Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Why I Never Liked Halloween.

Daughter #1 makes fabulous costumes like this Mummy for my grand daughter.

I hate Halloween.  There I’ve said it.  I’ve come clean.  No more pretending.  Putting on a false face.  Wearing a polite mask while the rest of the world gushes fanatically about how killer Halloween is. I think it stinks.  Truth is, I’ve always hated it.  I can’t think of one happy Halloween memory.  It terrifies me.  Even as an adult.  I’m intimidated by complete strangers dressed in costumes and wearing masks or bloody makeup knocking on my door.  Even the small ones make my bones chill.  Nothing more sinister than a teensy weensy spider.   Some would say that’s kind of the point.  But not for me.  Before you call me the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge of Halloween, in my defense, there are some spellbinding reasons I feel this way.

Little back story.  I grew up in a small town in Northwestern Ontario.  Winters were cold there.  Very cold.  And very long.  Bleak at times. Some years the first snowfall came as early as October.  And the last one could come in May.  May, for God’s sake.  In between the snow was relentless.  Some years it felt like perpetual winter.  Perhaps that was just the teenage me in a bad mood.  But still.

This foul, malicious mean-spirited weather played a major roll in shaping, if not permanently blackening, my recollections of October 31.  I don’t even know what to call this thing.  Is it a holiday?  An event?  A special occasion?  A celebration?  Festival?  For me, it’s none of these.  But it truly was, and always will be, a night of horrors.

Here’s the blood-curdling, hair-raising reasons why.

The Halloween before Ma died my youngest was everyone’s little princess.

1. I was a shy kid.  This made knocking on the doors of strangers difficult at best.  Okay, I’ll admit these were all neighbors’ doors.  But every year on October 31 they felt like complete strangers to me.  Creepy visitors from another planet.  They just seemed weird.  Not like themselves.  I particularly feared the ones who invited me in to retrieve my treat.  Then asked me to sing or something equally humiliating.  This was painful.  It scared the Bejesus of out me. You’d think they were handing out million dollar bills instead of a lousy peanut in a shell.

2. I didn’t have any siblings close in age to trick or treat with.  This meant The Old Man or my older sister, who was practically an adult, had to take me from door to door.  It was lonely.  And sad.  I felt like an outcast.  A loser.  There’s nothing more pitiful than a lone trick or treater. Not nearly as dreamy as the Lone Ranger. Not even close. This also brought out the green-eyed monster in me. I envied the rowdy screeching C kids from across the street who paraded around the neighborhood in their clannish cluster of clever costumes.  Their mother was off her rocker at the best of times but this zaniness came in handy when constructing costumes. She was an artistic genius with an imagination that knew no bounds.  Her costume making skills were unrivaled.  Having said that, it might not have taken a whole lot of talent to out-costume the rest of us.

The yellow crayon costume. I was proud of this one at the time.

3. The options for costumes were limited. Nothing like it is today. You couldn’t go to Walmart and buy one.  Nor could you order one online. There weren’t any pop-up costume stores.  There were no tickle trunks. None of that.  You were left to your own devices.  Make do with what you had on hand.  At our disposal at 204, and for most families of the era, were sheets with holes, black shoe polish, raggedy old clothes, chiffon scarfs, square bandanas, bed pillows, worn-out cotton house dresses, broken brooms, fake cowboy hats and silver cap guns from Kresge’s or Woolworth’s.  This mundane collection of household odds and sods gave birth to the likes of Aunt Jemima, Roy Rogers, various uninspired ghosts, bums, witches and lesser famous cowboys, the odd pirate, gangster or something vaguely resembling an animal.  That was it.

4. I was often sick on October 31.  Fever.  Cold.  Body aches. Runny nose.  Headache.  Stomach flu.  The shakes.  Just overall malaise. The change of season brought with it the usual run of childhood illnesses.  Mine seemed to start right around Halloween.  I would drag myself from door to door in my Aunt Jemima costume, scarlet freezing hands clutching the white pillowcase I used to collect my treats, uncomfortable wooly winter jacket left open because it wouldn’t close around my stuffed-pillow belly, the ground slushy, slippery, uneven and hazardous under my brown rubber galoshes, snot and tears pouring down my black polished face as the wind fought for possession of my sack of treats.  It was abysmal.

5. Most of the candy was as ghastly as the night.  Just downright disappointing too.  Molasses kisses.  Tons of them.  Everyone, Ma and The Old Man included, doled these out by the fistfuls.  They were cheap and adults liked them.  There was an abundance of the regular old suckers as well, mostly grape, which I hated.  Just plain bad luck that I ended up with so many in this loathsome flavor.  There was the odd BB Bat, which I loved, and Double Bubble which I could have eaten by the carload, and one or two Tootsie Rolls, which I seriously considered trading The Old Man for.  There were also apples and weird nuts.  Nobody ate those even back then.  Razor blades and poison could be hidden in anything.  Besides as far as I was concerned, healthy treats had no place in my pillowcase.  After all, this was Halloween.  The one time in the year where you could stuff your face silly with sugar.  Even if it was in the form of molasses.

This Casper costume was a colossal fail.

So there you have it.  I traipsed around the neighborhood with The Old Man, frozen, sick, exhausted, pretending to be the woman on a pancake box, terrified and lonely.  Only to get home to 204 to find a pillowcase full of disappointing and lackluster treats.  Of course, this did not deter me from eating every last morsel by the middle of November.

I stopped this torture when I was 11 or 12, and no longer “went out.”  Back then you didn’t wear your costumes to school, nor were Halloween parties widely embraced.  I was off the hook.  Also, decorating your house was unheard of.  If there was a carved pumpkin on the front steps you were possibly over-the-top and an extreme Halloween celebrator.  It wasn’t the festive occasion that it is today.  Not by a long shot.  At best, it was a blip in the radar on the way to the best holiday of the year.  Christmas.

There was a blissful decade where I avoided all things Halloween.  And then I had children.  Don’t misunderstand, it still wasn’t something I embraced, nor got enthusiastic about.  My costume making skills hadn’t improved with adulthood either.  My imagination in this area appears to be stunted or nonexistent.  I always liked the notion of a tickle trunk but just never got around to creating one. I was a terrible costume maker despite my Seamstress chops. I could make an evening gown for Ma but for the life of me I couldn’t stitch together anything interesting for my kids to wear for Halloween.  No fierce animals.  Nor mythical creatures.  Nothing regal nor royal. Otherworldly.  Nor conjured. Nothing evil.  Nor good.  I was hopeless.

My oldest daughter is a living doll in this costume.

Over the years I made two feeble attempts at fashioning a costume from scratch. There was the yellow crayon I made for my oldest daughter.  She graciously wore this felt tube a couple of years in a row. The first time it was a full length crayon.  Ankles to neck.  The last time it was more mini.  Knees to neck.  The other atrocity was the Casper the Ghost costume I made for my youngest daughter.  The head piece was a complete fail.  It looked more like a brain on steroids than poor Casper’s head.  Thank God she was only three at the time and unaware that the costume was a hot mess.  And that her mother was responsible.

This brings me to reason number 6 for finding Halloween horrifying. This has nothing to do with the child from 204.  This is all about the adult me.  I feel inadequate.  Ineffective. Incapable of making a good costume. A lifetime sewer and I can’t stitch together a single idea that works.  I have been a complete and utter failure at all things Halloween.

Despite all of my Halloween trauma and agony, it appears I have not passed any of this anxiety and distress onto my three children.  Well, perhaps a little onto my youngest daughter. Maybe this has something to do with the Casper costume. Let’s just say, she’s seen pictures and leave it at that. They fully embrace the holiday-occasion-event-spectacle.  They dress up.  They’re gifted costume devisers, especially my oldest daughter.  They have fun.  They hoot and holler. They go boldly into the spooky night.  Unlike their mother who cowers in the corner waiting for the night to be over.

My son as somebody from Star Trek.

Footnote to this story.  A few years ago I wore a costume to work for Halloween.  Some of my colleagues were dressing up for the day and I wanted to be included in this group of “fun” folks.  I went as Cindy Crawford.  The costume was simple and understated.  I drew a mole just above the outer edge of my lip.  It was identical to Cindy’s.  That was it.  The rest of the costume looked like I always looked on Halloween.  Dull.  But I did have a great time that day getting my colleagues to guess who I was.  Best costume ever.

I also love molasses kisses now.  So there’s hope.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer.

After the photo shoot. Ma, The Old Man and Sugar.

I like to dance.  I’m lousy at it but that’s beside the point.  I have two left feet apparently.  I lack rhythm.  Poise.  And most importantly, grace.  I’m a klutz.  I bang into door frames and stumble farcically over cracks in the sidewalk.  But I flat-out refuse to accept the mountain of corroborating evidence that even though I’m a lousy dancer, I should pack it in altogether.  That’s just not going to happen. I may be in denial but I like it.  Nothing can stop me from shaking my booty.  Strutting my stuff.  Tripping the light fantastic.  And shuffling off to Buffalo.  My personal history has taught me that it may not be such a great idea to dance in public. But in the privacy of my own room, I can boogie on down and dance dance dance.

Little back story.  When I was six or seven I started taking ballet, tap and acrobatic lessons from Mrs. M.  Although I took lessons for seven years I never really got very far.  The writing was on the wall, “This girl needs to take up another activity. Like bowling. Or Paper Mache.”   Ma and The Old Man didn’t see it that way though. Just as I am in denial today, they were equally blind back then to the abysmally obvious. They had no perspective when it came to my talent.  Or lack thereof.  I was their child.  Everything I did delighted them.  As it should be.  But the truth is, I knew, and Mrs. M. knew, that I was never going to be the next Anna Pavlova.

My memories of Mrs. M. are vague and sketchy at best.  Blurry little reveries of wooden floors and pointy toes fused with young girlie scents and self-conscious glances.  Unlike Terpsichore, Mrs. M. did not find me amusing.  No, I was not her muse.  And unlike Ma and The Old Man, she did not take delight in my dance.  But she was my teacher for seven years and I do give her top marks for perseverance and tolerance.  And for not telling my parents to take my ballet shoes and go home.   I was also irrationally terrified of her.  In my mind she was at least 75 years old and monstrous.  Realistically she was probably only 45, but when you’re seven and small, anything over thirty is ancient and intimidating.

I wanted nothing more than to have made my inept body perform better.  But it just wouldn’t.  In addition to lacking rhythm, poise and grace, I lacked flexibility.  Especially in my legs and lower back.  Having pliable stretchy elastic Gumby body parts in these two areas is  undoubtedly advantageous.  This particularly comes in handy when performing moves like “the splits.”  I don’t advise that any human over the age of thirty attempt doing these. At least not without an Emergency Medical Team on hand to revive you and uncork your legs.  Even the sound of the word hurts.  Splits.  OUCH.

I remember practicing. Diligently. Tenaciously.  Willing my legs to  flatten.  Forcing them downwards towards the floor.  Long before I knew what visualization was, I would lie in bed and see my skinny bowed legs getting closer and closer to the floor.  It was painful.  Eventually I got pretty close. If I scootched my bum just right, sort of off-kilter and leaning towards one side, it sorta-kinda looked like I was doing “it.”  And that pretty much summed up everything about my dance career.  I got close, and as Groucho Marx or W.C. Fields put it, “but no cigar.”

In what would be my final year of lessons, I got to participate in the annual dance recital.  The Dance Revue.  Two horrifying nights of performances on a Friday and Saturday, in June. I still have the blue and green program from the evening.  My last name was spelled wrong throughout.  In the program it proclaims that in the first half of the evening I performed in three of the “Varieties” called Recital Time, Destination Moon and Tumblers. After the Intermission, that lasted precisely 3 minutes according to the program, I also performed in a dance called Flowers Awaken in the “In A Flower Garden” feature. It goes without saying, I was a supporting player, not a soloist like Donna M or Bernice H or Barbara C or Wendy W.  I probably secretly hated all of those girls.  A Prima, I was not. I didn’t even make it into the Grand Finale “Around The World” feature, of which there were sixteen.  You think she could have at least thrown me into the back row of Chantez Chantez or Canada The Hop Scotch Polka.  Everyone seemed to be in those little numbers.  Except me.

Ma made all of my costumes. Lovingly. Tenderly. Ardently.  I thought they were divine. Worthy of a Princess.  A Prima Ballerina.  I still have those too.  They’re wrapped in tissue and stored in a McNulty’s box in my storage closet.  I can still feel my mother’s touch on the fabric. And it breaks my heart.

Recital Time was a snappy little tap ditty.  The fabric for this costume looked like it once adorned Ma’s kitchen table.  A hot pink checkered gingham number with puffy little pants and a bib-like top tied in a bow at the nape of my neck.  The piece de resistance was the pointy little hat, that closely resembled a New Year’s Eve Party Favor or a small dunce cap. I think I wore the same costume for Destination Moon because the hat could also work as the nose cone of a rocket.  For Tumblers I wore a simple black leotard with tights and black ballet slippers.  My leotard was the wrong kind.  All the other Tumblers had leotards with short sleeves. I was self-conscious and embarrassed by the lack of sleeves on mine.  I never told Ma she bought the wrong kind but it was plain to see I had four inches of uncovered flesh on my upper arms.  In Flowers Awaken I wore an orangey rust colored tutu made of satin and crinoline with fake silk flowers strategically attached to my torso.  But thankfully there were no hats.

Ma and The Old Man thought I was marvelous, none the less.  Before the recital they took photographs.  They turned our living room into a photography studio.  Truth was, it was nothing like a photo studio.  The developed pictures were proof of that. They draped a white sheet over our floral curtains, moved the chair and end table aside and snapped away with our six-20 Brownie Junior camera.  I posed in front of the sheet in my three costumes.  The serious tap dancer.  The smiling ballerina.  The perplexed tumbler, almost doing the splits.  And then after the photo session, I took a picture of the two of them with our dog Sugar, wedged helplessly between my father’s legs.

There they are, my two biggest fans.  The ones who took me to lessons for seven years.  Made my costumes. Applauded the loudest. Fought back tears of pride.  Cherished my performances.  Showered me in kisses filled with admiration.  I was their tiny dancer.  They were incapable of seeing my flaws. My faulty performance.  And the gap between my skinny bowed legs and the hardwood floor.

Image