Of all the major holidays Halloween is my least favorite. We didn’t get the day off when I was in school, and we don’t get it off at work now that I’m older. What kind of holiday if that? When I was a kid at least I could go trick or treating.
I liked the candy. It didn’t matter what kind–I’m not fussy. What I didn’t like was the odd stuff like apples (We gave them to Mom so she could do whatever you do with healthy stuff), popcorn balls and cupcakes—especially cupcakes. I like cupcakes, but put one with frosting inside a bag of candy and by the end of the night you end up with a frosting-covered blob that it would take a car wash to clean up. Usually we took the cupcake in our hand and either ate it right away or dumped it in the first hedge we came across. You could tell which house gave out cupcakes by the number of dogs, raccoons and opossums crawling in and out of the surrounding hedges for weeks afterward.
Most of the kids I knew made their own costumes for trick or treat. There were a lot of kids who tried to be mummies, but by the time they got their heads and maybe one arm wrapped up, they either ran out of gauze or just got tired of wrapping. A lot of half-mummies prowled the neighborhood on Halloween. Tramps and bums were popular, too. Our mother explained that the difference between a tramp and a bum is tramps were boys and bums were girls. Years later I realized Mom didn’t want her daughters running around telling people they dressed like a tramp on Halloween—nowadays that doesn’t seem to bother mothers so much. You could always dress like a hobo, but then you had that bundle and stick to cart around all night. Some kids had masks. If you had a mask you wore it every year and when you got too old for trick or treat, you handed it down to your brother or sister. It was like a family heirloom. There were some rich kids who bought full-body costumes every year, which I thought was pretty silly. If you had enough money to buy a costume, why not just buy the candy so you wouldn’t have to go from door to door in the cold to get it?
The design of my costume usually started with the same question: “You mean tonight’s Halloween?” I’d rush downstairs in a panic and start rummaging through the rag box where mom kept all the old worn-out clothes. The problem was I had two inconsiderate older sisters who would plan their costumes weeks ahead of time. By the time I got there, nothing was left. I ended up going as a ghost every year. It was fine if we had a white sheet in the rag box, but I went as a faded blue ghost, a beige ghost and a ghost with little pink fairies all over him when I had to use my younger sister’s old crib sheet. (Don’t bother. I’ve heard all the jokes. I’m still traumatized.)
One year there weren’t any sheets in the rag box. The closest thing I had was an old white dish towel that barely covered my head. I told everyone I was a mini ghost. I’m sure if there had been any African-American families in our little town, they would have seen me walking toward their house, figured the Klan was coming for them and called the police. I would have had to go through sensitivity training, and I’d be even more screwed up then I am now.
The problem with a ghost costume is it looks great standing in the house in front of a mirror. Get it outside where there’s wind and things for it to catch on and it’s another story. The two eye holes tend to move around. Sometimes one is over the eye and the other over an ear. Sometimes one hole is over your nose and your tongue is hanging out of the other one. Even when the eyeholes are where they’re supposed to be, you have about a three-foot field of vision directly in front of you. I spent most nights bouncing off parked cars, hedges, fences and trees like some kind of perverted pinball. On really windy nights a friend would have to take my hand and lead me from house to house to keep me from killing myself. When I heard him say “trick or treat,” I’d raise my bag and wait for the thump of a piece of candy in the bag. Anyway I always hoped it was candy. It could have been a marble, a Charlie Brown rock or a dead rat. I couldn’t tell. There were two good things about dressing like a ghost: I didn’t have to smear greasy make up on my face, and sometimes some kind lady would drop two pieces of candy in my bag and say, “Here’s an extra sucker for that poor blind kid.”
There was a big house on top of a hill in our little town. All the kids knew it was haunted and a witch lived in it. We knew she was a witch because she wore a pointed black hat and rode a broomstick. None of us had actually seen this, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. My mother said a sweet old lady lived there, and she would be thrilled to have us trick or treat at her house. None of us would do it until one Halloween when I was walking by the house with my friend Eric, making our trick or treat rounds. I mentioned to him that my mother had said we should trick or treat at the witch’s house. Suddenly Eric started getting on me to go up and knock on the door. He said I didn’t have a hair on a certain part of my anatomy if I didn’t do it. At the time I actually didn’t have hair on that part of my body, but I wasn’t going to let him know by backing down. I opened the gate and started up the sidewalk toward the house. I liked to say I acted cool and walked up with nerves of steel, but to passer byes it would have appeared that someone was having an epileptic seizure under that sheet.
I knew this old lady had a dog. It was a big black one that looked to be a cross between Satan’s Great Dane and a Tyrannosaurus Rex, only a lot meaner looking than that sounds. What I didn’t know was it was so old it had gone deaf, and it liked to sleep on the big WELCOME mat at the bottom of the steps leading up onto the porch. Looking through my eyeholes at the three foot world directly in front of me, I didn’t notice the dog until I tripped over it. I thought a demon had rose up out of hell to snatch my soul. I’m sure to the sleeping dog it seemed as if it had just been attacked by the Abominable Snowman. What followed was a biting, scratching tangle of boy and dog with hideous shrieks coming from it that could have been heard all over town. The old lady rushed out of the house and quickly pulled the dog away from me. Fortunately there weren’t any serious injuries. A few stitches at the vet and the dog was as good as new—although I always wondered at the mental damage. After that it always cowered at anything white.
The old lady turned out to be nice just like Mom said, except she gave out cupcakes.