Just a band of Halloween hobos

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I continue to marvel at the parents who so ingeniously come up with spectacular costumes for their children every year on Halloween.

They take regular household items and create personas for the little ones in which they can be anything — salt and pepper shakers, little bugs, rabbits, even take-out Chinese food . . . and of course, princesses and superheroes.

How these transformations take place — well, that’s beyond me. These parents have to be creative individuals to pull it off and kudos are well deserved.

My mother must have been an imaginative person because she had seven kids that to be duded up each year and taken through the neighborhood to trick-or-treat. We didn’t have money trees growing in the back yard, so she would take all available materials and make a whole bunch out of nothing.

Some years, when she was out of time and low on resources, she’d pull out one particular, special trick out of her hat — we’d become the “Band of Hobos.” That’s what she called us. Basically, she’d put us in denim overalls, stuff them with rags, get out some oversized shoes. Then, she’d take a plate out to the incinerator (where we burned our trash) and dish up some ashes. Those ashes would literally be rubbed on our faces to make us appear like we’d “been on the road” or “riding the rails” for some time. Then, we’d each get an old hat of our dad’s or grandpa’s. But we weren’t done.

She’d run out to the trees, get some sticks and then tie cloth flour bags on the end, filled with rags. We’d carry them over our shoulders, pretending it was all our belongings — like something out of old-time cartoons. Sometimes our cloth pouches matched the pretend patches she’d quick-sew to the knees of our overalls, sometimes we matched each other.

Regardless, the years we were the Halloween Hobos — we were always a hit.

She’d load the seven hobos in the van (even the babies fit the theme, with the exception of the sticks and sacks) and we’d head out to run the usual route.

First stop — Grandma Onie and Grandpa Andy. By the time we got there, Andy was already in his chair, watching his black and white TV. Generally, it was “To Tell the Truth,” his favorite game show. He’d be sitting there, smoking his pipe, watching the tube which was turned up to high heaven because he couldn’t hear. Either that or he was trying to tune out Grandma.

Onie would be in the kitchen, fussing with the treats of the year — which always included her raisin cookies, a kettle of popcorn and what she called “cornies” (the candy that is shaped like kernels of corn). She’d throw the treats in paper bags, the whole time yelling, “Andrew, get in the kitchen! The kids are here!”

And he’d yell back, “They know where I am! If they want to see me, they can walk in here! But don’t stand in front of the TV!”

So we’d parade our hobo outfits next to the old guy — he’d keep one eye on Kitty Carlisle (always a guest competitor) and Nipsy Russell (who made up all the rhymes), and another eye on the huge group of kids itching from the ashes.

Back into the van and down the road . . . our next stop was Dorothy and Emil’s.

We loved to go there. This was the old couple who let us swim in their creek every summer. During the holidays, they treated us like we were their grandkids.

So, we’d pull in the yard and Dorothy would hit the yard light. We’d walk into her kitchen which smelled like a combination of something fried in lard, cinnamon and Clorox.

Dorothy was an ample woman who walked with a limp in her saggy pantyhose and orthopedic shoes. Emil was an old guy with a bald head, who amazingly enough was sitting in his chair, in front of his TV, also watching “To Tell The Truth.” You have to realize that out there, back then, we only got one television station.

She’d yell at him to look at the costumes and he’d just wave as he chuckled about Nipsy Russell’s rhymes that quite frankly went over my head.

“So what are you this year?” she’d ask, winking at my mom and giving her a hug.

“I don’t know, I guess we’re a bunch of runaway kids or something,” my brother, Terry, would say, scratching at his face.

“No, we’re called hobos,” my sister, Nancy, would correct him. “We’re hobos.”

Dorothy would make us walk around in a circle, waving our sticks and sacks, while she’d clap her hands. And when she was done with the parade, she’d hobble over to the pantry and bring out a beer flat filled with fun.

Every year, never fail, she’d make us each an individual bread sack filled with joy. Always in the bottom of the used Wonder package was a big, pink popcorn ball that was hard as a rock, but we’d gnaw on them anyway. How she got them pink, I’m not sure — but we loved them. There was also a full-sized Butterfinger, a marshmallow puff thing (which I couldn’t eat, because I threw it up a few years before at my Aunt Linda’s), and an apple or an orange. She’d tie those suckers shut with string from her quilting collection and write each of our names on the outside (how she knew or remembered all that, I’ll never know).

We’d make our way down the road, to Vince and Marie Thiele’s house (they had the best “store-bought” stuff) . . . Snickers, Twizzlers and Bings. Every year, although it was only Halloween, we’d ask them what they had planned for Christmas lights, because theirs were amazing. They’d tell us they were adding an angel, they were going to be wrapping three new evergreens in twinklers, Santa and the reindeer would actually be flying over the house that year, and there would be lighted peppermint sticks leading up the driveway.

There were a few more stops on our way home — Floyd and Marlene Henn were usually our last. Floyd would stand in the doorway, teasing my mom about how many more kids she was going to have. And Marlene would hand out a variety things — she was partial to Hershey bars — the whole time scolding Floyd.

We didn’t stop at every yard light along the country road, but just enough to fill our bags, fight over and get sufficient stomach aches.

At home, we washed the debris from our faces, shed our overalls and head to bed.

“What’s a hobo?” my brother, Steve, would ask.

“If you keep doing your homework, you’ll never have to find out,” Mom would say, tucking us in.

I’d lay there in the dark and hear the mama prop her feet up in the living room.

“Wow, do I deserve this,” my mom would say, each and every year.

Maybe we never said it, but there was always great gratitude for the lady who created her Band of Halloween Hobos.


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