Halloween no paper-bag-drag

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Some things haven’t change over the decades. Kids still like to dress up for Halloween.

In the ’50s and ’60s, we often dressed as ghosts and goblins. You might occasionally see Superman or Batman dashing from doorstep to doorstep, giggling like little-kid-superheroes, but most of the costumes were homemade and a lot less expensive than they are now.

In those days, we rarely used fancy plastic pumpkins or any other store-bought container to hold our candy and treats.

As we gained experience, we discovered that paper grocery bags didn’t work very well. Little kids who were new to the whole trick-or-treat game would drag their paper grocery bags behind them until the bottom of the bag wore though. Then they would leave a trail of treats everywhere they went.

It wasn’t unusual for older kids to follow the little-ones and collect from both the houses and the sidewalks.

At our house, we frequently dressed like hobos. That saved us the cost of buying a flimsy, factory-made costume with the hard, plastic face mask that heated up your face and would usually end up on top of your head.

Our hobo makeup was simple — it consisted of taking a little of Mom’s makeup and smudging it around on our fresh, young faces to make a bit of a beard.

Instead of paper bags, we would use pillow cases to hold our candy. Being hobos, we would attach our pillow-case-bags to a stick that we would carry over a shoulder – like the old pictures we saw of hobos.

I liked dressing up like a hobo. When I was about 11 years old, I wanted to be a hobo.

Occasionally, a hobo would be depicted on television. One of my favorites was on the old Andy Griffith Show.

Buddy Ebsen played a hobo named David Brown who meets young Opie while fishing. They developed a friendship that blossomed as Opie became more and more infatuated with the ideas of freedom and roaming the country by hitching rides on trains, also known as riding the rails

Of course, Barney wanted to arrest him for vagrancy, but Andy would rather let him merely move on. That is until he realizes the influence David Brown is having on Opie and the ideas that are being planted in Opie’s imagination. The same ideas were being planted in my fertile young mind.

In one scene, Opie’s hobo friend expressed frustration with Barney when he said, “I don’t mean to break the law but seems I got no choice. If I move, I’m a vagrant. If I stand still, I’m loitering.”

David Brown convinced Opie that it would be better to put off going to school and to go fishing instead. So, the next day Opie went to the fishing hole instead of school. Of course, Opie got into trouble with his Pa.

When questioned about it, David Brown told Andy, “I would always rather to do things tomorrow. It’s the most perfect day to start any job — tomorrow. Most marvelous day that was ever invented. Why, there’s absolutely nothing a man can’t do… tomorrow.”

As a youngster, who wouldn’t rather go fishing than go to school? I loved the idea.

Mom and Dad … well, they had other ideas. They would allow me dress like a hobo for Halloween, but I wasn’t allowed to run away from home and ride the rails.

Over time, hobos have gotten a bad reputation. They have been compared to tramps and bums, but there is a distinct difference between the three.

A hobo is a homeless vagrant. They are impoverished, but unlike a tramp or a bum they want to work, but they only work long enough so they can afford to move on down the road.

Whereas, a tramp doesn’t work at all unless they are forced to and a bum travels from place to place and lives off the land.

Bums shun all forms of work. Tramps work only when necessary and hobos are always between jobs.

The word “hobo” apparently started in California. Some folks think it might have originally been an abbreviation for the two words “homeward bound.” That was the routine answer a hobo might give when asked, “Where are you headed?” The hobo would simply say, “I’m homeward bound.”

We’re bound to see quite a few hobos on beggars night this month. Be nice to them. Give them plenty of treats and no tricks.

Hopefully, our little hobo visitors will use a sturdy, old pillow case and will be able to avoid the pitfalls of paper-bag-drag that leaves a candy trail behind them.

Be safe this coming beggar’s night. Drive with caution.

Keep an eye out for little hobos.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.


Randy Riley

Contributing columnist