When I was a kid we never bought our Halloween costumes. Everyone made them from stuff they already had. That’s why there were so many ghosts, cowboys and princesses. We didn’t call it “Upcycling” back then, but that’s what it was. We used stuff that was no longer needed – such as a torn bedsheet, Dad’s wornout hat, and Mom’s old party dress.
Some of the more talented mothers might sew a costume for their child, but only once. For the unlucky child was then teased unmercifully by the other kids due to their jealousy, and would not wear a home-sewn costume again. Ever.
If you were lucky, you could talk an unwitting male relative [Uncle Calvin] into buying you one of those cheap plastic masks held to your head by a big elastic band in the back. Then your Mother would fuss and not want you to wear it while trick-or-treating because the eyeholes never aligned with your eyes.
I can remember staggering around in the dark with one of those masks on – trying to see where the steps to the next house was. I was “double-blind” since I wore glasses, and I had to take them off in order to wear the mask! The sound of my own breathing was magnified by the plastic covering my nostrils and mouth [I believe this is where Steven Spielberg got the idea for Darth Vaders breathy voice] – and the smell of the plastic was just horrible! It was a safety issue in more than one way, but we didn’t know anything about the carcinogenic properties of polystyrene back then.
Pretty soon the elastic band would began to dig into your skull, the condensation of your breath on the inside of the mask would become unbearable, and you’d rip the thing off your head – taking a good chuck of your hair out with the elastic as it slid over the top of your scalp! You’d gasp for fresh air, wipe the moisture off the inside of the mask with your sleeve, and then break the elastic band trying to reposition it back onto your noggin. And that was the end of the mask. It lasted about 2 blocks or 8 houses – whichever comes first.
My mask was Donald Duck , therefore, I wore a blue jacket with white pants – even though [technically] Donald doesn’t even wear pants. Once the mask broke, nobody knew who or what I was supposed to be. So, I didn’t wear a mask the following years.
I usually chose something easy like “Hobo”, which was just mismatched clothes and a tattered hat with whiskers drawn on my face with my Mother’s eyebrow pencil. My favorite was “Clown”, which was the same as “Hobo” except instead of whiskers, you painted your nose and mouth with your Mother’s red lipstick. Why waste all that time and effort on a costume when I was only interested in the CANDY?
I must say, that while we didn’t go to that many houses back then because we lived in a rural area, the houses we did visit went all out! We loved going to Aunt Lila’s house on the corner. She wasn’t really our Aunt, but she treated us like she was. We loved her! She made great big sugar cookies in the shape of cats, bats, witches and jack-o-lanterns and decorated them with colored frosting and little candies. She’d let you pick the one you wanted and you were sad to eat it because it was so pretty.
Old Mr. Tom Wise would pass out quarters instead of candy! This was a BIG deal back when you could buy a pop for ten cents and a Hershey bar for a nickle.
Mr. and Mrs. Chlarsen would make you come inside and ask you a bunch of questions, and then Mr. Chlarsen would play the piano and ask you to sing along. [We’d all look at each other waiting for someone else to go first.] It was kind of strange, but afterward you’d get a cup of hot chocolate with marshmellows and a piece of gingerbread cake. Later, you’d realize it had been kind of fun. Maybe it was better than someone just dropping candy in your bag and closing the door on you.
But the best fun of all was the Halloween Carnival at Corinne Elementary School! Oh, how we looked forward to it each year – the popcorn balls, caramel apples and Witches Brew (green Koolaid and dry ice). There was the Fish Pond with my Aunt Eppie behind a blue sheet clipping prizes onto the end of my fishing pole with a clothespin. One year she chose for me a pink paper umbrella that I adored!
There was the Cake Walk where all the mothers contributed a cake to be displayed on a long table in the cafeteria. My Mother’s was a 3-layer German Chocolate Cake complete with gooey homemade icing from condensed milk, coconut and pecans. Yum! Yet, when my sister [Susan] won one of the rounds of musical chairs, she chose a squat mishapen one-layer chocolate cake that was covered in M&M’s. My Mother was heartbroken, but only temporarily.
There was the “Theater” in Mrs. Harrison’s 2nd grade classroom where they showed cartoons on the wall with the school’s projector. You paid for the show and other events with a red paper ticket from the roll your Dad purchased for you from Mrs. Wankier. I sat in the dark with Johnny Baltazar and he shared his popcorn with me. He was the best friend of my “boyfriend” Andy Pommier – and I wondered why I hadn’t noticed how nice Johnny was before? [But, I digress.]
Let’s not forget the epic “Spook Alley”, which they only had one year and then abandoned forever. It was in the basement – the door to which was actually inside Mr. Petersen’s 4th grade classroom. It was really just a big boiler room with lots of noise and a black draped table where they lead you down the stairs with a flashlight and made you stick your hand in a bowl of guts (cold spaghetti) and a bowl of eyeballs (peeled grapes). Some little girl in a class above mine, was so frightened that she raced back up the dark stairs and fell and skinned her knees – which was why they didn’t have it ever again. We all hated her and wished sincerely that she’d broken her leg when she fell. Fourth graders are not known for their compassion.
The old school is gone now, my classmates are all well over 55 – and our teachers and parents have passed on. Kind of sad to think about, so I don’t dwell on it much. But, the happy times these adults – family, friends, teachers and neighbors – all made for us out of a few pumpkins, popcorn balls and silly games were worth more than they could ever have imagined. Or, maybe they knew? We were their children after all. And, as a parent, your primary goal is to gently tuck a happy, safe childhood around your offspring so that they can carry it with them into adulthood.
A grown-up’s life is not as easy as we imagined it was back then. There are worries and responsibilities we had no idea about. This year I hope you stop to remember your childhood and will not begrudge the inconvenience of handing out candy to all those eager, young faces in their costumes. You are making memories for some little someone that will long outlast you. And that’s important.