27. October 2004 · Comments Off on Trickertreat! · Categories: Domestic, General

When in the name of all that’s unholy, did Halloween turn into an extravaganza of coffins and mock gravestones set up in suburban lawns, and formations of witches plastered onto tree trunks and garage doors, great glowing hanging jack o lanterns, and ghosts and witches and skeletons and huge ass spiders (shudder!) and monstrous webs, and life-sized skeletons? When did decorating the house for the benefit of small children in dime-store costumes or something cobbled together from a stack of torn sheets and some Rit dye, panhandling door to door for packets of candy corn and little pastel rolls of sweettarts become almost as much a collective pain as Christmas? It probably happened about the same time that the pattern catalogue for costumes (costumes for all ages, yet!!!) at the yardage store became as thick as the Simplicity seasonal catalogue and stayed on the pattern table year around. I just know that Martha Stewart had something to do with it, the overachieving beotch, and it must have happened while I was out of the country during the 1980ies.

It used to be an innocent, home-made, modest little affair. Mom bought us each a pumpkin, and in the early days Dad helped us carve them with a kitchen knife and scrape out the mooshy tangle of seeds and stringy orange fibers. By the time JP and I were in junior high, we conducted the ritual pumpkin butchery ourselves, and assisted Pippy with marking out a scary face in straight-angled cuts. Fit the pumpkins with candle-ends, saved for this purpose in the drawer with the silverware, set them out on the front porch, and there we were, all set. Of all the neighbors around Hilltop house, only Wayne got ambitious, rigging a ghost of cheesecloth to fly silently down a wire running from the trees by their gate to just above the front door.

We made our own costumes, mostly, although Alan’s mother had made some elaborate ones for his older sisters, which I borrowed a couple of times. Mom’s contribution to our costumes mostly was to turn over the whole thing over to us, along with any sheets which had ripped down the center. With a couple of sheets and whatever we could scrounge around the house in the way of props, we’d have something that would hold up for a couple of hours of tricker-treating, and for the Halloween carnival at school. .
“Mom, can I dye in the bathtub?” I asked.
”Sure, but don’t expect to be buried in it.” She shot back. I was an artist with packets of Rit dye from the grocery store. I couldn’t do it in the washing machine after the first time we tried that— the dye stayed in the pipes for a couple of loads.

I outfitted Pippy that year as Mary Poppins, in a long dress and straw hat, carrying an old tapestry handbag of Moms’ and an umbrella. The handbag did double duty as a bag for treats. The year that I had read the entire Lord of the Rings to Sander, he wanted to dress as a hobbit— again with a tunic and cloak of dyed sheets, and a sword and shield that Dad roughed out of wood, and that I painted with semi-Celtic motifs. Another year, the sheets were worked into a long grey dress, and a white pinafore and headscarf with a red cross in grosgrain ribbon on the front—
“A Grey Lady!” said Great-Aunt Nan in delight, when she saw Pippy dressed up like a WWI nurse, holding Sander’s hand. Sander was a flying ace, in his ordinary school clothes and windbreaker jacket zipped up the front, with a long white silk scarf borrowed from Mom, and a canvas flier’s helmet and pair of goggles from the surplus store. The helmet fit him perfectly, leaving us to wonder when in history, exactly, were they recruiting dwarf aircrew.

Close to sundown, we would light the candles in the pumpkins— it was really, truly only tricker-treating, after it was at least decently dark, with smothered giggles coming from the front porch, and children in twos and threes working up their nerve to ring a strange doorbell. Usually, there was a parent or older sib outside the circle of porch-light, cuing the chorus of “Tricker-treat!” and reminders to say “thank-you” before they romped away, clutching their brown-paper grocery bags of treats.

Home-made, kid-made costumes, simple pumpkins, and brown-paper bags— all very simple in comparison, as shapeless and disorganized as a scratch softball game on an empty lot on a summer morning when school is out. Now that Halloween is all elaborate, and organized, like Little League, with uniforms and coaches and formal rules, it may be more spectacular, but I have a sneaking suspicion it may have been more pure fun for the kids then.

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