|You might think a nervous type like me, who has palpitations during especially intense action sequences on Curious George, might shy away from the shrieking tomfoolery associated with Halloween. But you would be terribly, terribly wrong.
I can't help it: it's hereditary. Three hundred and sixty four days of the year, our little family lived a quiet, unremarkable life of comforting monotony. Then, come dusk on October 31, we turned into a perfectly orchestrated quartet of terror.
Our neighbors put out pumpkins and bowls of candy. We scoffed.
My parents pressed my sister and I into willing service, crafting an entirely homemade carnival of thrills that turned our cookie-cutter ranch house into the set of The Addams Family. We had flashing lights,
creepy sound effects, talking scarecrows, hovering ghosts, and giant spiders whose eyes glowed blood-red in the gathering gloom. Of course, we also had candy. But if you wanted a Tootsie Roll from the Habits, you ran the gauntlet or you left empty handed.
We considered the evening a flop if fewer than six kids wet themselves just walking up our driveway.
I'm pretty sure my early and persistent interest in making my own stuff must have sprung from this annual froth of spooky creativity. Costumes were a major part of the mise en scène for all of us, including
the grown-ups. And we did not buy ready-mades from the discount store. We did not do the ghost-in-a-white-bedsheet thing. That was bush league.
My mother was a genius at mixing whatever was at hand into supremely effective head-to-toe ensembles. Give her a cheese grater, an old t-shirt, a length of clothesline, bottle of glue and half a box of macaroni; and she could make you look like either the Queen of the Fairies or a creature from the Island of Doctor Moreau. (Tip: It's all in how you place the cheese grater.)
Though I was only five years old, I will never forget the night she turned my father into a ghoul by stuffing him into a thin, black full-body leotard and painting his face with burnt cork. With the chain from a disused swag lamp* around his neck, he rattled out the door to spread a little cheer. His face and body melted into the darkness; but the black light from the illuminated ghost in front of the garage made his underwear glow a lurid purple.
If you should happen to be one of the many neighborhood children, now middle-aged, who still dreams of being chased down the block by a floating pair of phantom jockey shorts, we're sorry. We hope you enjoyed the Tootsie Roll.
*Don't judge. It was the 1970s.