It’s been years since a ghostie or goblin or even a PowerRanger has darkened my doorstep; longer still since I’ve been one myself. But night falls earlier now, and a chilly wind is blowing. It’s almost time for the spirits to be abroad.
I remember only one Halloween night that every child on my street did not meet after supper to begin our siege of the neighborhood. Usually we planned our costumes for weeks before the 31st, discussing the disguising properties of masks over face paint, homemade outfits cobbled together from whatever we had or could pilfer from our parents’ closets versus store bought costumes we’d have to talk them into buying. But this one particular year, the year I was eight, a town party was planned, and we were all expected to attend.
When a ritual is interrupted, something changes. In previous years the matter of my costume was left up to me. This year, because of the party, and because the party had a theme, I was forced to narrow my choices. Children were obligated to dress as a book character.
When my mother told me this, my first thought was to be a pirate, a la the mustachioed, swashbuckling Captain Hook from Peter Pan. I was practicing my “Ahoy, Matey!” and swinging an imaginary sword over my head with gusto when she dropped the other shoe. I had to be a girl from a story.
There is nothing worse than having to be what you already are on Halloween. The one night I could be anybody or anything I had the imagination to disguise myself as lost all its magic. That settled it. I wasn’t going to any adult-planned Halloween party. I would go trick or treating by myself. I would be a lone hobo, face blackened with a burned cork, a mop on my head for hair, one of my father’s shirts buttoned over my own.
“Who are you going to get candy from?” my brother asked. “Nobody will be home.”
I hadn’t thought of that. Bad enough to have to tromp the street in the scary dark all alone. Worse still to do it for nothing.
The night of the party, my brother appeared as Captain Hook. He wore a black patch strung over one eye, a tri-cornered cardboard hat, and a large metal hook screwed cleverly into a cork projecting from one sleeve. I was in one of my school dresses, complete with white tights and my Sunday shoes. The only concessions to costuming were the two bright circles of pink painted on my cheeks and a braided wig of yellow yarn on my head. Alice in Wonderland had never looked so forlorn, I’m sure.
That may have not been the last town party, but it was the last one we ever attended. The next Halloween saw half a dozen ghosts, hoboes, and zombies (and one swashbuckling pirate) armed with paper sacks, knocking on neighborhood doors.
for Magpie #38
for Magpie #38