Rural Halloween: A Real Treat in Illinois

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The rural woman gave our 3-year-old Tinker Bell a 10-ounce box of graham snacks, a bottle of chocolate milk and jars of baby food for her infant brother, who was dressed as a bat.

“I only get five trick-or-treaters,” said the woman, who lives 22 miles from the nearest town with a stoplight. Within my view, I could see resealable bags filled with treats set in a basket, prepared for the three kids yet to visit.

That Halloween evening yielded three grocery bags of snacks and loose candy and another bag filled with boxes of fruit snacks and an eight-pack of juice beverages for two children, one restricted to pureed foods. In fact, one neighbor emptied 80 percent of the miniature candy bar dish into our daughter’s bag. Months later, our daughter – then dressed as a normal toddler civilian – still asked to trick-or-treat when we pulled into their driveway.

Country-style trick-or-treating focuses on friendships, few stops and candy by the bagfuls. The country way was all I knew until adulthood, when my husband and I lived three years in town. There, we counted nearly 300 treat seekers, which persuaded us to give one miniature candy bar per kid. I shopped economically, studying the nutrition label’s serving size to determine which candy bags contained the most bars for my money. And we never spoke with the goblins more than to compliment their costumes at the door.

It was a stark contrast to my childhood, when the candy contributions were larger and the visits at least 15 minutes apiece. Country dwellers with well-lit front porches expect only a half-dozen visitors. They have no hesitation in preparing hefty treat bags and initiating conversation with Ninja Turtles and wicked witches.

One lady always distributed the quarter-pound chocolate blocks with almonds. Another would make ghosts with lollipops to top off a treat bag. Still others were prepared with quart bags of treats labeled with our names. I recall the one elderly woman who insisted we chat over coffee cake.

By junior high my brother and I outgrew the Halloween tradition. Then, we took plates of homemade cookies to our gracious country neighbors. More than 10 years later, many of those same country neighbors attended my wedding. As my husband and I greeted our guests, one of them recalled the Halloween that I dressed as a bride. At that point I knew our childhood visits meant as much to them as the candy did to us.

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