Except for the local kiddies coming around, October 31st is a bit less exciting than it used to be. My own kids no longer go for the elaborate disguises that occupied our thoughts and energies in years past in the weeks leading up to Halloween. This year Number One Son (aka the Angler) sat in front of the TV watching a football game, and Pennybags merely layered on some of his more colorful articles of clothing, grabbed a Kroger bag, and went out on the prowl with his friends. Although he did come home with some candy, I think hanging out with his friends was the more attractive part of that equation.
For the Angler’s first foray out with the ghosts and goblins (a week short of 2 years old), he visited only our closest three neighbors, and even that proved to be a bit too exciting. Dressing him in the same homemade dinosaur costume the next year, I attempted to refresh his memory about the ins and outs of trick-or-treating.
Me: Do you remember last year when you went out? Dad took you over to Joyce’s house, right?
Me: So what happened? What did you do there?
Angler: I cried, and Joyce gave me a tissue.
Now there’s a practical treat.
That dinosaur costume (green sweatsuit and hat with some green and yellow felt trim) was about the most labor-intensive thing I ever made for my kids’ costumes (Jerry did make an ingenious wearable fire engine that the Angler happily sported for several years during his firefighter obsession days). I was more likely to either hit the thrift shops for some items to throw together (brown shirt, pants, and curtain transformed 8-year-old Pennybags into Qui-Gon Jinn), or reprise the old home idea of costume grab bag.
When I was a kid, we used to beg our mom for store-bought costumes. She, being the smart and thrifty soul that she is, ignored our pleading for those those overpriced enticements. So we hid our envy when our friends happily pulled out their new cardboard boxes with the little acetate windows displaying The Mask. This masterful disguise was a molded piece of brittle celluloid that you attached to your head with a thread-size elastic band that was likely to snap about 15 minutes into the neighborhood canvass. There were two cutouts that you could presumably look through, and another very narrow slot near your mouth. I imagine that was to facilitate breathing, but what I remember best about that hole (the few times we were “lucky” enough to have purchased masks) was constantly sticking the tip of my tongue through, and practically slicing it on the edge. The rest of the costume consisted of a nylon sack that tied in the back like a hospital gown, with a design printed on it that was supposed to be a representation of your character. Unfortunately, whether you were a doctor, Spiderman, a mermaid, or a cowboy, your silhouette was exactly the same – like you were wearing a large grocery bag.
My most memorable costume was handmade – mostly by my dad, while he was relegated to bed with a perforated eardrum. He busied himself with fashioning paper, glue, glitter and dowels into a tiara and wand. Then he or my mom hand-stitched old-fashioned foil Christmas tree garland onto some old lace curtains, and voila! I was magically transformed into a fairy princess – I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so beautiful.
That broken-down box in the attic held old clothing, scraps of fabric, greasepaint, and ratty old wigs and hats – the makings of probably a couple hundred costumes (all six of us kids raided it, not just for Halloween, but also for the plays and musicals we’d stage in the backyard). Bits and pieces were combined over and over in myriad ways, allowing us to become whatever character we could dream up. I can imagine how wistful my parents must have been when we thought ourselves too old or too cool, and the costume box ended up abandoned behind the attic walls. I wonder if it’s still there.
From what I’ve seen, the commercially available costumes have become much more elaborate and realistic (and scary!), and the kids wearing them seem to be pretty satisfied with themselves. But how much creative energy do they have bottled up, just waiting to be showcased with a little glitter and glue, some rick-rack, and a scrap of blue satin?