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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

I may not have put the “trick-or-treaters welcome” sign on my door, but it’s still Halloween and my chocolate covered Espresso beans arrived like a gift from the Powers That Boo. And even though I’m a little bit scroogey about the holiday, I did have more fun decorating this year, and I have plenty of Halloween memories to keep me busy.

The problem with Halloween memories is that there are a billion little snippets that went into making it a fun holiday for us as kids. I recall snatches of things like a movie trailer, a scene here, a costume there, a shrieking Halloween soundtrack and a mechanical bloody hand somewhere else.

I don’t remember many of my costumes, but I know I wore them. I can tell you with utter certainty that I never went trick-or-treating without one. Not even as a teenager as I escorted one or a few little brothers around the neighborhood. I did not do the sullen-teenager-covered-in-shaving-cream thing. I did the obsess-about-your-costume-because-it-had-to-be-great thing.

I don’t remember ever going through a plastic mask phase. The really good costumes were the ones you made. Or the ones someone with better sewing skills made. Sometimes I concocted them from things in my closet. In the 80s, pretty much everything you wore looked like a costume anyway, so it wasn’t a stretch to mix up your sparkle headband with your furry leg warmers and your twelve-inch earrings to come up with something more outrageous than usual.

Sometimes someone else made them for me, like the clown costume my aunt sewed right out of her imagination. I remember that one in particular, in part because it’s… memorable. Like, very memorable. Like full color, all out, bright polka dot memorable.

And big blue pompoms made by hand.

And sometimes my father would scour whatever places he scoured in those days, before there was Amazon, before you could browse the internet for ideas, and come up with some pretty fantastic things.

Perhaps the single most memorable costume he ever bought for me was the unicorn.

It was a super elaborate costume that must have cost a mortgage payment, with a whole fur hood with a horn, fur cuffs for your wrists, and a white and silver gown. I’m sure there are pictures to prove it but I remember it because it was pretty spectacular. And I remember it because of the annual high school Halloween Costume Contest that I never won, clown costume notwithstanding.

I thought the year of the unicorn might change that. I thought I had a chance of winning SOMETHING.

But no.

The girl who won that year dressed up like a butterfly with her bent-wire-hanger wings that she glued sparkly things on. And she won first place because she was the pretty girl, and this sounds like a bad cliché movie but bad cliché movies get made for a reason.

She won because she was popular and a cheerleader and everyone loved her and even the teachers thought she was just all that. It had nothing to do with her wire wings, trust me.

I also remember that after school as I was walking out the door one of the teacher judges actually noticed me, because I didn’t get noticed much in those days, trust me on that, too. Her noticing me was very obvious. She did a double take and a little gasp, almost spoke, then looked around like maybe someone would swat her on the head for noticing anyone but Wire Hanger Girl.

And that was the end of that.

It was still a pretty spectacular costume.

Once I dressed up like a devil in disguise. Not sure where it came from but I had this bright red devil costume and I wasn’t convinced it was that original so I took a page out of Wire Hanger Girl’s book and fashioned myself a halo out of sparkling pipe cleaners. Me disguised as a devil disguised as an angel. Genius.

And one year Ralph and I went to a Halloween party as a priest and Catholic school girl. He had a bona fide vestment and I borrowed an actual uniform from someone’s long past school days. With my hair in pigtails and pumpkin-covered boxers under my skirt just like you used to wear your gym shorts under it on gym days, it was quite hilarious.

Also hilarious: how some people decorate their front yards. This gem is in Brigantine.

As a very young kid I remember bobbing for apples. To be fair, it wasn’t that hard if you just stuck your head into the sink and pushed the apple up against the bottom with your face.

But it couldn’t have been too hygienic, so eventually we progressed to apples on strings. My father would tie the stem to one end of a long string, then tack the other to the top of a doorframe. Apples dangled in midair as we took turns trying to catch them without use of our hands. It was a mite more challenging, I’ll tell you that. There was much chasing of apples around with our faces and much wild swinging of apples in doorframes and much manic giggling of children.

If you were particularly practiced, you could pucker up your lips and suction that apple to your face as you maneuvered it slowly to a wall where you could use it as leverage to take a bite. But sometimes the doorframes were too wide for that and you had to practice your “wedge apple between chin and shoulder” strategy.

Other than fresh off a tree while apple picking, it was the best way to eat apples.

I think parents may have missed an opportunity here. Maybe there needs to be broccoli on a string on some random Tuesday. Prizes for everyone.

Of course, my mother would never foist broccoli on us on such a hallowed eve. Instead we had holiday cookies, the cut-out kind with sprinkles and sugar. And buckets and buckets of candy that we hoarded and traded and bargained with for weeks to come.

I spoke to my mother this evening and asked how the trick-or-treating was going. She informed me that they had distributed 350 pieces of candy before having to run out and buy more. Seems like some things never change. Even thirty and forty years later they still have the best candy for blocks around. As an added bonus all that running up and down the stairs to answer the door should be sufficient to work off a few calories’ worth of leftover candy. Happy Halloween!

Photo: Brownie Boos, a more recent creation of my mother. I did not get to taste these but they look perfect.