Cooking up a cauldron of Halloween memories

You’d think I was in fourth grade, the way I get excited for
Halloween. Yes, as a kid I was counting down the hours come the
first day of school in September.
You’d think I was in fourth grade, the way I get excited for Halloween. Yes, as a kid I was counting down the hours come the first day of school in September.

Everyone at school was chattering about Halloween. “What are you going to be?” we probed, curious to know what our rivals might look like. Because the “scariest” and “prettiest” costume competitions were the coveted prizes and the highlight of the day. Of course the boys had a lock on the “scariest” costume. Year after year skeletons, devils and assorted monsters arrived at the school’s playground ready to rock their menacing look into a first place prize of a coupon for a free ice cream cone at the Mesa Ice Cream Parlor. Obviously the stakes were enormous.

In mid-October, the downtown Woolworth’s store set out the long-awaited rack of ready-made costumes, and moms accompanied their progeny downtown to pick out that year’s winning choice. Yes, I know, these days retailers rush the seasons by entire MONTHS, but back then things were a little calmer.

The same costumes were displayed every year. Shoddy black body suits with startlingly white skeletons plastered on the front comprised of stiff, factory-applied paint. Red devils with pitchforks and long, pointy tails affixed in back. And naturally, several un-specified but tremendously ugly “monster” get-ups. This was, of course, before costumes of celebrities and presidents appeared on the scene.

Completing the costume was the mask, the grand topper, the pièce de résistance. Talk about miserable! Masks came in two types: a rubbery, non-breathable style with holes for eyes and nostrils, which felt like an octopus affixed to your mug and caused your voice to sound like you were speaking from the bottom of a well. Or there was the stiff paper sort of disguise that left you knowing what a head cast felt like should you ever find yourself in such an unfortunate situation.

Because my mother was a great seamstress and made all my clothes and costumes, every Halloween I had the good fortune of wearing a knock-out get-up. My favorite was the “Queen of Hearts” I wore in sixth grade where my full-length white “gown” was appliqued with large red felt hearts at the sleeves and hem. We found a fitting “crown” at the bottom of her jewelry box – an old tiara she had worn in her younger, dress-up fancy days. And Mom went the extra mile by baking a batch of cut-out heart cookies to carry to school on her special silver tray.

The good thing about such costumes is that I avoided the whole icky mask thing, opting instead to wear one of the cute satiny type masks that just covered the upper portion of my face. Thanks to my creative mother, I had the “prettiest” prize all locked up.

Other moms got inventive as well. Some kids showed up as clowns, their moms sewing patchwork costumes with floppy pom-pom “buttons” down the front made out of yarn. An old pair of Dad’s shoes and a crumpled up derby hat with a plastic flower sticking out on top accessorized the stylish clowns.

And of course there were “hobos” on Halloween, too. Over-sized pants and shirts rescued from the rag-bag were put into service, accessorized with a bindle stick made from a red bandanna tied to a stick. That morning’s coffee grounds were saved and applied wet and sticky to young faces – a hobo’s stubbly five o’clock shadow.

The school’s Halloween parade was grand, but still it was only the prelude to the trick-or-treat festivities after nightfall. Costumed kids appeared on twilit streets armed with pillowcases for holding precious candy. The real fun – besides the candy – was being allowed out after dark. With a group of friends we were permitted to go anywhere – as long as it was on “our street.” So off we marched in our Halloween regalia, avoiding only the very worst of the houses (i.e. crummy “treats”), setting off into the night, making memories to last a lifetime as we seized another Halloween night of merriment and magic.

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