When I was a little girl, Halloween was a special time of the year. I could hardly wait for Mom to finish my costume, get on the bus and go to school for the Party. Halloween was the first party of the school year. No kids had store-bought costumes. Maybe costumes were unavailable in stores back then. Halloween was special because it was all about pretending, a holiday just made for kids.
From one Halloween to another, all us kids talked about what we were going to Be. Up in the attic, behind the curtain stretchers, Mom kept a big brown barrel with a metal rings keeping the top on tight. That barrel was almost as tall as me. Mom stored a bunch of old clothes all sealed up tight, so moths wouldn’t eat them up. When she opened up that barrel the smell of mothballs went into my nose and out my eyes. I sure could understand why a moth would stay away from there. Once, okay maybe more than once, I sneaked up there to get a go through that old stuff, ’cause sometimes that old stuff gave me ideas about Halloween.
Mom found out about my sneaking ’cause the barrel lid was impossible to get closed again. It snapped open with one finger on the lever. To close it, the lid and the barrel had to be lined up just right, then the ring placed over that and snapped shut. Snapping that blasted thing shut was the hardest thing of all: sometimes I snapped it shut and it was only around the lid, sometimes only around the barrel, most of the times I couldn’t snap it shut at all. Once I got that super tender skin, right where the fingers join the palm, clipped in there tight. Eee-ouch! Even with Bonita helping, closing that barrel was impossible.
With those special Mom eyes and ears, Mom knew Bonita and I were up in the attic, and she called out our names from the bottom of the stairway. That’s about when those gol-darned curtain stretchers got me. Those things had itty-bitty nails all around the edges that I helped Mom stretch the lace curtains over during spring cleaning. After she got the curtains all washed and rinsed then soaked in starch, we stretched all that white lace out, hooking it carefully over the nail, so the curtains dried flat and stiff. After spring cleaning, the curtain stretchers went back in the attic, just sitting there in a stream of light from the attic window, ready to stab a little girl nosing around and forgetting all about all those itty-bitty nails.
One year Mom pulled an old fur coat out of that barrel and made it into a monkey-suit for Bonita. That same year, Mom found some old white sheets, got some Rit dye, and made a grey elephant suit for me. Once I wanted to Be a mummy, which only took an old white sheet and lots and lots of time to wrap me up. Mom was a genius at making things, just like Grandpa; except Grandpa made things out of wood, and Mom made things out of cloth and yarn and old clothes. Mom made Julie into Little Red Riding Hood, which had to be the best costume ever, ’cause Julie got to wear her red cape to school and to church and anywhere she wanted to wear it. Julie was pretty darned smart when she chose what she would Be.
One year I wanted to Be the Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow. Mom really racked her brains on that one, but she came through for me. I won the prize for my costume, which meant I was at the front of the parade around the schoolyard. My friend Monty thought I was a spaceman, but that’s just ’cause he was busy coloring instead of listening. When I said, “No, I’m the Headless Horseman,” he just looked at me all strange, too embarrassed to say, ‘who’s that.’ I loved that story Teacher read us about Ichabod Crane and how he was scared witless riding through the cemetery at night. I was a tinsy bit scared of noises in the night too, and lots of times I thought there might be a mind-reader hiding in my closest, reading all my secret thoughts and dreams while I was in bed. That scared me stiff, ’cause while I was thinking about it, if it was true, he knew I was thinking about it, then he knew I was thinking about him knowing about it, and that got me into an endless loop of who knew what, around and around, ’til I could think of nothing else, so I started praying that I wouldn’t have nightmares about a mind-reader hiding in my closet. Praying almost always made me fall asleep; sometimes I had bad dreams, but never about mind-reading-closet-hiders. So I guessed it worked.
Getting on the bus with my costume on and seeing my friend, Betty, and Mike, and Deanna’s friends Nancy and Cleta, and Bonita’s friends Tommy and Doug, and then later when I got older, Vickie’s and Loren’s friends; well, that was the very best kind of party. Of course we had real school for half the day, but even that was different, ’cause we played games like spelling bees and flash-cards, and Thumbs-up, which was a game where everybody put their heads down and their thumbs up, and three people who were IT got to push the thumbs down on somebody, then the thumbs down people got to guess who of the ITs thumb-downed them. On Halloween, Thumbs-up was easy, ’cause each costume rustled in a way different from any other.
When it was party time, we got a bunch of pretty much no-good candy, like candy-corn and candy kisses and other stuff that had to be chewed until my jaws ached to get any good sweet flavor out, and then it was mostly sweet, no special flavors. Somebody’s mother always sent popcorn balls, which should be outlawed on Halloween or any other time, ’cause popcorn should be left as it is, all buttery and salty, and never, ever coated with syrup and stuck together in balls, so sticky and sweet it gets all over everything and ends up coated with stuff like pieces of crêpe paper and sweater fuzz, and even hair.
I still love Halloween, especially the costumes. I made my share of unusual costumes, like an apple tree and a pizza, and even Mother Nature. I love the pretending and I love watching kids get excited about what they want to Be. I doubt anyone thinks about it with the intensity me and my sisters and my brothers did. Then again, most kids don’t have the genius Mom I had.
Still and all, I wish we could all maintain some of the same Halloween enthusiasm for what we want to Be. And maybe we can muster up some thrill for who we already Are. Wouldn’t that be something to wear every day?