1937-1967 on the farm
and Fort Collins, Colorado;
1967 to present, Alaska
My first memory of Halloween is when I was about 5. Our Dad, the biggest Halloween prankster of all, took the spotlight.
The first thing we did the day before, was make popcorn balls with yellow syrup, wrapped them in waxed paper and tied with Christmas curly ribbon.
The popcorn of course was grown by Dad, picked by Dad with the help of his horses hitched to the big wagon with side boards. It was shucked by us — Mom, Dad, Butch and me — Ginger was younger and tried to help! We sat underneath the clothesline where there was a little breeze to blow the chafe away. We sat on a big quilt, with a sheet on top. We rubbed corn cobs together to pop the kernels off. They would go flying in ever direction — thus the big sheet that would catch the flying kernels.
We put the naked corncobs in a bushel basket to be taken into the house to start the fire in the big black coal stove that sat in the corner of the old house. Great fire starter!
After we finished, Mom and Dad would gather the ends of the sheet and pour the shucked corn into a large container. Then Dad would take three or four large coffee containers (the tin kind!) and divide up the corn kernels for Grandma and Grandpa, and some of his neighbors. The rest went into a larger sack that sat in the corner of the kitchen behind the door for neighbors that stopped in for a bag of John’s popcorn. Dad never charged for it but Mom did. My recollection is she charged a quarter for a large paper sack of popcorn.
The night before Halloween the big cast iron skillet came out and was put on the stove. Some bacon grease and lard went into the hot pan. Just the right amount of popcorn went into the hot skillet, the lid put on and Dad would shake and shake until he could not hear any more popping of the corn. He would take the skillet off the stove and pour it into the waiting dish pan on the table. Almost always the minute he took off the lid, one of the kernels would pop and a few popped corn kernels was scatter onto the floor. We picked it up and most of the time it disappeared into our mouths.
In the meantime, Mom was stirring her concoction of syrup, sugar and water on the stove, carefully dripping a few drops of it into a cold cup of water until it was just at the right “clinking” sound when she pulled the small strand of syrup out of the cold water and “clinked” it on the side of the cup. She would take it off the stove in a hurry and tell Dad to get the big buttered spoon and mix while she poured the molten hot liquid onto the popped corn. Dad would stir and stir until he had every morsel covered with hot syrup. Then working quickly, he and Mom would dip their hands in cold water, dip into the syrupy covered popped corn, form balls and set them on a cookie sheet to cool and dry. I learned to do this later on, but never was as fast at it as Mom and Dad.
After the balls cooled, we wrapped them in wax paper and set them in a pretty bowl in the middle of the kitchen table waiting for someone to bite into them. We all loved popcorn balls and they soon disappeared. Some were given as gifts to Grandpa and Grandma. We never, as I can ever remember, had trick-or-treaters at our farm house. However, that was different when Dad sold the farm and bought the John Deere dealership east of Fort Collins and lived in a house close by.
When I was in high school and still on the farm, I remember going with a bunch of trick-or-treaters to various houses in Timnath and decorating the trees with toilet paper. I never had to much fun as I was always afraid I would get caught. I did not think it was so nice to take toilet paper and wind it around my friends’ parents houses. I only went once with them. I would rather dole out candy to the trick-or-treaters that came to our house. Eat some candy too!
Later, my three kids were the fist ones on Halloween Night to knock on Dad and Mom’s door when they lived outside of Fort Collins. The front door would fling open and there was their Grandpa laying on the floor next to the wall of the open door, with his “spooky” face on, (no teeth) saying in his low monotone voice, “Booo!” Gail was brave and stood her ground trying not to be scared, but David and Susan ran for their lives until they looked back. Grandpa was standing up, laughing his big belly laugh! He would ask if he scared them. Gail would say NO! But David and Susan always said YES! He was the biggest trick-or-treater of all and he never even left the house!
Fast forward to Alaska, trick-or-treat came always when it was bitter cold — 10 above zero to 10 below — and snow on the ground. First the kids had to put on their snowsuits, hats and gloves, then I would put the costumes over them. Then came the snow boots and they were ready to climb in my big turquoise and black Dodge station wagon and off we would go to pick up Jo Anne Adams’ two kids and Leatha Earll’s two kids to go trick-or-treating in Sleepers Trailer Court. Then off to a few other places that had the porch light on. You had to travel to them. No neighborhood houses side by side — except a few in McGahan’s trailer court. All were friends, neighbors and homesteaders appreciated the effort of the parents and the kids to come out in the bitter cold and trick-or-treat. One time, a lonesome homesteader, who forgot it was Halloween and was surprised by the cold ghoulish trickers at the door, gave out potatoes from his pantry. He was so appreciative of someone coming to his door. Other times, the kids would end up with quarters and dollar bills, because they had no idea it was Halloween.
As the kids climbed back into the warm car, full of snow and cold, steam from their cold bodies would fill up the car and I would have to open the windows. Someone always walked out of their boots and almost everyone lost their mittens and hats. The next day cleaning out the car, I found various mittens and hats, and lots of lost candy. Of course, some could not wait to eat a piece of candy until getting back to their warm houses, so they would grab a hand full of candy from the paper sack, or pillow cases or coffee cans and try and peel off the paper wrapper with the mittens on. Total chaos in the car and I loved every minute of it. One time I almost forgot to count and almost left someone lagging behind trudging through the snow with over-sized boots on. It was my own son David!
Dad related to us kids that he and his brothers and pals used to upset the outhouses around his neighborhood in Kansas always hoping someone would be in it! Bob said they threw eggs at unsuspecting cars. He also said they did more tricks than treats. I did not want to be mean — I just wanted to get candy!
Because I am writing this the day before Halloween, I will assume that we will have at least two trick-or-treaters again this year. We live to far out to have many come to our door, however I am always prepared. Even have potatoes!
My great-grandkids, Bralyn and Braleigh, will be here I hope. I have yellow popcorn balls for them. Have to keep up the tradition, you know!
This reminiscent story about wash day and the 13 steps is from friend, Barbara Romine:
“I know about a weird bottom step. The split level house I bought in Minnesota had a carpeted bottom step, same carpeting as all of finished basement. All the other steps were hardwood with no carpeting. So when you hit the bottom step, if you weren’t counting, you’d think you were on the floor and lose your balance! I got a carpenter over there who took out that bottom step and put in an oak one to match the others. (They must’ve come up with one oak step short when they put the steps in!) Of course this was an easier fix than a shorter cement one. Somebody miscalculated! Funny stories that short step made — though not funny at the time, I’m sure.
“My mom did the beds differently than yours. She changed sheets once a week. Off came the bottom sheets, the top sheet became the bottom sheet and we all got a clean top sheet once a week. And yes, it smelled like heaven because, like yours, it was line-dried. My mom had a book published when she was in her 80s, called “Never a Dull Moment.” She forgot many of these stories for the book but it is filled with great reminiscing nonetheless. Take care, my friend. Keep the stories and recipes coming. — Barb.”
Thank you, Barb!
The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self-taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or look for her on Facebook at Grannie Annies COOK BOOKS, where you can find details and ordering information for her cook books.