We’ve all done it as kids. Waiting for Halloween to show up, days dragging until the final countdown in hours. School seemed endless as October wound down — making leaf drawings and memorizing times tables. Finally, though, the day was here and it was time for trick-or-treat. Back when I was young, Halloween costumes were pretty lame compared to the elaborate array of makeup and masks and outfits of today. The masks we had to choose from included the non-scary witch, the generic mouse, a king complete with molded-in crown, and the ever-present ghost. Thin plastic faces with a rubber band that usually broke before you left home were the norm. They fit about as good as a mixing bowl on your face and the two breathing holes weren’t even necessary since the whole mask only touched your nose and forehead, with the rest just sticking out around your cheeks. I always opted for a home-made getup. In the weeks before, I had visions of being a pirate with eyepatch and stick-on moustache, or maybe a goblin with a five inch nose and green face. But as the time got closer, my grand visions slowly degenerated into whatever I could find in the closet and mom’s makeup drawer. Between getting out of school at three and time to start treating, I made an anxious search for clothing and accessories. And more often than not, I settled for some of my dad’s old work clothes and things from the garage.
As I gave up the idea of being a swashbuckler or Dracula, I felt the best thing was to become a “king of the road” or a vagabond rider of the rails. I know that some people will take exception to some of the terms used to describe such drifters. Vagrant, beggar, and bum come to mind. But in my ten-year-old mind, a hobo was a man of character and distinction. He was a man who held his head high, living by his wits and occasionally getting the better of those who looked down on him. A hobo was someone who owned little — by choice — and wasted nothing. Even a half-used cigar cast off by someone (who was obviously spoiled and wasteful )was appreciated by the hobo. To him, asking for a bit of food or some change wasn’t a bad thing — it was a way of showing thankfulness for the bounty of the land. He would never set out to steal anything. Sometimes he may ‘borrow’ from an unwatched barrel of apples on a storefront sidewalk, but he always planned to repay the ‘donor.’ To me, the hobo wasn’t lazy or slothful. He was a minimalist who took nothing for granted and knew that something better was always just around the corner. So, rather than being a king or even a prince, I decided to be a hobo.
The candy was secondary to using my imagination in making up a costume. The old ragged flannel shirt and the bandana tied on a limb from the back yard were the marks of a man with character and morals. And walking down the sidewalk with a bundle of old clothes tied to a stick was a big deal to me, because for that time I was living the life of someone who was self-reliant, happy with little, wise in the ways of the world, and enjoyed traveling and seeing new sights. For a couple hours on Halloween I was a grown man with a charcoal drawn five o’clock shadow and an imitation gold watch chain. I really was a ‘king of the road.’ A man among men. And my ten year old friends — in their plastic masks and manufactured capes — were just kids with bad princess and Dracula masks.