When the wind whips the dry leaves around in late October, I always think of Scout Finch.

She was the girl in Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” daughter of lawyer Atticus and sister to Gem.

At the school Halloween pageant, she dresses as a ham, donning a big, bulky shell shaped like a ham with a slit cut out of the top so she can see out.

In the black-and-white movie version of the book, Scout waddles home from the pageant in the dark, frightened by the sounds of the night while stalked by a bad man who seeks to harm her.

Halloween is a creepy, spooky holiday, but one that, ironically, brings a lot of joy to little kids.

It is different than it was when I was a child growing up in Skowhegan in the 1960s. There weren’t reams of colorful costumes to choose from in advertising fliers or packed on racks in department stores.

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We certainly didn’t have all the giant plastic blow-up monsters, blood dripping from their fangs, displayed on lawns. Or tiny orange lights to string on trees.

Halloween was much simpler then.

If we acquired a store-bought accessory, it might be a plastic mask complemented by a hand-made costume. Many mothers spent the days before Halloween sewing witches’ dresses, dredging up old trousers and shirts from the attic to stuff with straw for a scarecrow or chimney-sweep costume, and swiping soot from the woodstove to blacken cheeks.

An outdoor decoration was a pumpkin or two, carved on the kitchen table with a butcher knife. We saved the seeds to dry, salt and roast in the oven.

We placed lit pumpkins on the front step to greet trick-or-treaters and counted ourselves lucky if they were still there in the morning.

In Skowhegan, goblins stole pumpkins. The morning after Halloween, Madison Avenue was peppered with pumpkin parts from being rolled down the hill like bowling balls during the night.

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We didn’t mess around with using paper bags or plastic pumpkin pails to trick or treat. As we got older and wiser, we learned a pillowcase served as the best vessel for collecting hordes of candy because it held more and didn’t rip. And when we got tired, we could sling them over our shoulders like Santa Claus.

We stuck close to our neighborhood when we were little but ventured farther out as we neared our teens, trekking downtown and crossing the bridges over the Kennebec River to the south side. Sometimes a homeowner answering the doorbell would eye us suspiciously and ask if we were from across the river. If we answered truthfully, we might get a reluctant fistful of candy — and told to stick to the other side of town.

Slogging through the dark streets asking for handouts was tiring, especially if it snowed or rained. When our pillowcases were half full, we headed for home.

We’d drag through the kitchen door, wet, cold and exhausted, dump our loot on the living room floor and compare notes.

Some of us collected more candy than others. We inspected each other’s hauls, traded peanut butter cups for chocolate bars and hot balls for Bit-O-Honeys and consumed way too many Tootsie Rolls. Bruised apples got tossed.

Having so much free candy was a dream come true, but the best and most popular treats were produced by my mother: homemade popcorn balls and candied apples. As much as we liked acquiring candy ourselves, we loved watching the faces of other kids as they sunk their teeth into her tasty confections.

Yeah, Halloween isn’t quite the same now. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the sweet tooth we cultivated on all those annual excursions into the night.

Yum, forever.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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