Today Halloween is nothing like it was when I was little or for my now grown sons for that matter: It’s a different world and a frightening one for children to go out of their own neighborhood. But it wasn’t like that for me: The mere mention of the word “Halloween” had magic in it and it meant dressing up in a costume that I thought would make me look entirely different: I could be someone else.
From age three to seven, my working mom made my costumes but thereafter they were store bought and came in a box. I’d always pick out a box that showed a girl all glamorous with a drawing of the costume, mask and wig. Excitement was rampant as I held that box and couldn’t wait for Trick or Treat or Halloween and no, I wasn’t allowed to try it on before either event but oh the temptation was there all right.
Imagine my disappointment when I opened that box and saw a shabby dress that tied in the back, a full face mask that looked nothing like it did on the box cover and sometimes a wig that could only be described as looking like dyed steel wool pads. Putting it all on was even worse for the shabby dress was flimsy and it never failed that the sleeves were too short which meant that I had to wear a long sleeved dress underneath it making it look all the worse.
As for the full face mask it looked nothing like it did on the box cover either and once I tried it on, I couldn’t breathe much less see out of the tiny slits that were where my eyes should be. And the mask had a black wide rubber band that was attached on either side and guaranteed to snap after two or three times of taking it off and that mask was so hot that my face was covered with sweat. I well remember staring at myself in my parent’s big bedroom mirror and just gasping at my reflection: I looked ridiculous.
One look at the wig and I decided I wouldn’t wear it for it was too tiny and there was no way it looked like human hair period. That part was okay with my mom of not wearing it but I had to wear the hideous costume and that full face mask. “Fine” I thought to myself “I can at least take off the mask if I had to because she wouldn’t suspect that I would.”
Come the day of the big event of Halloween and it meant that all kids wore their costumes to school and sat in them all day long. Some boys snatched their face masks and put them on just enough to disturb the teacher while all of the girls, including me, wouldn’t dare be caught. But the worst thing ever was that generally the end of October was cold and parents sent all of us to school with our coats on this special day. And as if my costume didn’t look ridiculous enough, it looked even worse with a long coat over it—why you couldn’t tell I had on a costume: All you could see was that horrid mask as the Halloween parade was around blocks near the school where every parent and neighbor stood smiling and staring.
I was mortified.
And it never failed that the black rubber band broke off on my mask making it impossible to keep it on and by that time I really didn’t care if it had. Too many times my teacher tried to fix it as well as other kids’ masks but to no avail.
But come Trick or Treat and it really didn’t seem to matter by then how I looked in my costume or mask for what mattered was being with friends my own age, unsupervised and allowed to go for blocks and blocks to get candy in the dark. Crime was never a problem then and like my friends, I felt safe and protected but should any of us get scared, we knew what houses to go to for safety. And we knew what houses to avoid for if they looked creepy, we stayed away from them—at least I did.
I loved every single minute of lugging bags and bags of fabulous candy straight up my hill in the dark for it was magical and my friends were with me until they reached their own houses. This routine was repeated from age eight until age eleven for at that age, I was in junior high school and felt that I was too old to wear a costume and the like. Secretly I missed it though.
It was a time of wonderment and feeling free to roam on Trick or Treat night or Halloween and not be afraid. “Afraid” wasn’t something that I even thought about for it wasn’t a factor. I look back at only happiness at the wonderment that was felt each year and even now, I realize still that those boxed costumes were misleading for they looked nothing like as was shown on the box. But since my mom made me wear one, what choice did I have? No doubt the same choice that you had if you grew up in the same time period—you did what you parents told you to do as well.
Sadness is what I feel for today’s kids who are confined to a mall to go Trick or Treating or to one known area for they know that fear exists as well as crime in a world gone wrong as do their parents that go with them.
I wish I could take so many children back to the time when I was a kid when Halloween was all that it was supposed to be: Deliriously spellbinding with magic thrown in for good measure. It was the best of times to be a kid at Halloween for the world was safe, my boundaries were limitless and I felt no fear—only joy and a dislike of my costumes and those masks.
Published in the Charleston Gazette Mail