Somewhere, children are crying.
They are crying because they know that they will do everything right. Those who brave the virus will dress up as their favorite spooky entity or superhero, they will knock on neighbors’ doors and maybe even tell a joke.
And then they will come to a house that gets the Vermont Country Store catalog.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the Vermont Country Store catalog. It is full of nostalgic, old-timey things that you can’t find anywhere else. In other words, it is the perfect catalog for me and people like me who think that things generally used to be better than they are now.
Their clothes are made from cotton and wool, in modest styles that I think of as timeless but others would consider hopelessly out of date. You could probably buy bloomers there, and women’s swimsuits that go down to the knee. Made of wool. I appreciate that.
But you can take the whole nostalgia thing too far.
“Trick or Treaters Love Our Vintage Wrapped Candies,” proclaims the catalog.
No they don’t, say I. And I will soon be joined by countless unsuspecting children around the country.
There they will be, dressed like Spider-Boys and Elsas. The promise of candy will be enough to cast aside their fear of new people. They will march up to the house, ring the doorbell and be rewarded with a piece of Bit-O-Honey from the Vermont Country Store.
When I was a trick-or-treater, I came to the conclusion that Bit-O-Honey was what was handed out on Halloween by people who hate children. What other reason could there be to give a gift of a beige rock that tastes of nothing and tenaciously adheres to teeth and fillings?
But now I know that it isn’t child-haters at all. It is merely customers of the Vermont Country Store generously handing out vintage candy. And the advantage of Bit-O-Honey is that it already feels vintage, no matter how fresh it is.
The only candy I hated as much as Bit-O-Honey was Mary Janes. Shockingly, those, too, are still being made, and are available through the catalog for $16.95 for a 1½-pound bag. The Bit-O-Honeys, incidentally, cost $13.95 for a 1½-pound bag, so even the Vermont people think they are 18% worse than Mary Janes.
The vintage candy horrors do not stop there. You can get rolls of Necco Wafers, too, which are now back in production. They are bland and chalky, though I will admit I have always kind of liked them. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy them, but on Halloween they did not join the pile of Mary Janes and Bit-O-Honeys that I put into my brother’s bag when he wasn’t looking.
Banana Split taffy and Strawberry Shortcake taffy are available as well, though they always struck me as inferior versions of Starburst or even Now and Later candies. Even as a child I thought the banana split taffies tasted more like artificial banana flavoring than bananas.
People will also be handing out hard sour balls (not as good as soft sour balls), caramel bull’s eyes (the caramel is good, but that white ‘crème’ filling always tastes a little like flour), black licorice bull’s eyes (why? For heaven’s sake, why?) and root beer barrels, which are not bad at all but are kind of a disappointment at Halloween.
And that’s my point: Halloween candy should contain chocolate. They really ought to go ahead and just pass a law about it: All Halloween candy should be chocolate or high-quality substitutes, such as Payday bars or good chewy fruit pellets (Skittles or the aforementioned Starburst).
Whenever possible, they should be name brands, too. Only under dire financial circumstances should chocolate knock-offs be accepted: Four Musketeers, N&Ns, Lou Gehrig bars (and yes, I know that Baby Ruths were named for Grover Cleveland’s daughter, not Grover Cleveland Alexander’s, but a joke is a joke).
What Halloween candy should definitely never be is vintage chewing gum. The catalog sells gum that was much beloved by children of the 1880s and beyond, including clove-flavored (reportedly used during Prohibition to disguise the smell of alcohol on the breath) and black licorice-flavored gum.