Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – October 31, 2004
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – October 31, 2004 – It’s the night of “goblins and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bang in the night”. I don’t know who penned this famous quote but it has always summed up Halloween for me.
As a child I could imagine the goblins and ghosties and long-legged beasties and they were all under my bed. The things that went bang in the night were just too scary to think about, especially in light of what I knew to be lurking right under my bed. The “bang” things just opened up too many possibilities for my young mind to process, so I pretended that they didn’t exist at all. In spite of the fears of the night, Halloween was great fun for our family.
My father always carved a big pumpkin that sat beside our front door and my mother had a huge glass bowl filled with candies and apples that she passed out, after guessing the identity of the masked neighbourhood children who came calling at our front door.
I loved Halloween and my brothers and I always went out dressed in elaborate costumes that my mother made or that we improvised from stuff we had around the house. When we were little our parents took us around our neighbourhood to trick or treat, but when we got older we were allowed to go out with our friends. When we finished visiting the houses along the highway where we lived, one of the parents would drive us down to the main street of Owen Sound to door knock for candy in town. Then another parent would pick us up two hours later at an agreed upon spot – usually in front of the City Hall.
It was a wonderful, innocent time to be a kid. Long before candies were poisoned, laced with razor blades and tacks or coated with oil and re-wrapped. We had Halloween candy for weeks after the auspicious night had passed and we traded at school for our favourites. It must have been a dentist’s dream come true. Thousands of children eating sugar drenched candy once a year.
But no one was concerned with those things in the 1950’s. It was a time far removed from health issues, child rearing books, locked doors, kidnapping, child pornography and dysfunctional families. I know all these things existed, but they were never discussed and no one aired their dirty laundry in public, so for all intents and purposes it was a time of freedom and innocence.
I remember the year I was six years old. My mother had made me a remarkable Little Bo Peep costume for me, complete with a beautiful bonnet that tied under my chin and a little, white stuffed lamb. It was made of dusty rose coloured brocade. My petticoat was cream coloured cotton edged with lace. My father had made a shepherd’s crook for me from wood. I was a picture of perfection. I was convinced that I was Little Bo Peep.
My parents took my brothers and me down town to visit my Grandfather, and then we went over to the market square, by the fire hall where they were having a costume judging event. I paraded around with a lot of other little boys and girls for the judges and I won hands down. I was so excited I could hardly speak. The photographer was there from the Owen Sound Sun Times to take my picture, and my brothers were cheering and applauding, as he hoisted me up on a hay wagon to take the winning shot.
Just as he was getting ready to take my picture, one of the judges cried out, “Wait, don’t bother, there has been a mistake. That little girl lives outside the city limits, so she has been disqualified. They took away my little trophy and handed it to the second place winner. I was devastated. I couldn’t comprehend what I’d done wrong. It didn’t matter what my parents said, I didn’t understand.
My brother Mike who was seven was furious at the “big bad man” who made his little sister cry. The next day the picture of the contest winner was in the paper and I looked at it and said, “Mommy, that should be me”. My mom sat down with me and explained that sometimes things happen to us in life that aren’t fair. She said that as soon the judges realized their mistake, they should have created a second contest for children who lived in the country, but they didn’t. Instead they took the easy way out and delighted another little child while hurting me in the process. She said she was very proud of me that I had given up my prize and that I’d always be her Little Bo Peep.
I remembered that event today, as I looked out my window at the little kids passing by, dressed as ghosts, devils, angels, skeletons, superman, kitty cats, fairies, princesses and gremlins. It is a night to fuel the imaginations of children everywhere as they traipse around from door to door declaring “trick or treat” to amused homeowners. Nowadays children are all accompanied by their parents, who try to hang back unnoticed as their kids approach each door. Things have changed so much since I was little. It’s not better or worse – just different. The innocence that my brothers and I enjoyed as children is long gone, but parents are now more involved with the Halloween celebration, and that’s good for family life.
On this night of haunting, witches, goblins, ghosts, pumpkins, coffins, tricks and treats, we remember the tradition of Halloween. It was brought to North America in the 1840’s by immigrants fleeing the devastating potato famine in Ireland. People looking for a better life in a new world. The meaning of Halloween, dating back to the Celts was a celebration of the end of summer and the approach of a new year. The tradition as we know it grew out of a history of festivity and prayer – not evil. As for tricks, treats, ghosts and haunting – Halloween is only thus if that is what is in your heart. Happy Halloween everyone!