I grew up in a small town in eastern Kentucky. The world was different then, more innocent. It was still three weeks until JFK was shot. We were in Viet Nam but only as advisors. Nobody had ever hijacked an airplane; suicide bombed a pizza parlor, or asked what the meaning of “is” was. Parents weren’t as worried about perverts and molesters as they are today. We used to go trick-or-treating alone for hours covering many neighborhoods. There was one house, however, that never got a visit from a ghost or pirate. That was the old white house on the corner of our street. It sat way back off the street in a grove of huge dark pines. The house and the yard were not kept up very well. All of the neighborhood kids told stories about the old guy who lived there. The commonly agreed upon story was that he was an ax murderer. We all believed that he had ax murdered his wife and was just waiting for his next victim to come knocking.
This particular Halloween I was nine years old. Me, my older brother and two of our friends had gone out earlier and had made quite a hull. The four of us were returning to Iroquois Avenue with our pillowcases full of candy. We stopped under the street light out in front of the old white house at the corner. We looked at bags of candy corn and sweet tarts. Then we all turned and looked at the white house. The pale blue light of a television illuminated one window far off in the trees. Suddenly my brother started walking towards the three cement steps which led to the long sidewalk and into the pines.
“Don’t do it” we cried! “He’ll chop you up.”
All we could hear was the sound of my brother’s shoes on the sidewalk and then a knock on the door from the darkness. The door creaked open and the old man’s voice floated through the night air.
“ Wha do you wan?”
“Trick or treat!”
There was silence and then the screen door opened and shut, followed by footsteps from dark which got quicker as they got closer. My brother broke out of the trees and into the halo of the street light. He opened his pillowcase and on top of his candy was a five dollar bill! I could not get to the door fast enough. I pounded the door and the old man answered.
“ Wha do you wan?” he rasped as the strange smell on his breath wafted over me.
“Trick or treat!”
He walked away from the door and into a back room. He returned in a few seconds and I opened my bag. I ran down the path and into the light. I opened my bag and there on top of my candy was a tomato!
When we got a little older we learned that the old man wasn’t an ax murderer but an alcoholic. His wife had died some years before and he had found what comfort he could in the bottle. The yard, the garden and the house didn’t matter to him any longer.
That night, I never did figure it out. Was he just drunk and giving out whatever came to mind at the moment? Or was it part of his plan. To the first kid brave enough to come to the door, five dollars! To the next greedy punk, a tomato!