Four Generations of Halloween Costumes
Halloween in Ames, NY in the 1950’s and 60’s was simple, yet memorable.
For me, the focal point of the scary season was the anticipation. Once the leaves started to fall and waist-high orange, yellow and red piles were set ablaze by my grandfather on the roadside, my thoughts drifted with the plumes of thick smoke to my creative corner. I loved taking on another persona, leaving my shy, unremarkable self behind.
The local 5 & 10 cent store stocked a supply of hard plastic masks. Clowns. Princesses. Witches. The kind with two eye cutouts that never matched up to my own sockets and a small slit to stick my tongue through. An elastic strap held the mask tightly to my head, trapping moist breath behind the barrier. By the end of the evening, the rigid covering chafed my face so badly that it resembled a bad case of diaper rash.
My own trick-or-treat years displayed a variety of clever costumes. Sometimes I wore a mask and other times, Mom’s makeup disguised my face. But with each outfit, I escaped for the night into another world. The next day I returned to my normal life with a bag full of sugary treats stashed under my bed.
The majority of my costumes were fully home-made. One year my grandmother and mother made matching Little Bo-Peep costumes for my older sister and me. Nana purchased beautiful floral fabric and sewed long skirts and a matching neckerchief. She crafted a bonnet out of a paper plate and covered it in the colorful material and secured it with a big bow. She and Mom covered three-foot candy cane shaped Styrofoam staffs with the same cloth. Chris and I could have appeared on a Mother Goose book cover. All we needed were some sheep.
Then I became a Mom and I felt it was my duty to carry on the home-made costume tradition. When my daughter and son were old enough to walk the neighborhood streets with their Dad begging for sweets, I went into full costume design mode. My daughter Samantha briefly deterred my creative spirit when she insisted on wearing a store-bought Care Bear suit. The cheap pink and brown plastic getup offended me, but there was no talking her out of the outfit she saw in a K-Mart display.
However, the next year I nudged her back on track with a fairy princess costume, complete with my original tulle tutu design. I turned Rick, my son, into a baby elephant using a gray hooded sweatshirt adorned with felt ears. I bought the rubber trunk since I was not sure how to make one. For years the fun continued with vampires, cheerleaders and assorted hand-crafted outfits. I loved it.
As with everything, there is a time and a season. And the time came for my own children to provide for their off-spring. And hurrah! They carried on the home-made costume tradition.
Samantha was the first to demonstrate her costume prowess and I must say she excelled. My simple ideas were put to shame by her creativity. The best outfit she ever made was for her young son Max. He was a ham sandwich. Who thinks of turning her kid into something to eat?! But it was masterful. The only problem was that Max would not wear the pickle on top of his head and then when it was time to actually go out on Halloween night, he refused to be dressed as a lunch item. So, he went out as a tea bag instead. (Don’t ask.)
Charley, Samantha’s daughter, was the next victim. Learning from the sandwich experience and understanding that toddlers do not like to be restricted, Samantha attached yards of cotton batting to a white onesie to turn her tiny daughter into a lamb. (Gee I could have used her with my Little Bo-Peep outfit!) The problem with this idea was that a small child does not stand still for long. The little lamb squirmed as she was stuffed into her fleece and proceeded to yank off random pieces of wool before they left the house to trick-or-treat. I suggested that my daughter write-off the costume to a bad case of mange as I observed a trail of white fluff on the floor.
A Witch, Jimmie Johnson, Harry Potter wizards, Minnie Mouse and a mummy made out of rags and toilet paper have entertained me through the years at Samantha and Craig’s house. This year Charley had her heart set on a store-bought Disney costume but she let me apply her make-up. Fourth-grade Max proudly showed off his amazing Mom-home-made DJ set-up, compete with vintage 45’s. It was a classic!
Children naturally compete with one another and my son Rick was not to be outdone by his sister when he became a father. Fortunately he too had the home-spun Halloween bug. Last year Rick spent hours making a perfect kid-sized Monster Truck costume for his son Will. That is what happens when you ask a two-year old what he wants to be for Halloween. Children have no idea that is a tall order. The year before, when Will was not as verbal, Rick and Toni dressed him as a chef, like his uncle. And last year infant Emily stayed warm as a Bumble Bee. I can’t wait to see this year’s costumes. Both of the kids will be showcasing the Paw Patrol characters. Maybe there will be some faux fur!
Today my costume making days are behind me. I miss the smell of hot glue and trips to the fabric store for sequins and felt. I miss my mother and my grandmother and the sound of our Singer sewing machine whirring in the dining room. But I am satisfied in knowing that these family traditions are being carried on by the next generation. I hope it continues long after I am gone.
So, come and celebrate Halloween with me and the wonderful memories it provides. And when you open the door for your trick-or-treaters, take time to admire the creativity that is out there. It took time and patience!