A Halloween Story

by Memoir Mentor on October 29, 2010

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped anyone that Halloween has become a BIG HOLIDAY, comparable in some ways to Christmas in the percentage of store space devoted to decorations and assorted costume paraphernalia. I recently stopped at one of those temporary Halloween stores that spring up this time of the year in commercial buildings vacated by the recession. Looking for costumes for my grandkids, I felt like I had stepped into some goblin fantasyland. There were costumes for every fancy, and well-made costumes at that. Well-made, and expensive, and a large percentage of them for adults.

How times have changed—and how old that statement makes me feel. Even though we complain about today’s discouraging economic times, America was poorer in the ’50s, in my trick-or-treating days. Granted, enterprising merchandisers hadn’t grasped Halloween’s consumer potential back then, but if they had, I suspect practical parents who came of age during the Depression wouldn’t consider spending more than a couple of dollars, if anything, for a costume their kid would wear for one day.

Store-bought costumes then weren’t the dazzling ensembles they are today. For example, my grandsons’ Spiderman costumes came with padded “muscles” built right into the fabric, along with a cool hat, gloves, and shoe coverings. Most fifties-era costumes sold in stores looked like they had all been cut from the same pattern, resembling one-piece pajamas that you tied at the back of the neck. They were typically made from a thin nylon fabric, stamped on the front with a picture of Casper the Friendly Ghost or Little Audrey, or something else that proclaimed your identity. A scratchy, sight-limiting molded plastic mask completed your “look.” Despite, the cheesiness of those costumes, I still wanted one, for some reason. Mom usually nixed the idea, proclaiming homemade better and more original. The photo at the right suggests she must have relented at least once, for my nurse’s costume clearly looks store-bought. Very cute, very fifties—a nurse, not a doctor.

I’m glad I have this picture, for I remember few of my Halloween costumes. The options were limited—nothing like today. Hobos were the go-to costume of my era, probably suggested by parents who remembered real-life hobos from the Depression. Do today’s kids even know what a hobo is? We could cobble together a costume from old clothes ripped and dirtied to make us look down and out. Mom blackened a cork over the stove burner, then rubbed it on our faces and arms to make us look like we’d been living in a railroad boxcar. We capped off our costume by fashioning a kerchief stuffed with rags to the end of a stick and resting it on our shoulder hobo-style. I remember it was always such a nuisance traipsing around the neighborhood, juggling the hobo stick and a pillowcase full of candy.

Another easy and popular Halloween costume in my day was the beachcomber look. All you needed was a pair of cut-off Levis, an old ripped shirt, and a big straw hat. With the arrival of Mickey Mouse Club on television, many pre-pubescent girls of my era hankered to be a Mouseketeer. We could easily pull it off by printing our names on a piece of cloth or paper and pinning it to the front of a pull-over sweater. Growing up in Orange County with Disneyland practically in our backyards, we had no trouble finding Mickey Mouse ears.

I love all the hoopla surrounding today’s Halloween celebrations, even if merchandisers have led us by the nose. I love the kitschy and elaborate yard decorations, the Halloween-themed sitcoms on television, and all the sales clerks and doctor’s receptionists who dress up for the occasion. My Vietnamese friend tells me they celebrate Halloween in her home country nowadays—another bow to Western culture.

And so my two grandsons are going to be muscled super heroes this year, and my grand-daughter will be an adorable fairy princess. I adore those glittery net princess costumes you can find anywhere from the Disney Store to Costco nowadays. How I would have loved to exchange my hobo rags for one of those frothy sequined confections. We tend to wax nostalgic about the good old days, but I like the way they do Halloween today. The candy’s better, too. Happy Halloween everyone!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nancy Peralta October 30, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Happy Halloween to you. You look so cute in your nurse costume. I remember the fun we had on Halloween. My favorite costume was when I was a teenager I wore my aunt’s Pocahontas costume with a feather head band with fake braids attached to it and moccasins to a few Halloween parties. I thought I was so “cool” dressed as an Indian “princess”.I just loved that costume. As kids growing up we were ghosts with sheets over us and hobos and had “witch” masks and hats”. We never had a store bought costume. Many years we did have store bought masks to wear on Halloween. One year when we were out trick ‘r treating we went up to a two story house and some teen age boys were on the roof over the porch and poured buckets of water on us.. That did not deter us as we just went back home and got dried off and put on “ghost” costumes and went out again. It was fun.

2 Patricia M. October 31, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Hust came back from Marshalls where Haloween costumes are half-price.
Two little girls are going to be very happy tonight, for their father (or uncle or mom’s boyfriend) just bought them adorable princess dresses. One is white with a fake fur neckpiece and the other red with sequins. I hope they come to my door.
Happy Haloween!

3 Tyson November 14, 2010 at 10:41 pm

I don’t think I have ever seen that photo, Mom. I remember Ashley dressing as a hobo, and I have had a conversation with a real-life hobo in the past couple years. (Not to be confused with a tramp or a bum, a hobo is simply a traveling worker, where a tramp travels but does not work, and a bum typically stays in one place and does not work). I think most dress their status up rather than down for Halloween these days – most of my students dressed as Harry Potters or Army Men or the very chic Vampire. One of my 5-year-old students dressed as “Steak”, and suggested I dress as Mashed Potatoes.

4 Memoir Mentor November 15, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Thanks for diifferentiating hobos from tramps and bums. I had never considered their differences. The steak costume reminds me of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Remember when Scout dressed up as a ham for some event? I think it was a school program. That’s when she was rescued from danger by Boo Radley–played by a then-unknown Robert Duvall.

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