Reflections from the Swamp
Yesterday I was rooting through the closet, looking for a costume so I could join the grandkids for Halloween. Thanks to all moms, living or past, who have made costumes for children at Halloween. Through your creativity, you have transformed children into witches, goblins, superheroes, and more.
You enhanced our sense of play and adventure. Thank you.
Halloween conjures up so many images that I feel compelled to capture a few of them. Halloween marks the end of fall and the beginning of the tremendous commercial build-up to Christmas. The season of Christmas advertising, I could do without.
I looked forwards to Halloween like any kid does because of the excitement of going door to door and getting candy for free! I grew up in the Wild West, and dressing up as a cowboy or an Indian were my favourite costumes. If anyone has any photos of me dressed up as a cowboy or Indian, please burn them in case I decide to run for political office. I don’t know how far back a political opponent might go to demonstrate that I’m politically incorrect. Fortunately, I am no good at politics and seldom write about political issues.
Parents stayed home to hand out candy, and kids were free to roam the neighbourhood. When we arrived at a door, we yelled out,” Halloween Apples, trick or treat!” Most people gave you a sucker, a handful of peanuts in the shell, or a molasses toffee wrapped in orange and black waxed paper. The toffees were guaranteed to pull out all of your fillings. Quite a few people gave us apples which were my mother’s favourite. Very few people gave out chocolate bars, and these were especially treasured. I placed a chocolate bar in my back pocket for safekeeping, which melted and made my siblings think that I pooped my pants when they saw the brown smudge all over the back of my jeans.
Boomer and I headed off across the river, down a steep cliff, across a walking bridge, and up another ridge to get to Chocolate Bar Heights. This was an affluent neighbourhood where it was more likely to get the elusive chocolate bars. We had copied down the addresses of the places where we received chocolate bars during the previous Halloween to better use our time. Most of the places we visited gave out chocolate bars again, and those who didn’t were scratched off our preferred list.
We ended up with pillowcases full of our precious loot, which we sorted and placed into large Roger’s Syrup tin cans. I tried to make the candy last until the next Halloween. Green and yellow suckers were the last candy to go.
Almost everybody’s mother that I knew was a stay-at-home mom, which meant they were responsible for making the Halloween costumes. The Vandenacker kids, all six of them, were always ghosts hidden under old white bedsheets. When the next Halloween turned up, all she had to do was go to the trunk and pull out the sheets. The kids made a loop of duct tape and placed it on their heads before throwing on the sheet so the eyeholes would stay in the right place. I imagined most of them would have a bald spot on top of their heads in a few years.
My mother was far more skilled at sewing and made great costumes. Her choice of characters for the costumes was undoubtedly unique. She didn’t seem compelled to ask us who or what we wanted to be. My parents spent their first years of marriage in Indonesia after the war. One year I was dressed up as President Sukarno because she found the typical Indonesian hat worn by Sukarno in the trunk. A tropical white jacket completed the outfit. Everybody asked me who I was, and when I said President Sukarno, they were none the wiser.
Mom didn’t like witches or ghosts; she thought they were anti-religious, so we were never zombies, ghosts, or skeletons. She reminded us that Halloween was also Reformation Day in Holland, the day Martin Luther nailed the 99 theses on the church door in Wittenberg. One year I was dressed as Martin Luther with a fake beard and a black robe fashioned from a curtain. Just about none of my friends knew who Martin Luther was. A few knew who Martin Luther King Jr. was. We assumed that Martin Luther’s son was the black guy in the news.
My favourite costume was getting dressed up as Rocket Richard. All I did was put on my #9 Montréal Hockey sweater. Everyone knew who I was. I remember crossing paths with a few other Rocket Richards. I wondered how long it would be before the outdoor rink would freeze up again.
Once when we all finally returned home and dumped the spoils of our night of collecting candy on the floor, my mother announced that she had run out of candy. She wanted us to donate some candy to the kids still arriving at the door. None of us would part with even one candy kiss. We suggested that my mother give out the apples we collected. She said that the apples were the only thing good about Halloween. My brother offered to hand out potatoes and turnips, both of which we had an ample supply of. We ended up turning off the lights and pretending we weren’t home.
There is something magical about kids finding costumes in a dress-up box. They put on the outfit and often invent a convincing persona to go with it.
While teaching drama, I marvelled at how liberating wearing a costume could be, especially for the shy kids. Costumes can open up new ways of seeing ourselves and the world around us.
Play is a part of life that brings true joy and happiness. We older ones need to find venues to help play become part of how we experience the dance of life. Halloween is calling us to stop hanging onto the wall, get out on the dance floor, and join in on life. So, if you have no little ones, borrow a few, and head off to Chocolate Bar Heights. Raise the (chocolate) bar!