot. 

Even a homeowner who fully complied with the “treat” part of the equation wasn’t immune from a bit of trickery. One never knew if the morning after Halloween would find one’s trees draped with miles of TP or their windows soaped. This was an era when tricksters obtained their supplies from the household cleaning products aisle.

An old neighbor once told me how his farm had been targeted by Halloween pranksters.

“They strung monofilament fishing line all over the place,” he said. “It was everywhere, from the barn to the house to the chicken coop. I was still running into it years later. They even got some string clear up on the windmill!”

I detected a note of grudging admiration in his voice. I think he appreciated a good prank well played.

I never participated in any such Halloween hijinks. Our family, which included my five sisters, my two brothers and our parents, lived out in the boondocks on a dairy farm. A dearth of transportation options limited our opportunities for Halloween hooliganism.

One Halloween when we were kids, my brothers and I discussed our pranking possibilities. It was suggested that we do some privy tipping. But the only privy available was the unused outhouse that sat in our grove. Besides, our parents would just make us tip it back up in the morning. Someone floated the idea of soaping windows, but we knew that we would only be forced to rinse it off later. This seemed much too similar to fall housecleaning.

Maybe we could do a bit of egging. But it was quickly pointed out that while eggs were available in our chicken coop, obtaining them meant confronting an unhinged mother hen who was a fearless defender of her household. 

In the end, we decided that our Halloween prank would be to “forget” to put the toilet seat back down. It wasn’t very hooliganish, but it was the best we could manage under the circumstances.

Some years ago, my wife and I spent Halloween evening doling out generous portions of cavity-causing confections to neighborhood kids. We retired for the night secure in the knowledge that our farmhouse would be spared any nocturnal tomfoolery.

But in the middle of the night we were awakened by a loud ruckus outside our window. A whirlwind of growls and whines and squeals and yaps assaulted our ears. Was it the vocalizations of some gruesome monster? Was some deranged beast – a huge, hairy thing that had glistening ropes of saliva dripping from its terrifying fangs – trying to claw its way into our home?

As Man of The House, it fell to me to investigate. I threw on some clothes, grabbed my shotgun, and found a functional flashlight. What I saw was indeed horrifying.

Our dogs, Copper and Curly, were tag-teaming a skunk – right beneath our bedroom window! I tried to call them off but couldn’t dissuade them from their grisly task. The skunk had emptied his stink glands at the dogs, with no small amount of overspray striking our house. I thought that targeting our abode was unwarranted, but I suppose the skunk felt there was a principle involved.

It was soon over. Working together, our canine charges quickly put an end to our midnight interloper. They trotted back to me with their prize, an expression on their faces that said, “Look, Dad! Isn’t this great?”

That was probably the worst Halloween treat ever. And for a long time afterward, we endured an overpowering olfactory reminder of the skunk’s final trick.  

I wish that the dogs had found a spool of fishing line instead.                     



Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at and in bookstores nationwide.

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