(Lydia and pals waiting for The Great Pumpkin at the Gators' house, Halloween 2006)
This is my set of memories, so I'm not going into the origins and possible meanings of Halloween, or the history and alternate spelling fo the name itself. To me, it's a time for certain types of goofy fun.
Pigging out on candy, dressing up as things or people you are not, being scared or pretending to be scared of things that are supposed to be scary or disgusting, creating my favorite ephemeral folk art, running around alone in the dark and for one night a year feeling safe doing so -- what's not to like?
I know a lot of adults who hate handing out candy, but I'm not one of them.
My earliest memory is of the clown suit in the basement. I though it was icky, and not in a good way. It was the right size for a 4 or 5 year old, and I'd probably had a turn wearing it.
We wore our costumes to school if we wanted to, and we usually did. They carefully explained that the "trick" part of "trick or treat" was obsolete and mean, and if someone didn't have goodies for us we should be polite. We got our little boxes for pennies for UNICEF. Later I learned that was intended to replace begging for candy, not supplement it. And we all knew which kids gave brought the money to turn in at school amd which kids kept it. I haven't been asked for Halloween UNICEF money in ages -- do they still do that?
The earliest Halloween I remember I was in second grade, and my mother made me a witch costume. Her black skirt, when safety pinned to fit my waist, almost reached my ankles. I wore a plain white shirt and a black shawl borrowed from my grandmother, and of course I carried a broom. The only thing that cost money was the hat.
In third grade, we made hideous masks in school from paper grocery bags. I wanted to use mine, of course, but what to do about the rest of me? Mom to the rescue again. She gave me a long striped satin bathrobe in metallic colors, mostly purple and black. It was icky in a very fun way.
She's never been able to remember where she got it.
The sad thing was there were 11 houses on our street, and we weren't allowed on the busy main road, so only once got the huge sack of goodies some of my friends had. We'd be finished in a very short time. One family always made exactly 12 popcorn balls. There were many more than 11 children on the street, so that house was usually a waste. When my mother checked our candy and saw the popcorn ball she's ask who gave it to us, we'd say "Mrs. Sousa" and she'd say that was ok then. I wished just once she'd remember.
(The Halloween Tree, book and cover painting by Ray Bradbury)
Then came the glorious year of fifth grade. I was to go the whole length of a residential country road with my best friend Debbie, and then stay over at her house. It was everything I'd missed, and oddly enough, once was enough. My paper bag robot costume fell apart early on, but even that didn't matter -- I'd made it myself which made it all good.
The very last time I was in high school and too old, but I was my youngest sister's chaperone and didn't take any goodies, which made it ok. I didn't bother with a costume but I did comb my long hair over my face, put my glasses over it, and said I was Cousin Itt.
(The Bell Witch)
Our first house was in an isolated spot on a dead end at the bottom on a hill, and no one came there. So I started going out myself to a crowded area not far away, to admire the kids and pumpkins. I took my dog along and put a baggy t-shirt on her, pinning up the bottom so she didn't trip or pee on it. This went on for many years, and sometimes I had 2 dogs (all my dogs have been assorted Coonhounds). Kids who had no idea who I was would yell "Look! It's the ghost doggies!" One time someone called me over to the house for a dog biscuit for Rikki. Another time Rikki and I were standing in the road watching a busy house while a mother was near me watching her daughter go to that house. She gave me a disapproving look , so I asked her how she liked my son's dog costume. She couldn't get away from me fast enough. I even met another ghost doggie, whose human said I'd inspired him to do that. This one was a German Shepherd in a tight child's t-shirt -- cute but not very ghostly.
Now I live on a long residential road similar to the one Debbie lived on. Sometimes we get lots of kids, sometimes none. We're near the top of a hill now and some can't be bothered to make the hike. I had the honor of seeing the neighbors' grandson as a vampire in regular baby clothes and a black cape. All he understood was the candy.
My mother stays over at our overly decorated house (we have a reputation by now) on Halloween, and I buy too much candy and you can guess what I do with it. Sadly, I had to go chocolate free this year since my migraines won't let me eat chocolate anymore. Keep Lindt truffles for the parents (only white chocolate this year. sigh), coins just in case, the usual candy for kids, and Halloween themed cheap toys from Oriental Trading.
I haven't seen the two girls lately -- they've probably gotten too old for it. They were close friends who always dressed as the same thing, but in different styles. One year they were both witches, another year they were both angels.
And then there's the pumpkins. As a child we were rationed -- one pumpkin each and we had to carve it outdoors so the house wouldn't get messy. We used to walk about 1/2 mile to a farm stand to get them. One year my brother got one too big to carry and dragged it home on his coat.
Now I always have a bunch of them, homegrown in a good growing year. The Pumpkin Masters gave me tools that made it easier, but I did ok with just kitchen knives. And to me it's just not right unless it's a face, preferably smiling with lots of teeth. I used to draw them before I carve, but now I usually do them freehand.
Most years I have a BYOP carving party. It's always more fun if someone brings children, and I encourage them to not worry about messes, telling them I'll clean up later. I got to teach 2 small boys the phrase "pumpkin guts" while their mother and aunt wondered how they'd ever forgotten to educate them on that.
(After Pumpkin Carving Party 2006 at the Gators' house.)
I torment my friends. Every time I make the first cut to open a pumpkin I sing "the first cut is the deepest."
Sometimes I make rat cupcakes. I bend disposable mini loaf pans into vaguely ratty shapes and make cake (one box mix makes 8 rats) They have candy corn ears, red candy eyes, and gummi worm tails. Best of all, I slit their little tummies and pipe in some red frosting for rat guts. Most people find 1/2 rat is enough, and I'm always happy to tell them that I give a rat's ass.
And finally, a few days later, I carefully place the pumpkins on the compost pile and watch them rot away without having to be close enough to smell them as they enrich the soil for the next years crop.
Poem written by gator's mother with a Halloween-themed Poetry Magnet Kit, unpunctated as is traditional with poetry magnets:
carve a pumpkin
may I speak
trick or shriek
Untitled by gator
a fat pumpkin was decorated for Halloween
a child carved a face with big silly teeth and creepy eyes
a candle glowed in its head
costumed kids loved the ghostly weirdness
yet after October
lies a silent corpse
smelly bruised and melancholy
its cracked decaying skin
hides cold orange guts and slimy seeds
it slowly rots into wilted dirt
recalling a magic autumn night
Untitled also by gator
black and orange candy corn
in the graveyard zombies born
kids as monsters eerie sky
in rotting caskets corpses lie
evil goblins waking dead
bloody fangs and severed head
vampires drink live peoples gore
that's what Halloween is for