Friday, October 28, 2011

Trick-or-treat friends: Why cheese in a box was better than Halloween

So Halloween is coming up on Monday here in Australia.

I'm sorry, I am going against the grain here and saying - as I have done consistently in previous years - we don't "do" Halloween. Just the whole headless, bloodied, ghoulish mask thing is one that freaks our sensitive little petal right out. See, the LGBB likes the idea of Halloween (what's not to love, on the surface? You dress up, you walk around your neighbourhood in groups of friends, you go door to door receiving sweets for nothing). But she always forgets that witches terrify her. Masks make her hysterical. And the sight of (even fake) blood has her father and I assured for the time being that she would not make a very good vet. Or doctor. Of any description.

I was talking to a friend earlier today about why it is that Halloween is such a big deal here. 'Have we missed something?' I always ask when I find that rare person who doesn't go in for the ritual.... a term I have to use loosely.

We were none the wiser after discussing it, realising that we are uneducated about the practice of Halloween and are more than happy to allow for people who partake in it. But that it is simply not something our children join in on (because of not enjoying the dress-up bit when it comes down to sheet-adorning, mask-applying crunch-time).

We agreed that all we see is a chance for our children (nothing personal here, just talking about her children and mine) to be delivered rather mixed signals: That out of the blue, we're encouraging the notion of going along with something simply because everyone else is doing what they collectively think is a good idea (peer pressure reinforcement... and don't you be thinking for one second that mothers aren't pressured by their peers!) and, more's the sticking point for me, be rewarded with so many treats it would make your eyes pop. The kind of treats that, at any other time of year, are meted out with great restraint in our house. Why would I be okay all of a sudden with the LGBB collecting lollies from strangers, only to bring them all back here and have what would effectively be (the way I ration them) a few months' supply of junk food? The thought of having all that in the house - and her being aware of it... and nagging me hour after hour for more - is more than I can sanely bear to imagine. These two things alone are simply not the kind of mixed messages I want to send her. Call me a prude. A stick in the mud. It just doesn't sit well with me.

It got me thinking, though, about my upbringing. Namely, the fact that we never did trick-or-treat-ing (we lived in a place where the houses were so spaced apart by paddocks that you'd be lucky to visit ten in a 1/2km stretch... too much for little feet!). But I wasn't short for treats. Oh, no. When I wanted the really good stuff, I had my friends. Better yet, I didn't have to pester anyone! They did it all and I just sat back and cashed in with eyes bigger than my little stomach.

Paula was the junk food friend. She was the kind of kid who pestered her busy mother for food even as she was finishing her final mouthful of the last thing she asked for (and received). In one 2-hour play at Paula's after primary school, I could be assured of an Augustus Gloop-type array of gluttony. Pure bliss and delight to my seven year-old eyes! Crisps, ice lollies, packets of Tic-Tacs, a choc chip biscuit or four. I remember the time I went there and was crestfallen to realise.... I had eaten so much I felt full. So full, in fact, that I couldn't possibly fit in the Wizz Fizz, popcorn or bowl of cocoa pops (because "cereal is a healthy snack") but did anyway. Oh, how I was ill.

Michelle was the soda fountain friend. Until the magical year we received one of our very own (1984, I believe it was), it was Michelle's house you went to if you wanted carbonated water mixed with the most disgustingly good imitation cola syrup. Oh, yeah. That was The Stuff.

There were others, each with their own delightful contribution to my childhood treaties stage. However, of all of them, Caroline was by far the top shelf friend. For you see, in Caroline's house one could be assured of the Expensive Cheese. The heavily over-processed long-life no-refrigeration-required-until-opening Kraft blue box cheese.

Oh my. I was instantly in love. With the cheese, not Caroline.

My childhood - sadly or not, you be the judge and keep the judgements to yourself thank you very much - was improved greatly by the discovery of thickly sliced "cheese in the box" (as we called it) sat atop white bread and stuck under the griller. The base of the cheese slices would go gooey, while the top would lift away up towards the heat and grill to browned perfection. Once cooled down a tad, you could stick your finger through the dome-puffed cheese crust and break it away. Delectable. Taking a bite, the cheese would ooze and string. Sheer. Delight. From-a-box.

I took a survey (of one) and discovered my friend also remembered the name of her Treat Friend - Margie. Margie who introduced her to slabs of real butter atop hot toast. Now, to a girl who'd only known fast and efficient margarine to that point in her life, the discovery of butter was akin to finding her religion.

So I maintain:  Halloween does not have to be. It never factored in my childhood and I was no worse off for it. Granted, I essentially thought cheese with a shelf life with no end-date bunged on some bread and grilled was the absolute shiz. But still... we won't be bowing to the pressure bestowed on us increasingly each year to join in that over-commercialized "festive fun" occasion known as Halloween. It's so northern hemisphere, it's almost embarrassing. Mind you, how in the heck we are going to continue to get away with this as the LGBB grows older is another thing. I guess I should also add a disclaimer here that I will "never say never" definitively. But for this year at least, once again, we'll be conveniently unable to hear the doorbell. Oh, what a shame.....

Go on. Hit me with your bah humbugs! I'm used to it!

Do you have a treat friend? Do you remember their name and what they had on offer at their house? Please share!

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