Sunday, November 1, 2015

Old-Fashioned Halloween

Last week more than a few moms of girls complained on Facebook about the sexism inherent in the labeling of Halloween costumes available in the stores. One of the moms bought a Ninja costume labeled for boys for her seven-year-old daughter to wear. Apparently the girl costumes consist of a limited selection of princesses, female Disney characters, witches, and sex vixens; while boys get to be Ninjas, firefighters, pirates, superheroes, grim reapers, devils, ghouls, skeletons, and all manner of interesting creatures. Oh dear.

My children rarely chose a gender-specific costume. They masqueraded as fruits, vegetables, animals, insects, hippies, superheroes, and scary monsters; often using their pajamas as the basis for their costumes. For a few years my daughter was Pippi Longstocking, her favorite storybook character. She loved Pippi precisely because she was everything a well-behaved little girl was not. She was the mistress of her own fate, living with no parents to tell her what to do, she made pancakes for dinner, kept a pet horse on her porch and a mischievous pet monkey (Mr. Nilsson), wore mismatched clothing (oh those magnificent red-and-white striped tights) and wore her wild orange hair in pigtails that stuck straight out from her head (we had to put a piece of hanger-wire through my daughter’s braided hair to get the pigtails right), and she had marvelous adventures in which she often outsmarted evil-intentioned grown-ups. After outgrowing the fairy princesses of toddlerhood, the closest my daughter came to a gender-specific costume ever again was Pippi.

It surprises me how many people depend on store-bought costumes. Really? We never bought costumes, although my son once rented a Chewbacca costume for a fancy party when he was a senior in high school. Living in a rural community, and not having much expendable income, we (and our neighbors and friends as well) always made costumes from scratch. Many families are 4-H families who have farms or vineyards. Our children did not belong to 4-H because we were more involved in art, music, drama, dance, and team sports. Regardless of whether they belong to 4-H or not, the people in our community are do-it-yourselfers. Parents in our community often raised children who participated in sewing as a 4-H activity; but the costumes we (and many other families) produced did not necessarily involve sewing. I can sew, but not well enough to make a complex costume. No, we collected, assembled, and used our creativity. Clever, imaginative, and funny costumes are highly regarded in my neck of the woods. Sexy costumes? Meh.

One of the most amusing costumes I saw over the years was the woman with three children on soccer traveling teams who dressed as a soccer ball. The quintessential soccer mom, she probably felt like a soccer ball bouncing around three counties to take her children to games. When I was young, the urban Halloween “scares” about razor blades in apples and needles in candy bars started (was this an urban myth or did it ever actually happen?); and for a time the local hospital in my hometown offered to X-ray candy the day after Halloween to look for metal objects. By contrast, here in our rural community I remember once when my children received homemade chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven at one door. It was the home of the boys’ soccer coach so we knew the family. But even if we didn’t, I would have been so touched by homemade cookies that I would not have paused for a minute to worry about what was in those cookies. Love was in them.

The best Halloween was the year we took our children to our neighbors’ house across the road at the Ranch when we returned from trick-or-treating in town. Our neighbors, both retired schoolteachers, expected us and they had baked an apple pie from homegrown apples. They admired the children’s costumes (daughter as Pippi, one son as a banana and the other as a bumblebee) and then sat us down at the table for warm pie. While the bags of store-bought candy gathered in town stood idle by the coat rack, we feasted on apple pie. The children had no appetite for candy after that. Nothing you buy at the store can compete with a homemade apple pie.

Sugar is death and disease on a spoon. I use other sweeteners instead in my own homemade treats (mostly maple syrup or honey) and I prefer these for flavor and health, thank you very much. So I have struggled with trying to find the right treat to hand out at the door on Halloween. One year I gave out toothbrushes and another year I gave apples. I have given stickers, quarters, and small plastic animals. I have a friend who is a Ob/Gyn doc. She worked on a tribal reservation for a few years. When she was there, she gave the teenagers who came to her door on Halloween condoms! Fortunately, the parents thought this was quite clever and a bit hilarious. Way to go doc.

I have never been much of a fan of Halloween. I scare easily and can’t stomach creepy costumes, especially if fake blood or wounds are involved. I hid under the table whenever the Wicked Witch of the West appeared in The Wizard of Oz until I was twelve years old. It astonished me that my three-year-old daughter merely giggled when she saw the witch appear when she saw the film for the first time. Everyone in my family gets a kick out of horror movies. Except me. I can’t even watch Scary Movie (the Wayans’ total spoof, which is ridiculously fake and campy) without covering my eyes in parts. Call me squeamish. I don’t see the fun or humor in blood, gore, chainsaws, and terror.

My childhood memories of Halloween are not all that. They consist largely of getting lost in labyrinthine hedges, falling over lawn furniture, and being left behind because my thick eyeglasses steamed up under my plastic mask and I couldn’t see three inches in front of my face. I once had the fake hair on my mask get tangled in a blackberry bush and it took three Jewish moms, two Catholic moms, and an Episcopalian dad to set me free. Scary costumes spooked me and made me cry. Nowadays, I hate Halloween even more because people seem to act terribly weird in costume, many people have extremely poor taste (Ku Klux Klan and Nazi costumes are not amusing), and everyone (especially children) consume piles of toxic sugar-laced fake-food that makes them sick. It’s repulsive. I am an absolute Halloween Grinch. Do not approach me with your head under your arm and a bag of Snickers. Yech!

This year we were invited to a Halloween party and I was very brave and attended. It was good fun. Our hostess was a black cat and her husband was a caveman. Ron was a pirate. What else would he be? He has the lingo down and he looks great in his pirate headdress. It was sort of a theme because there were a few pirate wenches at the party who wore store-bought pirate wench costuming complete with push-up bras and low-cut dress-fronts that caused their breasts to burst out with vigor. It was hard to keep my eyes on their faces while talking to them with all those boobs popping forth. (Avast ye maties.) The men took an awful lot of pictures of themselves with these busty women. I dressed entirely in green and went as chlorophyll, which doesn’t have much to show in the way of cleavage, but it’s healthier than candy. I thought I was clever, but none of the men wanted pictures of themselves with me. Thus I survived another year of Halloween. Now on to my more favorite holidays.

My kind of pumpkin carving. (I didn't do this pumpkin--kudos to whomever did).

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