A Drop in the Bucket
On second thought, better make it two or three
By Maria Johnson
It was a Halloween shocker, delivered by a small superheroine who landed on my front porch last fall.
I dropped a piece of candy into her plastic jack-o’-lantern, which was filled to the brim with treats.
She looked down, cocked her hip and sighed.
What? I thought to myself. What could this girl possibly not like about Laffy Taffy?
“I don’t really like that. Could I trade for something else?” she asked, eyeing the other treats in the dish I held.
I’ll be honest: My first reaction was to say, “What ever happened to saying ‘thank you?’ and trading with your friends later?”
But her parents were standing at the curb, waving and smiling, so I smiled tightly and said through clenched teeth, “Sure . . . honey . . . how about a . . . Snickers?”
She swapped and sprinted away.
I closed the door and dropped my jaw.
I had just been strong-armed by a pint-sized Wonder Woman.
Later, I shared my distress with our grown sons during a weekly video chat.
“OHMYGOD, Mom!” said The Older One. “You gave her one piece of candy?!”
“What’s wrong with that?” I protested.
“Don’t be that mom, Mom,” added The Younger One.
“Look, she didn’t need any more candy. She had a bucket full, OK?”
“OHMYGOD!!!” they hooted together.
Apparently, I was candy-shaming the young lady.
What was going on? Had the Halloween Handbook changed?
For answers, I turned to a panel of experts, a few of my neighbors’ children, whom I invited over for lemonade and cookies one night.
Allow me to introduce them by name, age and what they’re considering dressing up as this Halloween:
Sonja, 10, rat charmer, possibly reflecting her status as proud rat owner.
Wilhelmina, 7, tiger, a decision she underlines by curling her hands into claws.
Hendrik, 7, robot. Or possibly a pumpkin. Could go either way.
Olivia, 5. The field is wide open. Could be a monster. Or a Batgirl. Or a cheetah. Don’t press her on this.
Connor, 3, definitely appearing for the second year in a row as a T. Rex. Only bigger this time because he’s 3, not 2.
To begin our session, I told them about my experience last Halloween. They nodded in sympathy — whether for me or the girl, I’m not sure. But they were polite. They agreed to guide me. Below are excerpts from our recorded conversation with my comments in italic.
What is a normal amount of candy for someone to give out? How many pieces?
Sonja: Like three to two. Or, if it’s a bigger piece, one.
Describe a bigger piece.
Sonja [holding fingers about 6 inches apart]: Like this long.
A full-size candy bar?
Sonja [nodding]: Like if you got a Kit Kat, it would be one.
So, one Kit Kat would equal two what?
Sonja: Two Snickers.
Sonja [nodding]: Chocolate is really good. I prefer white chocolate.
Hendrik: I prefer white chocolate. But then I also really like dark chocolate. But I like white chocolate better.
What are some great candies?
Sonja: KitKat, Snickers, Twix.
Hendrik: Starbursts, Sour Patch Kids, Sour Punch Twists.
Connor [loudly, in T. rex mode]: Mmmm!
Olivia: Jelly beans.
Jelly beans? Really? For Halloween? Any particular kind?
Wilhelmina [giggling]: Rainbow!
Olivia [giggling more]: Unicorn!
Rainbow, unicorn jelly beans? Is that a thing?
Hendrik [sounding world-weary]: No, that is not a thing.
Olivia: I have a really good one: Cookies.
Cookies in packs?
Olivia: [Smiles charmingly, suggesting she would like to start a trend]
Wilhelmina: Reese’s cups, and thennnnn Sour Patch Kids, and thennnn Giggles.
OK, let’s be honest here: What are the worst candies?
Sonja: I don’t really like those gummy hamburger things.
Those are nasty.
Sonja: Also, those gummies shaped like soda bottles. [Panel groans in agreement] They try to make them taste like soda. But they don’t.
Anyone else? No one? There’s no other bad candy?
OK, next question: If someone is giving out Halloween candy, is it better if they hand you the pieces or let you pick it.
[Panel responds in unison]: LET YOU PICK!
So they would say, “Pick two or three pieces?”
Connor [again as full-throated T. Rex]: I want MORE! [Then, sweetly] Can I have more lemonade?
Yes, Connor. So, what’s the worst thing y’all ever got for trick-or-treat?
Sonja: Pokémon cards. I don’t like Pokémon. And baseball cards.
When I was a kid, the worst thing you could get was a small box of raisins.
Sonja: I love raisins. But I’ve never gotten any.
Hendrik: I love raisins, too. The white ones.
Wilhelmina: Yummy! White chocolate!
Sonja [firmly]: It’s not white chocolate! It’s yogurt.
Olivia: I’d eat them, too. I’d eat one. Or two. Or three.
Hey, do you know that cartoon, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?
Sonja: I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.
OK, well, Charlie Brown goes trick-or-treating, and he gets a rock. What would you do if that happened to you?
Sonja: I’d be pretty happy because then I could paint the rock.
Gosh. That’s a great way to look at it.
Olivia: I wouldn’t a bit be happy.
Would you say anything to the person who gave you the rock?
Wilhelmina: Thank you! And then I would paint it with a waterfall, and a forest, and flowers, and grass, and . . .
Hendrik: You’re gonna need a big rock for that.
You know what? Somebody told me they knew a dentist who gave out toothbrushes and little tubes of toothpaste. What would you think of that?
Sonja: I would love it. Then you could have a doll’s toothbrush.
Wilhelmina: If it wasn’t an electric one, I would use it for my stuffies. But if it was an electric one, I would use it for myself.
Hendrik: I would be happy because . . . my dad uses my toothbrush. His broke.
Sonja [defending their father’s dental honor]: It was an electric one. He used the battery part.
Hendrik: Is the recorder still playing?
Yes. OK, if someone gave you some candy that you really didn’t like, would you ever send it back?
[Panel responds “NOOOO!” in unison, except for Olivia, who nods.]
Olivia, you would?
What would you say?
Olivia: I would say, “No, thank you.”
Hendrik: Well, that’s a good answer.
Olivia, would you ask to trade, like the girl did?
Olivia: If I really didn’t like it, I would trade. But if I kinda liked it I would keep it.
Hendrik: Connor wants another cookie.
Ok, here, Connor. Last question: Do you guys ever trade candy?
Hendrik: Oh, yes, yes, yes!
Hendrik: I’m trading Snickers for Sour Patch Kids.
Sonja: I trade a whole bunch. I’ll trade Kit Kats for Snickers since I love Snickers.
Olivia: I trade with Hendrik sometimes.
Hendrik [turning to Olivia]: Oh, you trade some tricky candy! [Turning back to me] We have this habit. If Olivia doesn’t like it, I like it. And if I don’t like it, she likes it.
This is a match made in heaven.
Wilhelmina: They’re dating.
Wait, are you guys dating? Is that true?
Olivia: No! We’re not even close.
Wilhelmina: They’re dating.
Hendrik: We only like each other! We’re not even best friends! We are nowhere near dating.
Is there anything else about candy that’s important to know?
Sonja: I don’t understand how some people will be walking around with huge sacks and I just have my little bucket.
Hendrik: Connor wants another cookie.
There we have it. Chocolate and sour candies are best. Two to three pieces each. Pick your own. Rocks and raisins are acceptable. Olivia and Hendrick are not dating. And Connor wants another cookie. OH
Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Email her at email@example.com.