As with most kids, Halloween was a favourite time of the year for the McNea brood. Every year, they would dash around in a tizzy trying to figure out what they wanted to be for the night. But, Bobby knew. He’d run from room to room gathering together oversized odds and ends of clothing, mismatched socks, size 12 shoes that his dad didn’t wear anymore (a different one for each foot), and of course, a jacket just like Charley Chaplin’s. He’d gleefully rummage through his mother’s makeup drawer collecting stubby, neglected eyebrow pencils, creamy rouge pots that had seen better days and gaudy red lipstick which was no longer fashionable, mumbling to himself “Someday, I’ll save enough money to buy real greasepaint!” Never mind; with a little baby powder, coal dust and imagination he had all the trappings he needed transform into a comedic character. He’d clamor down to the kitchen carrying all his paraphernalia, lay the garments on the floor, line up the cosmetic booty along the counter, climb up on a stepping stool next to the sink and glare into the cracked mirror that hung on the wall. In the late afternoon, if he was lucky, the sun’s rays would blaze through the back door window, hitting his face at just the right angle. With pencil in hand, he’d steadily outline the tip of his nose, and then carefully fill it in with rouge. His mouth, with an outline drawn far beyond his natural lip line, received the same treatment. Of course, he knew if he wasn’t careful, both the rouge and lipstick would create a shadowy facial aftermath that his friends would taunt him for, so he’d slather on a generous layer of Ponds Cold Cream before “painting his face”. The pre-pubescent crow’s feet in the corners of his eyes received a trilogy of black lines; then a dimple dot on his chin completed the look. Brush on a light layer of baby powder, a couple of strategically placed coal smudges and voila! Bobby would reinvent himself into Popo-Nay.
Once the war started in 1939, a daily 9:00 p.m. curfew was implemented for anyone under 16. The only exception to that rule was on Halloween, when the YMCA held a party allowing the costumed kids to stay out past the clampdown.
All the miniature witches, ghosts, ghouls and goblins in town went to the bash to show off their costumes, play games, drink pop or Krim-Ko, eat candy and generally goof around. When the contest for best costume was over, which Bobby won that year, the kids frantically poured out the front doors of the Y to trick or treat their way through the nearby neighborhood. An hour or so later; cotton ticking pillow cases overflowing with goodies, they ran home, stashed their loot, then wandered back out into the darkness to door knock at the big houses on Roseberry Place.
Mr. Smith lived in that neighbourhood. He was a loud, gregarious guy who always had a cigar hanging out of his mouth and enjoyed kibitzing with the kids. Trick or treater’s were expected to perform before he’d give them any goodies. When it was his turn, Bobby took off his coat, gave it a shake, brushed it off, folded it neatly, placed it on the floor and then wiped his feet on it. “Taaa-Daaaa!” He took a bow and held out his pillow sack.
Old man Smith yanked the stinky stogy out of his mouth, bowled over coughing and belly laughing at the same time, and then threw an extra candy in Bobby’s bag. “You’re good kid Bobbie. Come on back tomorrow. I have a paying job for you.” Old man Smith must have been so impressed with his shenanigans that Bobby imagined that the next day would be spent show casing his comedic talents with his Charlie Chaplin routine on that very porch while an audience of adoring admirers applauded wildly. As his mind started to wander into a fantasy world of fame and fortune, Mr. Smith added, “Oh..um, Bobby, make sure you wear warm work clothes. Maybe a hat, gloves…and bring your wagon with you. Hope that lipstick wipes off when you get home tonight! Try rubbing it with a little vegetable oil.” Quickly catapulted back to reality, Bobby was still curious to see what was in store for him the next day. “Yes sir, see you after school.”
As it turns out, he was hired to wander up and down the town alleys, gather discarded wooden crates and haul them over to the Smith house where he was paid five cents apiece.