Candy with coconut in it is not a treat to me. I hate the texture and dislike the taste. “Peter Paul’s Almond Joys got nuts, Peter Paul Mounds don’t.” were the words to their catchy jingle when I was growing up but that didn’t make them taste any better. Those were the candy bars that languished in my bag until it was time to throw them away. Not since the raisin had a less appealing food been dipped in chocolate pretending to be a treat. They are among the most horrifying memories I have of Halloween.
Halloween is the one holiday that holds great memories for me from childhood, college, early married life and right on thru parenthood. While other holidays hold fabulous memories from different eras, there would at times be pressure, disappointment or unrealistic expectations. Even now, with “the kids” grown up, Halloween is the holiday that best exemplifies the “It’s more fun to give than it is to receive.” mentality that has me slip a glow-stick in my beer bottle and welcome the toddling Disney Princesses and ghoulish tween crowd with distributions from my black cauldron.
I love the crunching of leaves under feet and even enjoy the slightly burnt pumpkin smell when real candles are used in outdoor jack-o-lanterns. I loved the well planned costumes of my youth; a witch, a skeleton, a tree, a cowgirl, an old man. My brother Robert painted eyes on my eyelids for my “trick” when I was a witch and camouflaged my face when I was a tree. My best friend Melanie made an adorable old lady the year I was an old man, though despite her being a few months older than me, her diminutive size had one actual old lady scowl at me with “Aren’t you a little old for this?” and refused to give me any candy. It was my first exposure to ageism, I was probably nine.
I recall that on my eighth grade Halloween I arrived home from the family cabin on a Sunday night after trick or treating time was over. For whatever reason, my brother who was a senior in high school had drove us home and my parents stayed on in Wisconsin until Monday. A neighbor’s friend, a year older than me, was just heading down the street toward home dressed in a Devil costume. She asked if I wanted to go out. I confirmed with my brother it was okay to go out on a rainy Halloween night at 9 pm (a “school night”). Permission granted. That is the wisdom of a 17-year-old, authorizing a 13-year-old to go raise a little hell with a 14-year-old. That was the first of many TP’ing adventures with my friend Heidi, the Devil who is now attending seminary. Next year will be the 40th anniversary of that epic Halloween that launched an amazing friendship. I believe that it was ninth grade that while on our way to a party my lifelong friend Melanie and I took a toy head that was designed for hair styling and makeup applications. We stopped at a house and Melanie pulled her jacket over her head and I pulled the collar up around the neck of the makeup head. When the homeowner arrived at the door with their bowl of candy I said “trick or treat” and then turned and angrily commanded “say something” and smacked the head off into the shrubs next to the front steps. We ran off thinking we had pulled off a spectacular stunt.
I remember going to a radio-station sponsored haunted house in elementary school and not being scared, because I knew that Camp Fire Girls wouldn’t take you someplace you could get hurt. It was my sophomore year in high school that the movie Halloween came out and some of the classmates I went with were so frightened by it that I walked them to their doors that night. Over the years while working with college students I attended Poe readings at the James J. Hill House, took “Haunted bus tours” and attended various haunted houses and barns. I love not so much the “scariness” associated with the holiday but rather the playfulness and childlike fun that it conjures. Perhaps my love for it comes from my brother Bob who let me do his makeup the year he was Alice Cooper. During college he went as Pete Townsend from The Who and even bought a used guitar to smash. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of “Rambob” a prize-winning likeness of Sly Stalone. It’s a holiday where adults can be kids and kids can be whatever they want!
Freshman year in college I was Winnie the Pooh, no there is no “slutty Pooh Bear” costume, it was a gold hoodie sweatshirt with pony tail holders making the ears out of the hood fabric, gold sweatpants and an inside out red T-shirt with “Pooh” in white paint on it. The next year I went as an electrician (my father’s trade) with a pillow in my shirt for a beer belly, a tool belt, hard hat and work boots. I wore Brut aftershave and used an old mascara wand to make a uni-brow and give myself a 5 o’clock shadow. Again, I had missed the memo on slutty costumes. The next year I attended a party wearing tag board camouflaged with markers and covered in leaves, a few additional leaves clipped in my hair. I wore a “Hello My Name is____” adhesive name tag with “George” penned in. Clearly I was George Bush, it was the Reagan years and my political costume was too cerebral for most. Yes, many of the party goers had no idea who our vice president was.
After college I remember a friend showing up in the college town where I worked, Halloween again fell on a weekend. Twins were in the World Series and my friend (despite being a Wisconsin native) wore my Twins sweatshirt and loads of my grandmother’s sparkly costume jewelry. She was a “Twins Wife”. I wore a ton of makeup, and a black coat dress and carried a basket. When people asked who or what I was, I squirted them with perfume and told them I worked in fragrances at the mall. Horrible costumes but a fun night! My friend went on to have some fabulous Halloween parties of her own! Early in my marriage, arriving from out of town with no costumes my husband ended up wearing my Martha Washington night-cap (that my eldest brother had brought home from his sophomore DC trip) some furry slippers of my mothers and a woman’s house coat. I can still picture his hairy calves walking beneath the glow of the street lights, almost a masculine version of Carol Burnett with the mop. Another year he went with a child’s Bart Simpson costume (one of those one piece step-in type with a tie at the back) attached over coordinating shirt and shorts and a smashed Bart mask worn cock-eyed, so as not to obstruct his actual vision or prevent him from having a beverage. He carried a plastic pumpkin to collect treats in. I kept explaining to people that he was “big for his age”. Our first Halloween party with Betsy she was 13 months old and a Red Crayon, Jeff went as a Shriner in a meticulously made miniature car that he wore with suspenders over his white shirt and black bow tie. My grandfather’s fez completed the costume and he “motored” about like the Shriners do in parades in their mini cars. It was perfection and sadly I have no photographs of it, just good memories.
Letting the kids pick what they wanted to be was fun, sometimes costumes were purchased (Harry Potter, a magician, a ninja) but more often than not either Jeff or I made them. Eddie’s first Halloween, he was the Tin Man, while Betsy was Scarecrow to their cousin’s Cowardly Lion and Dorothy. During our years living near campus, the kids typically trick-or-treated among the college students on the 30th. During our years in St. Paul the streets were full of packs of kids, inspiring Eddie to give away the candy he’d received one year when our supply ran out. At our house in Bloomington, we receive few kids because of our street being only an unlit single block. We had three houses in a row of kids who with additional friends went out together, the tradition being to start at former Twin’s player Kent Hrbek’s house, where in addition to Kent being in costume at his fire pit, distributing full-sized candy bars, autographed baseball cards also found their way into treat bags. Eddie got an extra treat one year when Kent asked him to sing when he was dressed as Alfalfa from Our Gang.
When Eddie got invited to a high school party with Betsy while still in middle school we whipped together a Kevin Federline costume quickly, adhering a huge rhinestone to his ear with Super-glue (which seemed like a good idea at the time) he carried a “Bitty Baby” around and referred to it as Jaden James all night. My favorite costume ever for the kids was the year they went as King Arthur and Patsy from Spamalot. It was a family effort and perhaps the last time they trick-or-treated together with a whole band of neighborhood kids, followed by swapping treats in our basement.
The kids eventually went off to college and Betsy spent the final three years there outfitting her room to look like Hogwarts and distributing candy to community kids with her roommate, dressed in the robes of their respective houses. So far this year Instagram tells me that Eddie has been costumed as both a kitty and a puppy. Betsy is back at home this fall and just carved a pumpkin tonight. I look forward to the kids who will stop by on Saturday night and am hopeful that the weather cooperates.
Best wishes for a safe and happy Halloween and may none of your treats contain coconut!