Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Days of Halloween Past

When I was a kid, Halloween night seemed to last forever. I remember the paths we'd take, up and down neighbourhood avenues and along a particular stretch of a main street, where some stores shelled out all-day suckers and bags of chips to the princesses, ghosts, witches and skeletons that paraded through their shops. We'd dart back and forth across otherwise empty streets to the houses where pumpkins glowed on their front porches.

People were generous, which was a good thing because we kids were greedy, rushing home to empty our heavy, near-full pillow cases to discover that its enormous weight was due to at least a dozen apples. We didn't worry much back then, about finding sinister items in our treats. The only nut cases to be found were those surrounding the handfuls of loose peanuts accompanying those apples. Candy bars were a rarer, and most welcomed coup. We'd sort the mound of goodies into a few piles - apples, peanuts, molasses candy kisses, chocolate treats and lolli-pops.
And gum, which was usually boxed in mini-packets of two Chicklets each. Of course we also always carried around UNICEF boxes, which were usually filled to capacity, and turned in at school the next day.

I think Halloween was my Dad's favourite holiday to capture on film. He used to have a movie camera, and I can remember seeing endless, silent footage of children arriving at our door, holding out bags and waddling off to ring the next doorbell in their over-sized costumes. Mom also got into the act. As the camera turned in toward our own living room, there was Mom, all dressed up as a hobo in Dad's plaid shirt, baggy pants and a floppy hat. Her ensemble was completed by the black paper that comes inside boxes of chocolates, secured around her front teeth to create the illusion that she'd been gummin' it for years. She didn't need to be reminded to show off her toothless grin that night. She cracked her own self up, and her smile was ever-present.

A decade later, I can remember my parents hosting a costume party for adults only. My sister and I were too young to be a part of the fun, but old enough to understand why we were excluded. We didn't hang around that night, but we did see the photographs sometime later. Mom decided that she'd be some sort of plumber-toilet hybrid that year. Her costume consisted of an apron, rubber gloves, boots and a plunger. Around her neck sat an actual (unused) opened toilet seat, and a roll of toilet paper perched on top of her head. Dad regressed into infancy, and wore a nightgown and baby bonnet with matching booties. In his mouth was a giant, boob-shaped pacifier. He might not have done much talking that night.

Once I started partying on my own, I hosted a "fictional character" theme costume party one Halloween. My friend Carol Anne and I worked hard at designing and creating our costumes. My boyfriend and I dressed up as Peter Pan and Tinkerbell respectively, only briefly considering reversing the roles. I used wires, Saran Wrap and glitter to make my wings, and aluminum foil was used to wrap up a star-tipped wand. I ended up spreading so much fairy dust glitter around, that I continued to vacuum it from my small apartment for months, perhaps years later. Somewhere I have photos, but I'm sober and I'm not going to post them.

The best costume, by far, was Carol Anne's "Cat in the Hat." Like I said, we worked long and hard at creating them and just minutes before the party began, I helped her with the finishing touches. The body portion of her costume consisted of all black - leggings and a turtle-neck jersey. A leotard, complete with wiry tail was worn over the first two items, and a hood with ears for the cat's head was tucked inside her collar. Before topping that headpiece off with the famous red and white striped hat, we needed to secure the hood by sewing it into the turtleneck jersey, creating the illusion of an all-in-one piece. Black make-up gave her some cat's eyes, a black nose and whiskers. Once she added the hat, Carol Anne looked great, and quite proud of herself, she happily poured a drink and went about enjoying the party.

Everyone arrived in some amazing costumes, but there was no doubt that The Cat in the Hat was the hit of the party. Carol Anne struck up a conversation with an old friend and she poured herself another drink while he admired her costume. He asked her about how she put it together. Proud of her handiwork, and of our brilliant idea to secure the costume by sewing her into it, she went into detail describing the process. He smiled. Then he laughed. Then he just looked at her and laughed some more. Finally he asked her "How are you supposed to go pee if you're sewn into that thing?"

Carol Anne never said an audible word. She just put her drink down, remained thirsty for the rest of the night and learned about the value of Velcro.

Fast forward to today. My kids are long past the Trick-or-Treat age now. Their years of running around the streets in costume with a UNICEF box seem to have lasted such a short time. The excitement they felt when getting ready to charge the neighbourhood was contagious. I couldn't help but feel transformed back to my own youth alongside them. I hope that when they think back as adults, they will remember the magic of those special nights, and feel the joy in discovering them all over again with their own children.

What were some of your own, or your kids' favourite costumes from Halloween past?

Here are a few photos of my kidlets in costume from various days of Halloween past.

From a very young age, Jeffrey knew what he wanted and often figured out a way to achieve it. When he was three, his wish to dress up as an all-season tree had me 'stumped'. I scanned images of autumn leaves, winter snowflakes, spring flowers and summer apples, and used markers to give them colour. This was back in 1990 and I didn't have a colour printer yet. I cut the shapes out and glued them to a piece of green material. A trip to the craft store provided me with the birds and nest that we perched atop his head. Velcro might have been involved.

Here's Jeffrey all set to put out fires in neighbourhood Jack-O'-Lanterns. By the time he was in Junior Kindergarten, he was fascinated with the idea of becoming a fire fighter - and a doctor, and a garbage collector, and a scientist, and ...

As it turned out, he now opts to dress like this, an Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. This was taken last year on his way to his first year at RMC (Royal Military College) in Kingston, Ontario.

Aladdin was very popular when Jeffrey was 6. His birthday was the previous April and he wanted an Aladdin theme party, hence the birthday banner behind him. Six months later he wanted to dress up as his favourite character and hit the streets with his sidekick...

At age 3, Alex was now old enough to join his brother. He was less opinionated than Jeffrey and allowed us to dress him as Abu, the primate that accompanies Aladdin. It quite suited his little monkyish character.

On to scarier costumes. I'm surprised my kids sat still for the make-up jobs that were inflicted upon them over the years, but they happily endured it twice a day - for the school parade and at night. Here's Jeffrey being a not-so-scary vampire.

Alex waddled through the streets dressed as a dinosaur. At 4, he was less inclined to sit still for a full make-up job....

But at aged 5, he showed tremendous patience. Alex loved being a tiger so much that we painted him up the same way for the following Halloween.

He has since grown a very impressive mane. This was taken during the winter. Since then, his hair has grown several more inches. He says he'll get it trimmed when he's finished with high school.

Another challenge from 9 year-old Jeffrey. A jar of jelly beans. I obliged him by filling up a clear trash bag with inflated balloons, held up by a pair of suspenders. Hand painted candies adorned his face, and a "Jeffrey Jellybean" hat topped off this very uncomfortable costume.

By the time Alex was 9, he was beyond wanting his face painted, and now into the typical attire of the time. Here he is modeling his Darth Maul costume, complete with lightsaber.


Frank Baron said...

A & J are going to REALLY love this post!

Good luck ever getting them to talk to you again. ;)

Reb said...

Oh, there is nothing like a homemade costume! Except making it without buying anything. Oh, does that sound like I have never cleaned out my closets? Well, I have, but, I have friends - uh, I think I'll stop now!

Great post, reminded me of being a kid again.

Hilary said...


That might have been my plan..

Actually, Alex was checking out the photos as I located them to scan and was well aware of what I was doing with them. Like most teenaged responses, his was mostly indifference. Jeffrey took a look at them while we were on the phone tonight and he's fine too. :)


You're a pack rat! Who'da thunk it? I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by. :)

the Bag Lady said...

Wow, Hilary! How lucky your kids are to have such a talented mom. Love the make-up jobs and the jelly-bean jar was great.
My parents belonged to a dancing club that always had a costume party for Hallowe'en - some of their costumes were terrific.
Your post brought back some great memories - thanks.
Now where did I put that eye of newt...

Kappa no He said...

They are so adorable! And so handsome now. I totally remember those loose peanuts too. I miss Halloween terribly.

Crabby McSlacker said...

It's so great you saved all the photos!

I wish I had mine from earlier years.

Oh wait... maybe I don't.

awannabe said...

I loved the idea of your moms plummer costume... Must have been cute.

I like your son's monkey pic.

I only remember a few costumes I had,
my mom dressed me as a scarecrow when I was 6 and stuffed my overalls with straw (itch itch).

When I was 12 I dressed up as Roseanne Arquette from Desperately Seeking Susan.

When I was 14 I went as a hobo. Thats when Patineta and I tried to go trick or treating but there were no porch lights on... lol

Tink said...

Those costumes are awesome! One year my two little brothers, who are 10 and 11 years younger than me, dressed up like firemen. So I, as the honorary guardian that Halloween, dressed up like a Dalmatian. It was complete with collar and leash. The leash turned out to be a bad idea, but the costumes certainly got a lot of attention and praise.

Kelley said...

roflmao...my boys would totally disown me if I posted their Halloween pictures. Those were adorable. :)

Hilary said...

Bag Lady,

I'll bet you or Reb could dig up some great photos of your parents in costume. Oh and the eye of newt is right here, next to the wing of bat. Boo!

Aww Kappa,

Thanks for the kind words. How long have you been located in Japan?


I don't think I have any of my own costumed days, but for sure I kept photos of my kids. I have two shelves of albums that I could bore you with.. ;)

Hay Awannabe!

That does sound itchy. That's neat that you can remember your own costumes. How long till you clued in that no porch lights meant no treats? Except for Patineta, that is. ;)

Hi TInk,

What a good sister dressing up like that with your younger siblings. Your choice of costume was spot-on!

Hi Kelley,

So far I've managed to retain my status as Mom. The older one still loves home-cooked meals when he's on leave and the younger one knows there's chocolate in the house. I'm sure you can relate. :)

photowannabe said...

Great costumes and lots of work put into each one. You have more patience than I ever had.
Have a good day.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Hil, I'll never forget Mom with her "paper chocolate" toothless grin. I think we have the slides from some of those Halloweens. They were ahead of their time with their costumes. Remember the "native" costume that we both wore in Kindergarten (4 years apart), and that so many more kids wore over the years? The little kid costumes are gone from this house, Jaime is dressing as a 80's Hooter Girl, and Steph as a "hot" nurse, where have the years gone?? Me, I'm dressing as a tired, old mom, that's an easy one!! Andi

Hilary said...


Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by.


Yup I remember the headdress and faux fringed leather outfit quite well. I think that your kids wore it at the appropriate ages, right?

I think we should mention that your girls aren't wee ones any longer, so that nobody thinks you're dressing toddlers or pre-teens up in those costumes. ;)

We should also mention that in that "4 years apart" range, you were first! ;)

Your baby sister.

Anonymous said...

Chiclets! I had forgotten about those! And the other thing I always loved was the evening before when my mom and dad would make popcorn balls. By the look of those wonderful costumes and smiling faces, your children will have warm memories of Halloween also.

The best costume I made for my son was during the Ghostbuster era. We painted a box black and made all of the dials and gadgets with red and white contact paper, along with the Ghostbuster logo. We took the straps from an old backpact so he could wear it on his back like they did, and attached an old vacuum cleaner hose to the side. He had a ball with it. And so did we.

Hilary said...

Hi Gawilli.

That Ghostbusters costume sounds like it probably made a big hit with everyone. I don't think we ever did the popcorn balls but it sure sounds like fun. It makes an event out of the night before Halloween too.

Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if the written memories or all those photos of the amazing costumes were better! I love them all!

Hilary said...

Thank you, Susan. :)