Halloween Treats Were Boomers’ Bounty

Leaves were falling and a cool wind scurried across a landscape punctuated by mud-gray skies. Mister Boomer and his classmates hurried home from school, skin tingling with the anticipation of the annual night of trick-or-treating. For Mister B and many of his classmates, trick-or-treat time would have to wait until after dinner with the family.

As twilight approached and his mother prepared dinner, Mister B set out his costume, readying it for the instant he could change and go. It was a chilly day, so long johns would be in order this year; anything was preferable to having to put a coat over a costume. “This will be the year,” he thought. This was going to be the Big One, when he filled a pillowcase with candy.

There would be no plastic pumpkin to carry for boomer boys. Those things were reserved for  the young ones, whose trick-or-treating meant being walked through the neighborhood while holding the hand of a parent. For Mister Boomer and most others of the time, only a pillowcase from the family’s linen closet would do. They would dream bigger. It was the 1960s, after all.

It had been the goal of every trick-or-treater Mister Boomer knew for years. And every year they fell short. They were dealing with a timed event — starting at six, after dinner, and required to be back home by nine — the clock was not in their favor. Extrapolate the sheer distance needed to be covered to complete the task and the equation seemed impossible. The prime Halloween experience was itself limited by age; by the time Mister B was eight, he was allowed to trick or treat with his friends, but by fourteen, the days of heading door to door for treats was over.

The fact was, Mister Boomer never came close. Brother Boomer hit the three-quarter mark once, and Mister B was able to exceed the half-way point during his prime years. One neighborhood kid, though, reached the Holy Grail. Mister B was already nearing his home as nine o’clock approached when the boy, completely out of breath, held up his bounty with both hands for all to see. There, spilling to the edge of his pillowcase, were cellophanes of root beer barrels, Smarties and sleeves of Whoopers glimmering in the ambient porch lights of the neighborhood. He had it all: Mary Janes, Bazooka Bubble Gum, Good & Plentys, Fruit Stripes gum, Buttons, Snickers bars, Three Musketeers, Chuckles, Milky Way bars, Pay Days, Junior Mints, Necco Wafers, Butterfingers, Almond Joys, Boston Baked Beans, Atomic Fireballs, Turkish Taffy, Powerhouse bars, Clark bars, JuJubes, Dots, Lifesavers, Chiclets gum, SweeTarts, Bit-O-Honeys, Tootsie Pops, Tootsie Rolls, Pixie Sticks, Dum Dum suckers, Slo Pokes and Sugar Daddys on a stick, a couple of apples and dozens of those chewy peanut butter caramel kisses wrapped in black or orange waxed paper. And he had the admiration of every boomer boy on the block.

Halloween had always been a sprint rather than a marathon. This kid ran right out of the gate and never stopped running for three hours. If one’s goal was to accumulate as much as possible, there was no time for tricks or lollygagging at the homemade papier-mâché witch that was rigged by the neighbors to traverse a rope as children approached. He did violate the number one rule that every boomer mother laid down, though: he ran across lawns instead of using the walkway up to each porch.

The point of this Mister Boomer memory is that this kid, and all the boomers Mister B knew, got to keep whatever they collected. Some parents tried to control the intake of candy in each setting, but whatever was gathered in the pillowcase became theirs to control. In the case of Mister Boomer and his siblings, they had to sacrifice an occasional Junior Mints or Butterfingers to their father, and his mother liked to have Milky Ways straight from the freezer. It was all part of the game, like paying taxes on an annual basis.

The prompt for this memory was a recent chat Mister B had with some Gen X mothers who severely restrict their children’s Halloween treat collection, and make no apologies for it. After their initial candy inspection for nefarious anomalies, these mothers force their offspring to select a couple of handfuls of what they have collected, and the rest is given away, either to charities or, in this case, set out in their mothers’ workplace. While their intentions are good — presumably to cut sugar intake and reduce cavities — Mister B wonders about the wisdom of these actions.

While obesity among children is at an all-time high, studies indicate the problem isn’t with the consumption of candy. True, the average American consumes 22 pounds of candy each year, with nearly half of that being chocolate. That number has been relatively stable over the past decade or so, though up considerably from the time when boomers trick-or-treated. Halloween candy, though, only accounts for four percent of annual candy consumption. It turns out, adults are eating more candy than kids.

The major culprit that government and nutritionist studies point to are sugary drinks. The intake of these items has steadily risen since the early 1960s, when the first 12 ounce can of soda pop with a pull-tab was introduced. At the time, bottles were eight ounces or less, compared to the 20 ounce bottles that are commonplace today. Boomers, generally speaking, did not consume soda pop on a daily basis, and sugar-filled, so-called energy and sports drinks did not exist. Boomers got their dose of sugar the old-fashioned way — in our breakfast cereal.

So, Mister Boomer is coming down on the side of the kids on this one. Sure, parents have to watch what their kids eat. But let them be kids, too. Halloween is slowly but surely being co-opted by adults enamored with all things scary. Part of Mister B’s favorite memories include the candy that he received and ate on Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas and, especially, Halloween. What memories will today’s kids tell of their Halloween candy experiences? Or has candy become so much of an everyday item that the specialness of a candy-filled holiday has lost all meaning?

Did you get to keep and eat all the candy you collected on Halloween, boomers? Have a great evening with your grandchildren, and don’t fill up on those snack-size bars!

Boomers Loved Their Halloween Candy

It’s Halloween week, an appropriate time to reminisce about the candy we collected when we were young enough to want as much as we could possibly carry. The Holy Grail in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood was to fill a standard pillowcase. It’s a feat only one boy came close to accomplishing, but along the way, we gathered mounds of Mounds, and plenty of Good ‘n Plenty.

Mister Boomer has always enjoyed getting more bang for the buck, and that held true for Halloween candy, too. After full-size candy bars (the ultimate prize), things that offered multiple items were among his favorites: Whoppers, Kits (m-m-m — banana flavor!), Dots, Junior Mints, Chuckles and Lifesavers, to name a few. And then there were the sugary wafers and tablets of Necco Wafers, Smarties and SweeTarts.

Necco Wafers
Predating the boomer era by two generations, Necco wafers were the product of a New England confectioner named Oliver Chase. He invented a lozenge cutter machine in 1847, which was the first candy-making machine in the United States. Oliver partnered with his brother, Silas Edwin Chase, and they began selling candy as Chase and Company, which later became the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO).

During the Civil War, soldiers carried some of the lozenge-shaped, Chase brothers candy. They called them “hub wafers.” The sugary concoction would not melt in a pocket and could last a long while. In 1911, the brothers began calling their candy Necco wafers. When World War II came along, Necco wafers were given to soldiers for the same reasons Civil War soldiers carried them. A great many who may not have been acquainted with the New England brand took a liking to it, so when they returned home, they continued to buy it. This helped the brand expand coast to coast. Once these former soldiers got married and started the post-war Baby Boom, they introduced their children to the brand, most notably, on Halloween.

The original flavors were lemon (yellow), lime (green), orange (orange), clove (purple), chocolate (brown), cinnamon (white), licorice (black) and wintergreen (pink). Mister B liked the licorice the best and the clove the least. All black packages of Necco were available in some stores.

The small, sweet-and-tart Smarties candies were among Mister Boomer’s favorite Halloween booty. Edward Dee and his family started CeDe Candy in 1949, perfectly positioning their product to take full advantage of the Baby Boom. They repurposed shell making machines from World War II to make their candy tablets.

Kids loved the sugary taste as much as the shape. In an era when medicine seemed to taste bad by its very nature, kids could pretend they were taking a Smarties pill and enjoy the experience. Made in pastel colors, the “pills” were fun. The original color/flavor line up was orange (orange), yellow (pineapple), pink (cherry), white (orange cream), green (strawberry) and purple (grape). When there was a shortage of sugar in the 1970s, the company switched to dextrose. The company name was changed to Smarties Candy Company in 2011 to reflect the importance of the product to the company’s bottom line. Now in his 90s, Edward Dee still runs the company.

A true boomer candy, SweeTarts were invented by John Fish Smith and introduced in 1963. The story goes that mothers were looking for a less messy version of the immensely popular Pixy Stix. You will recall Pixy Stix were a blast of colored and flavored sugar delivered as a powder inside a wax paper straw. Smith solved the powder mess by using the same basic recipe and same flavors of cherry, grape, lemon, lime and orange to form his SweeTarts candies.

The tart flavors were a big hit with Mister Boomer’s sister. Halloween night she would try to trade Mister B and Brother Boomer her collected Three Musketeers and PayDay bars for as many SweeTarts as the boys were willing to part with, which in Mister B’s case wasn’t much. He enjoyed the candy, too, just not to the extent of his sister. Mister B was willing to part with some of the smaller, Halloween-sized packages because he didn’t like the fact the tiny pouch only contained three candies. He’d keep the full-size packages for himself.

The candy is now owned by Nestle and branded with the Willy Wonka label.

Mister B, like most boomers, has fond memories of running house to house to collect as much sugary goodness as he could in the short trick or treat evening. While he still feels a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine, these candies remind him that boomers did not live by chocolate alone.

Necco wafers, Smarties and SweeTarts: were they among your favorites, boomers?