Ghosts of Halloween’s Past

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.

Finally! A store bought costume!

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:

Crisis averted. For now.

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.

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15 thoughts on “Ghosts of Halloween’s Past

  1. As I started to read your post I wondered how on Earth did you know how Halloween went at my house as a child. No joke, I was a hobo or “beauty queen” (ie: wear a dress + add paper sash+ mom’s makeup). I don’t remember ever getting a store bought costume or any costume until about 5 minutes before we left for trick-or-treating.

    I’m glad your sister and I both survived. 😉

  2. My mom actually spent a lot of time on my costumes when I was little, but I still hated it. I wanted a store bought costume like my friends had so badly. I still remember the first one. I was a witch. I’m not even kidding you, the dress/cape thingy was basically just a black trash bag with some paint splatters. I loved it, though, because *I* got to pick what I was for the first time ever. I started making my own costumes in high school when I realized I could do better than what was on the rack. I made my own faerie wings one year, another year I was Punky Brewster…the best was the year I was Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackerelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking. I made my dress and my apron, mismatched stripey socks, big boots and part of a wire hanger in my braids. Best. Costume. Ever.

    This is the last year I get to go trick or treating with the oldest, though, unless we move – they don’t want kids 13 or up out there with the small ones. Luckily I still have three others to provide me with treats. 🙂

    Also…my R2D2 Underoos were my favourites.

  3. My mom made a lot of my costumes…or I “invented” them (a hippie…Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz…)…I don’t think I ever had a store bought costume….and will I buy one for our child when they’re old enough?

    Unless I learn how to sew…it’s highly likely…sad.

  4. Totally love the baby picture 🙂

    Great Halloween tales – ESPECIALLY going down the hall in the apron outfit 🙂

  5. Yay! Halloween spirit! I went to CT yesterday for a hot shower and to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters. So fun! Halloween was cancelled in my Western Mass town due to the power outages. OK, OK, Halloween wasn’t *cancelled*. It was postponed, but it makes me giggle to say “Halloween was cancelled this year!” Anyway, had a great time passing out candy this year. Even to the tweens on skateboards without costumes. Hoping we have a little one soon so I can get into the Halloween spirit again (and steal their candy loot)! Yum!

    • Wow. What kind of Grinch would they have to be to cancel Halloween? When the big day falls on a Sunday, no one can agree on when trick-or-treating should occur. We have the day-before, day-after, and actual-day camps, so we can potentially experience three nights of Halloween fun!

  6. What a glorious collection of images. Can I say that I love your mom? I also keep corks in the silverware drawer (no, I don’t know why either) but I love the demonic glee with which she took a Halloween shortcut two years in a row. Hmmn, this is giving me ideas for my darling daughter for next year …

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