This week I asked my youngest daughter, now 19, what she remembered most about Halloween as a child. Her first reply was, “Candy!” Of course, that is the main theme! However, she also remembered favorite decorations like the witch that crashed into her grandmother’s front door; getting together with her cousins to trick-or treat; and comparing/swapping the candy they received on their outing. She giggles over the pumpkin costume she wore three years in a row, with the squiggly, green pumpkin vine that attached to the top of her head. And she loved carving pumpkins, particularly “cleaning out the guts” and watching the candle flicker through the carvings. She finally told me she was never that thrilled about the “fancy” pumpkins that we carved when companies began selling the elaborate guides to assist in carving cemetery scenes and witches that flew in front of the moon. She did not get to be as “hands-on” with those, because they were much more difficult than the standard jack-o-lantern. In fact, she apparently was really into that wicked, Halloween spirit because she says that she enjoyed “mutilating something and not getting into trouble.” Makes me re-think my mild-mannered, quiet child!
When our children are young, we want to give them the “best” of everything, including memory making moments. However, I have found that the simplest of occasions are the best remembered. Children don’t need extravagant trappings to make great memories.
When my sister and I were young, we handcrafted all our Halloween decorations from construction paper, black crayons, chalk, and string. Our windows were covered with orange and green jack-o-lanterns with yellow eyes, black cats with arched backs, and vampire bats. White chalk shows up well on black construction paper, as does yellow chalk (for cat eyes!). Paper bats also flew from the door frames. We enjoyed creating pumpkins with scary faces, surprised faces, and often silly faces. Along with other kids in the neighborhood, we would create our own “haunted houses”, partitioning off rooms with old sheets to create hallways and sectioned areas. Pumpkin guts turned into human guts. Frozen grapes were eyeballs. A head of cauliflower became a human brain. Red Kool-aid stained old sheets draped over card tables where amputations had been performed. Cardboard boxes stood on their sides became headstones for a cemetery. We enjoyed competing to come up with the coolest epitaph for the deceased. Old make-up discarded by our mothers became the means to create the ghoulishly scary faces of zombies, vampires, witches and ghosts. We took great delight in trying to scare each other…and, more importantly, in being scared.
Costumes, especially when we were small children, were stiff masks with cut-out eyes that were uncomfortable and often hot. Costumes were all cut in the same form and the individual characteristics were screen printed on the fabric. We were Batman, Superman, a princess, or a witch. When we got older, our costumes came from the closets of our family members, along with exaggerated make-up, and we enjoyed these costumes much more than the pre-packaged ones because they gave us the opportunity to be creative. We dressed up as teenagers from the fifties, rolling our jeans up just above the ankle and wearing bobbie socks and Keds, a scarf knotted around our necks. Red lipstick and chewing gum completed the look. We were vampires with dark circles around the eyes, blood dripping from our lips, wearing torn and bloody clothes or sometimes a black cape. We used white crepe paper to wrap our bodies and become mummies with stiff-jointed movements. A slack-jawed look, over-sized clothing, ashen make-up and loose-gaited movements turned us into zombies. With a little imagination, we could become anything we wanted to be.
When we became “too old” for trick-or-treating, we took great delight in scaring the younger kids who came to our houses for treats. We would still dress up and meet them at the door to hand out candy, or hide in the bushes outside the front porch to scare them as they left the house. Eerie music would loudly play from inside and our jack-o-lantern would grin wickedly as they approached. Our cardboard tombstones littered the front yard and we would create a scarecrow-type creature from old coveralls and a flannel shirt stuffed with pine straw to sit in a chair, guarding the cemetery. Each year we added something new to the tableau.
One of the best attributes of our creative Halloween mischief was that it cost little or no money to fund. In the end, we could take credit for the evening’s success or failure based upon our efforts and our imagination. Little supervision was required; our parents knew exactly where we were; we had lots of fun and they could relax without having to get up and down to answer the door bell. Simplistic, yes. Satisfying, also, yes. But as I have already said, the best memories come from the simplest of origins.
Encourage your children to use their imaginations this Halloween and have a truly spooky evening! Happy Halloween!