I remember my very last True Halloween. What is a “True Halloween,” you ask? Well, to me, it means dressing up in a costume and walking door to door for candy, shouting “Trick or Treat” until my parents would cut me off like bartenders at closing time. (“OK there, pal, you’ve had enough. Time to go,” they’d say, which would be accompanied by a swift but comforting pat on the shoulder.) And then, when I got home, I’d count my loot, rating each piece based on a complicated system of personal preference combined with candy size. A full Snickers bars – the mackdaddy of finds – would get 10 whopping points, while a miniature Mr. Goodbar would score negative one. Then I’d sort the candy into distinct piles (eat now, save for later, trade with brother, donate to UNICEF) and then, finally, enjoy.
I was in the fifth grade.
By the following October, the social and political landscape of Trick or Treating had changed dramatically. Through the grapevine, I learned that eleven-year-olds were too cool for all that silly kid stuff, and, even though I personally didn’t feel that way, I felt that I was supposed to feel that way. Not to mention, any 6th grader who did go Trick or Treating on the ABC streets was clearly taking their lives in their hands because, rumor had it, the 8th graders were coming out in force. They had shaving cream and eggs and were going to attack anyone over 4’10” tall.
I went home and measured myself. 4’10” exactly.
I was bummed to be so tall and old for Halloween. How had this happened to me? Was there a way to work the system? What if I dressed up a little bit, but not too much? What is I went with…protection?
My friend Abby and I put our too-tall heads together and hatched a plan.
The plan involved garbage bags and a Cadillac Seville. Not at all what you were expecting, I suppose.
Plan Guidelines: We would dress up. Check. But then we would cover our costumes with plastic garbage bag dresses, which would shield us from 8th grade direct attack or crossfire, or, come to think of it, even from 7th grade friendly fire.
We bought black garbage bags and cut holes in the top for our heads. Check.
In order to offer further and immediate armor in case of a swarm of adversaries, or to shield us from any otherwise completely scary situation involving a raccoon or squirrel, we would enlist Abby’s mother to drive us from house to house in her Cadillac.
Abby pleaded with her mom who probably thought we were insane but said yes anyway. Got Caddy? Check.
And then, dashing in and out of the back seat of the car, we went Trick or Treating from 7-8 pm. I have no recollection of my costume that year, only a vague notion of us being driven 10 feet and then unlocking the car doors, running out to ring someone’s doorbell, grabbing candy, and bounding back to the car where we would dive back in and lock the doors again. It was like Bonfire of the Vanities meets Driving Miss Daisy.
Then Abby moved to Bedford. Perhaps the laws in that part of the county were different for Halloween age and height requirements. In any case, I like to think she got a few more years of enjoyment out of the holiday.
In seventh grade, a different friend and I hosted a party for about 10 people in my basement and we watched scary movies. We didn’t even try to go Trick or Treating.
Halloween does experience a resurgence, of course, in high school, when girls get to dress slutty and blame it on the costume and boys get to act stupid and blame it on the costume. And then there are fun-loving adults who host Halloween parties, people like my friends Jen and Bob, who always dress up in something outrageous and invite 50 people to their home for a big shindig. They call it their “Dress Up or Don’t Come” party and Brett and I consistently choose the latter.
5th grade was definitely my turning point.
I relay this tale to you now because my son, Andrew, is in 5th grade, and he’s stating to show signs of pre-teen Halloween ambivalence. Although he’s excited about the holiday and can’t wait to get a costume – he’s going to be a Hobbit and he wants me to dress as the Elf Queen, thinking I look like a pointy-eared Cate Blanchet (is that a complement?) – he did make a comment that surprised me. “I think I’ll have a party for some friends and stay home next year,” Andrew said, totally out of nowhere. It’s like he can sense the beginning of an ending.
5th grade really does mark the beginning of an ending, and not just for the way one views Halloween. Elementary school is drawing to a close for him, which has been making me, his mom, feel nostalgic about lots of things, from my own years as a child to my children’s years as children. As I watch my firstborn transition away from childhood and towards something resembling uppertweendom, I can’t really believe how fast the Halloween years have flown, for him or for me. I had my Raggedy Ann years (and then so did my brother – don’t ask), and the Little Red Riding Hood years, and eventually my Wonder Woman year, which totally rocked. Lastly, for a Junior High School costume contest, I won a prize for a very convincing Shirley Temple.
Yes, I wore my tap shoes.
For Andrew’s first Halloween adventure, at five months of age, I bought a onesie costume from Buy Buy Baby. It was brown and hooded and made of sort of fleece, and was probably a bear costume. Once Andrew was zipped inside of it, laying there on the rug, we decided to call him Roadkill.
His second Halloween was much better, as he was upright and mobile and able to eat candy, which are three basic requirements for enjoyment of the holiday. We put him in his fireman rain slicker and sent him out to collect a few lollipops before putting him to bed because he had a fever. Then there was Bob the Builder, and Spiderman, and Mr. Incredible, and on and on through the superheroes that act as alter egos. The now seven-year-old Zoe went from one princess to another princess for several seasons, until she moved on to Dorothy who moved on to the Wicked Witch, and this year, to rock star, which we believe fits her best of all.
This Halloween, I wish for good weather as I go Trick or Treating with both of my children perhaps for one last time. And, in that way, perhaps this is my last True Halloween. I’ll stand back on the street and not hover over them as they hop from house to house, waiting just far enough away to give them their freedom, but close enough to know that they are safe.
And, when they aren’t looking, I’ll steal all their Snickers bars, which, in my humble opinion, is still the best candy of the bunch.