Sunday, October 28, 2012


Not for candy, but for costumes, I loved Halloweens of childhood. I could walk around as someone else--like a child playing dress-up with bits and pieces from an attic trunk. The search through bureaus, trunks and closets was a joyful part of it, and sometimes the outcomes were surprising.

The first costume I remember was a grown-up's cast-off gown. My mother nipped and tucked, and slashed the hem to suit my height (or lack of it), and wrapped a brilliant scarf around my waist. She draped me with a fur-piece from her single life, and presto! I was transformed into a 1930s movie star!

Beneath the neighbors' porch lights, I got a better look and saw the vintage fur was made of little foxes, with eyes and little teeth and paws, each pelt clinging to the next. I was terrified! My mother stood protectively behind us in the shadows. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I feigned illness. I couldn't wait to get back home and peel off those scary little animals. I soon became more independent in my costume choices.

When I was eight or so, I loved the smiling Aunt Jemima on the pancake mix and syrup. For Halloween that year, I decided she was who I'd be. I meant no harm; Aunt Jemima was to me a warm and friendly presence.

I tied a big red handkerchief around my head and donned a dress and my mother's apron, and then I sneaked to the furnace and smeared my face and neck with coal soot--an addition apparently unnoticed by my busy mother as I went out the door with my crowd of siblings. Mom wasn't happy with me when I returned that evening. She refused to help me clean my face and ears and hairline, and for a week it seemed impossible to remove the soot from underneath my fingernails. "That's your punishment for disrespect," my mother told me.

One year, Buster Keaton comedies from the silent movie days were a costume inspiration for me. But no one recalled those silent movies, and I was mistaken for a bum! ... Another year, when I was slightly older, I dressed as Moonbeam McSwine, bad girl from Li'l Abner comics. That costume was a flop, because Mom had censored the scanty outfit into something else entirely.

When I reached junior high and high school, costume parties were a staple of the days surrounding Halloween, and I went as a flower child... an Appalachian apple seller... a flyer... a mechanic... "Babushka Woman"... a beatnik... a pioneer... a Roman senator and many other personnae... Sometimes I wasn't really sure myself who I was meant to be; improvisation was the point, and half the fun! Once I showed up at a costume party as MYSELF, and won the prize for most original; the meaning of that wasn't really clear to me.

I was no longer a child on the Halloween that fell on the eve of my eldest child's birth, when I decided to escort young nieces and a nephew on their trick-or-treating. One homeowner spotted me behind the kids and urged, "Come forward, little pregnant mommy; what a costume!"

I did love grown-up costume parties most of all, but they have long since disappeared from Halloween in many places. Ten years ago, however, a relative-by-marriage delightfully revived the costume party for a lucky few of us, with a costume gathering in her family's cozy barn. Eureka!

That year I didn't think about my costume until an hour before party-time, when I dug into my closet, threw on a Russian shawl I'd never found excuse to wear, stuck colorful large hoops into my earlobes, grabbed a decorative straw chapeau from the hall tree, and went as "Gypsy Rose." I was escorted by my husband who appeared before me as an aging tie-dyed hippie whose crew-cut silver hair didn't look like any 60s hippie anyone of us had ever seen.

A Hunter's Moon was brilliant in that Indian Summer night. There was a campfire in the neighborhood, and some of us pretended we were smelling burning leaves, an aroma that has been against the law for many years.

For a little while that evening, we all were laughing kids again; and none the worse for it!

(Witch Rose is up in the air on a broom. Feel free to leave a comment: