I will always be nostalgic about Halloween. Now that my kids aren’t little kids anymore, I don’t have costumes to shop for and faces to paint. Most of my piles of decorations stay in bins in the basement. It makes me a little sad, but it also helps me to remember why I have always loved this time of year.
Halloween was the best day of the school year, bar none – it may have even been more important than the evening activities. I can’t even tell you how many hours went into planning, preparing, assembling, packing, and finally putting on our costumes. I and every other girl I knew spent pretty much a solid decade of Halloweens in different variations of the same costume, which was a hybrid of Samantha Fox and Gem and The Holligrams. I’m not sure exactly what we were supposed to be, but I remember when our grandparents would ask us, we’d say “rockstars.”
As soon as the calendar turned to October, we would begin to compile the brightest, laciest, most horrible clothes we could find to form the ultimate ensemble. A short skirt over black tights was usually the foundation, but it was the accessories that mattered. Scarves? Of course. A full sleeve of silver bangle bracelets? That goes without saying. If you could find a cropped, acid-washed jean jacket, you were the envy of all your friends. One year I achieved legend status when I scored a pair of high heel “granny boots.”
I’m not sure how the teachers coped with us that morning, because the makeup would come out within five minutes of walking into school, despite clear instructions that the costume parade was after lunch and that we could start getting ready at noon. We were so anxious and distracted that we’d be completely unteachable all day. And when that magical lunch bell finally rang, we were in the zone – blue eyeshadow for days, frosted pink lipstick, neon wigs, glitter so thick you could see us from outer space.
None of us ever won the costume contest, that prize always went to someone with a cool, homemade costume that they (a.k.a., their parents) actually had to put some effort into. But it didn’t matter. We were dressing for each other, not for the prize.
I also enjoyed helping Grandma and Grandpa make their treat bags. Back in the day, when there were many more kids out and about, residents of South Side River Bourgeois had to prepare for a whopping 30 or more Mi-careme-ers, as my grandparents called them. I loved the assembly line process of preparing the bags – Chicklets, suckers, chips, Rockets, jelly beans, and a few of those gross molasses candy. Though the contents aren’t the same, to this day I still prepare treat bags every Halloween, and I probably always will.
And even after The Big Show at school was over and the bags were stuffed, there was still a whole other awesome itinerary to complete.
We used the same trick-or-treating route every year, my brother, sister, and I: first we’d hit all the houses within walking distance, which only took about 30 minutes since there were so few. Then, with my dad holding down the fort to pass out treats, my mother used to drive us around trick-or-treating (just covering the entirety of the South Side, plus each one house of our choosing somewhere else in the River. I always chose Amy’s house on the North Side, and my siblings would always choose their best friends’). Mom’s “Candy Tax” was the fudge Charlotte LeBlanc used to give out. We’d barely be back in the car when we’d get instructions to hand it over.
Years of the same route taught all the kids who gave out the best treats and who we would smile at appreciatively when they handed us the apple. There was one man who had a candy buffet, every candy under the sun in aluminum pans that he would replenish when they got low. He’d wave kids in and tell them to help themselves while he’d sit in his easy chair and chain smoke. One year I was among his last trick-or-treaters and he gave me an entire bag of Kraft caramels. I think he could have cut me a cheque for 10 grand and I wouldn’t have been as happy.
I could go on, these is only a portion of what made Halloween great as a kid.
It’s annoying wading through throngs of shoppers to find a black cape or a purple wig, I know. But let the kids, young and old, enjoy it. You never know what memories they might be making.