Neither have we ever created a stage set on our front steps with ghouls and ghosts and skeletons. For someone who found “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” to be the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, I find the graveyards on neighborhood lawns a bit unnerving. I try not to look.
However, the Halloween blogs got me thinking about “dressing-up.” We haven’t been to a costume party in 35 years. But when I was a kid it was planning my Halloween costume that thrilled me the most.
First, I should say that I was one of those weird kids who didn’t care much for candy. I was so indifferent to the loot we collected that it would roll around to Easter by the time my mother would finally hold up the bag full of Nibs, Bazooka bubble gum, candy bracelets and jaw breakers that had been stuffed to the back of the kitchen cupboard and say, “I’m throwing this junk out now!” Fine with me.
My childhood pal and Halloween planning partner, Cora Lynne, who lived five doors away from our house, was all about the candy. She was one of those kids who pinched spare change from her mother’s purse so we could go to “Sam the Cheat’s,” as all the kids in the neighborhood called our corner store. She would spend fifteen minutes or more reviewing the open bins of penny candy to pick out her favorites, while Sam grumbled behind the counter, “I’m watching you kids. Don’t even think about stealing from me.” I was never interested, especially as I was afraid of Sam and had heard the terrible tales told by my parents of bugs having been found in the raisin nut chocolate bars. But for Cora Lynne, candy represented the supreme goal of childhood and Halloween candy the climax of her entire sugary year.
Nope, for me it was the costume. We would start planning what to wear in August. My mind would race with ideas and I could think of nothing else until I had nailed down the details. One year we went as exotic gypsies. Another year, as cool beatniks. I was 11 when the Beatles first came to North America, so I think we might have even gone as Beatles, maybe it was on our last year of trick or treating. It occurs to me now that we were working through our alter egos – trying on characters we would never be, but making visible statements about what we thought of ourselves, or how we wanted adults to see us. We secretly hoped to shock and dismay.
Of course, this was when we were old enough to not need adult help. At this stage, the only intervention they’d offer was, “You’re not going anywhere dressed like that, missy!” or, “Are you sure you’re going to be warm enough?”
But of course, the costume you wear for Halloween when you are a little kid is chosen by your parents.
When I first went out for Halloween, I got to be a princess! But as every kid who grew up on the Canadian prairies in the 1950s knows, this meant wearing your costume over your snow suit. And if your mother didn’t have a talent for sewing, it also meant that you were taken to the drug store to pick out a paper costume. This happened to me several years in a row. Once the paper sack got pulled over the snow suit, I looked more like a troll than a princess. Mom would wedge the tiara down over my toque (American translation: wool hat.) Once I had run with my pillow case full of candy up one side of your street and down the other, up and down front steps, shouting “Halloweeeen AAAPPPLes!” (American translation: “Trick or Treat!”) the princess dress was thoroughly torn and tattered. It was kind of a reverse Cinderella effect.
When I got to elementary school, my non-sewing mother relied on purchasing more resilient costumes. I became either a cowgirl or a Chinese farm laborer —the latter thanks to my aunt who traveled to the west coast annually and always brought back Chinese pajamas and a broad straw hat from Vancouver’s Chinatown, such as the ones worn by rice farmers or the laborers conscripted to build the Canadian railways in the 1800s. I preferred the cowgirl outfit because, even at that young age, I had a sense there might be some impropriety about wearing the Chinese pj’s.
But at a costume parade in grade 2, one of the years that I went as a cowgirl, I wore a red cowboy hat, a red and white checked shirt, a denim skirt and a brown fake leather vest with white whip-stitching, and I remember watching a girl in my class who wore a floor length pink dress with puffy sleeves and tied in back with a lovely satin sash. She had one of those tall pointed hats that her mom had made for her that had a flowy veil of pink chiffon streaming down to her shoulders. She was every inch a beautiful princess. And I remember thinking to myself, “Nuts! I want to be a princess!”
Wait a sec! Maybe this year! Anyone having a party?