The title of this post is taken from the Ogden Nash poem “Reflections on Ice-Breaking”. Mr. Nash was writing about parties for adults, and he concluded the poem with the lines “But liquor/Is quicker.” For children at Halloween, the first lines about candy are the only ones that matter. After a bout of shepherding their children around the neighborhood for trick or treating, parents are more apt to grasp the last lines.
The association of candy with Halloween is relatively recent, and is wholly artificial in origin. Candy makers and sellers gravitated toward the holiday in the early twentieth century as a way to increase sales in the long lull between Easter and Christmas, and by the post World War II era modern Halloween traditions were pretty firmly in place. Children still might get some healthier treats like fruit in their treat bags or baskets, but after numerous tampering scares factory wrapped candies became the predominant treat, much to the relief of children everywhere.
Friandises, the French term for goodies. Photo from French Wikipedia by Ficelle.
Because of ongoing fears about tampering and because of related worries over children interacting with strangers, the Halloween trick or treat excursions of mid and late twentieth century America have most likely peaked and are now on the wane, probably to the relief of parents everywhere. People don’t know their neighbors as well as they used to, and the whole ritual has become an unnecessary risk. Children still enjoy dressing up in costumes, and of course the idea of an enormous haul of candy still exerts a sirens’ pull on them. Like Christmas and its excesses, Halloween has become a time for parents to set and teach limits, if they are inclined. It’s difficult to do when the greater society constantly tugs in the other direction.
While the children are celebrating with restraint, willingly or not, their parents might take a moment to remember the candies they enjoyed as children. One candy, Necco wafers, may be no more after this year. The company that made them and other treats shut down earlier in the year, and its unclear whether the new owners will continue production of any of them. The New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) had been in business since 1901, after consolidating the operations of two other candy companies. Its flagship candy, Necco wafers, had been in production since before the Civil War.
That’s Charlie Brown in the sheet with too many holes, and Lucy in the witch costume, in the 1966 television special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Like a lot of candies,candy corn for instance, Necco wafers arouse strong feelings either for or against them. Perhaps it’s because our opinions about candies are mostly formed in childhood that we develop lifelong allegiances or antipathies to them. The parents who affectionately remember candies their children find revolting may be likewise turned off by all the gummies and other newly popular treats. Though he likely didn’t have Halloween in mind when he wrote “Reflections on Ice-Breaking”, Ogden Nash managed to put it all in perspective anyway, and in only seven words.
You can fool most of the people most of the time, and whoever is left will fool themselves the rest of the time. A great many foolish beliefs are relatively harmless, such as the idea that handling toads will give you warts, though the toads may hold different opinions. Other opinions are foolish and yet not harmless, among them the idea that climate change is not a real threat, and anyway it’s not caused by human activity. Again, the toads may have opinions at variance with that.
An 1863 engraving by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) used to illustrate an edition of Don Qixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. The caption for this plate is taken from the text, and reads “A world of disorderly notions, picked out of his books, crowded into his imagination.”
Scientists and journalists have been tap dancing around the reasons why some folks seem more susceptible than others to fake news stories, especially ones that confirm their beliefs about a subject. They refer to the lack of “cognitive ability” in people who have “confirmation bias”. In plain English, stupid people will believe what they want to believe, and they don’t want to be confused with the facts. Is the Earth flat, despite readily available evidence that it is a sphere? You betcha it is! Is the Earth a mere 6,000 years old, according to some Christians? You know it is, and pay no attention to all those much older fossils – they’re fake news! Is Spanky the Pussy Grabber, aka the Philanderer-in-Chief, getting a free ride from the same white, evangelical Christians who roasted Bill Clinton at the stake for similar behavior 20 years ago? Yer darn tootin’ he is, and he will continue getting a pass as long as he stocks the federal judiciary with anti-abortionists and signs off on tax breaks for rich, white, evangelical Christians.
There’s little anyone can doto convince some folks, roughly a third of the population, that truth, justice, and the American Way exist outside their bubble, and that they’ve been falling for one April Fool’s joke after another much of their lives. Such folks will stubbornly burrow even deeper into their bunkers, popping out occasionally to take pot shots on Twitter at the latest targets of their fevered conspiracy dreams, up to and including schoolchildren who survived a mass killing taking a stand against America’s fetishistic gun culture.
The Smothers Brothers deliver a sideways take on “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. As with everything in life, there’s a sliding scale to the relative harmlessness or harmfulness of foolish ideas and impossible dreams. Shades of gray can be difficult for some people to adjust their eyes to, and they would no doubt prefer the ease of differentiating black from white and leave it at that. Believe in the Easter Bunny? Fine; it’s hard to see how anyone’s hurt by a bunny heralding spring. Believe that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president in 2016, was so evil that, based on rumors on internet forums, she was in charge of an indecent criminal enterprise based in a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant, and in consequence grab a gun and barge into the restaurant to break it all up? That’s delusional thinking, and combined with some other poisonous ideas, it’s dangerous. Next time, take a little longer to stop and think whether something is impossible, or even likely.
Viewers of American television shows from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s might have noticed that the families on shows of that era seemed to have lamb chops for dinner rather often, or certainly more frequently than most Americans eat lamb or mutton now. This doesn’t approach anything like a scientific proof of declining consumption of lamb and mutton since the mid-twentieth century, and at that it would only prove a decline among the demographic of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who were the main representatives of Americans on television then, but there it is nonetheless. On old shows like Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, the characters were eating lamb chops regularly, but after the 1970s hardly anyone ate lamb chops anymore.
A British shepherd with a lamb and his Border Collie in the 1890s. Photo from the National Media Museum of the United Kingdom.
Ham has always been more popular in Middle America than lamb, and Easter dinner was no different. It was in immigrant communities in the cities of the east and west coasts that lamb was popular, at Easter or anytime. Nevertheless, through the middle years of the twentieth century lamb and mutton were widely available throughout the country and competitively priced with other meats at supermarkets and butcher shops. Much has been made of the learned distaste for canned mutton among service members returning from overseas duty in World War II for the eventual decline in popularity of sheep meat in America, but statistics and anecdotal evidence of the popular culture as represented on television programs discount the impact of that one factor.
The increased use of synthetic fabrics over wool contributed to the drop in sheep herding, but that also is overemphasized, considering that synthetic fabrics gained ground in other countries as well, places like Australia and New Zealand where sheep herding remains a large part of the agricultural economy. What separates American sheep raising culture most from the rest of animal husbandry is the difficulty of conforming it to the needs of large scale agribusiness. In the generations after World War II, when family farms were swallowed up in large numbers by agribusiness concerns which consolidated the raising of chickens, beef cattle, and pigs into factory farms, the raising of sheep, and particularly lambs, resisted conforming to factory farm standards. As a result, American lamb and mutton became more expensive than comparable weights of chicken, beef, or pork.
American sheep herding declined to a cottage industry, which had the ironic effect of insulating it further from the factory farming practices which had taken over other areas of animal husbandry by the end of the twentieth century. The mutton and lamb available in Middle American supermarkets in the same period was likely as not imported from Australia or New Zealand. The imported meat was cheaper than American raised mutton and lamb despite the long shipping distances because of the economies of scale in those countries, where sheep were still raised in the tens of millions. Americans generally did not favor the imported meat over beef, chicken, and pork, however, because of the “gaminess” they noted in it, a product of the types of sheep raised in Australia and New Zealand and the pasture they were raised on. Americans had gotten so used to the blandness of meat produced by grain diets for factory farmed animals that they started rejecting anything stronger.
From The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show of the 1950s, the two performers reenact one of their vaudeville routines for announcer Harry Von Zell. As Americans begin to reject factory farming out of both the inhumane nature of it and the unhealthy food it produces, prospects for sheep herders in this country are improving. Considering the practices most, but certainly not all, of them have adhered to over the last half century through some bad times, it’s not that they ever went anywhere, but that the rest of us did and are now drifting back to them in dribs and drabs. If it weren’t for the support of the immigrant population and their preference for American lamb and mutton, the sheep herders here would not likely have survived the lean times in sufficient numbers to crank up operations again with the promise of supplying more Easter dinners. Of the lambs the best that can be said is that unlike many of their unfortunate cousins on the factory farms their lives, however brief, may be more natural and even peaceful.