I am haunted.
Picture it. Little girl, age four, seeing all her friends in their fancy store-bought costumes. Her mom says “We’re not wasting our money on that. Child is then dressed in old, ragged, oversized clothes. “You’re a hobo!” her mom announces cheerfully. And produces a large cork from the silverware drawer and lights the end on fire. First of all, What? What are you doing with that cork, woman, and why is it in the silverware drawer in the first place. Imagination runs wild. The mom blows out the flame and proceeds to rub the blackened cork on the child’s cheeks and chin. Sullen child with her five o’clock shadow is dragged out to join the neighborhood merry-makers in the ritual of trick-or-treat. The candy disappears overnight. Mom claims innocence.
Picture it. Little girl, age five, dressed once again in raggedy clothes. Again, mom produces burning cork. “Look! You’re a scarecrow!” Champion. The smell of burning cork, the rough surface abrading little cheeks. Some things are never forgotten. The candy mysteriously disappears again. Ghosts?
Picture it. Little girl, age six in her first store-bought costume. It was a beauty. A Ben Cooper Barbie princess.
For those not familiar, costumes in the 70’s consisted of a cheap plastic apron with an imprinted image and ties in the back and a plastic mask that was not actually designed to survive a night of trick-or-treating. Children could count themselves lucky if the elastic string didn’t break before the second street. Now, back to our haunting.
Delighted child is preparing for her class Halloween party, which was still a perfectly acceptable activity in public schools in the 1970’s. Girls are sent to the bathrooms to wash their hands and don their costumes. Girl child holds costume in such regard that until this moment the precious garment has never even been removed from the box. And now is her moment. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell girl child that apron is designed to be worn OVER clothing. She parades down the hall in the equivalent of a hospital gown with her Wonder Woman Underoos, which is indeed “the underwear that is fun to wear” but is decidedly unfun to expose to every man, woman and child in the lower-grade wing. Horrified teacher sends child back to the bathroom to put her pants back on, but the damage is done.
Disclaimer: The first two stories were me. The child in this particular scenario was my older sister. But I’m sure she doesn’t mind me telling all of my friends. And truth be told, I am still haunted by guilt. Guilt from the relief that she made this bonehead move before I did, thus sparing me my own mortification. And a tiny little bit of guilt for laughing at her. Laughing until I peed my pants. Yes, I may have peed my pants, but I did not prance down the hall at school with my goods hanging out. Maybe I am still laughing.
Fast forward almost 30 years. Little girl is all grown up with two trick-or-treaters of her own. Despite the ghosts of the past, she delights in the excitement of the holiday and relives the magic every single year with her own kids. Each year, on October 31, the clock turns back, and she is a child again. Candy, costumes, jack o’lanterns, candy! And then the boot drops. The oldest says those dreaded words. “I think I’m too old to trick or treat.” Where did that come from? How can any treat-loving child turn down the opportunity to dress up and collect candy. To share with their parents? And how does a parent respond to the loss of free treats? There’s only one rational response. The next year, produce another one of these:
But still I am haunted. Though I’m in free candy for at least another ten years, one day I will no longer have willing trick-or-treaters under my roof. What do I do then? I am afraid.