Before a chill is in the air or the first pumpkin carved, Halloween announces its approach with the arrival of costume superstores. Empty storefronts are magically bewitched into one-stop-shops for the fall festivities. Young, old, and in-between can find nearly any disguise they want for Halloween, if they’re brave enough to walk past the oh-so-creepy lawn decorations to reach the costume aisles.
When I was a little girl, no such shops existed. I grew up in a small Southern town in the 1970s, and the fancy, store-bought costumes were only available at the local drugstore or five-and-dime. Thin, satin dresses laced with gold thread created the illusion of opulent princess gowns. These manufactured costumes featured plastic masks to complete the illusion. They grew steamy with a child’s hot breath on a cold October night.
My sister and I never wore these store-bought costumes; instead, we got creative. Each year we’d pillage through my mother’s jewelry box and closet and sift through old dance recital costumes to come up with our disguise. My mom had one short brown wig, which my sister and I would trade from year to year. Other favored pieces that made it into our costumes nearly every Halloween included a pair of clip-on earrings featuring tiny gold coins and a large piece of black lace.
Rummaging through closets and dresser drawers usually didn’t lend the makings of a perfect princess costume, so three costumes made repeat appearances: witch, gypsy, and hobo. My sister and I would dress up, apply makeup from Mom’s personal kit, and then cover all of our creativity with a coat … because it always seemed to be cold, raining, or both. We would then say goodbye to our parents and join the other neighborhood kids for trick-or-treating. We knew nearly every neighbor by name, so we would journey from house to house knowing who handed out the homemade caramel apples, who hid behind a bush to scare the kids, and who handed out the best candy.
My sister and I never wore these store-bought costumes; instead, we got creative.
When we finally returned to our home and bid our friends goodbye, we would sit in the middle of the family room and sort through our loot. We would pile the candy according to brand: chocolate here, fruity there, and homemade goodies way over there. Then, we might make a trade—all the Mounds and Almond Joys for me (she disliked coconut), and all of the Reese’s Cups for her. After the trade, we’d strip from our costumes, putting away the black lace, gold earrings, and brown wig until the next year, and wash our faces. We’d fall into bed, exhausted, and dream chocolate-scented dreams.
Halloween was a bit different for my two boys, celebrating over the past decade. Leading up to the holiday, I found myself engaged in conversations with concerned parents about the holiday: “To trick-or-treat or not to trick-or-treat … that is the question.” Trunk-or-treats became an “alternative.” However, we allowed our boys to enjoy the holiday much as we had as children. To fulfill their wishes to become fantastical characters, I bought their costumes online or in the store. My closet simply didn’t have the right ingredients to create ninjas, knights, superheroes, and storm troopers.
When trick-or-treating time came, their dad and I joined the other parents ushering their kids from house to house. Finally, when the boys were too exhausted to knock on one more door, we would return home with their bags of loot. They’d plop down on the family room floor and pour out their bounty. Then, just as my sister and I had done, they would sort their candy. As they counted candy bars and made trades, their faces would reflect the joy I recalled from my Halloween’s past. Eventually, they’d settle into their bunk beds, tucked in tight, to dream their own magical, sweet-scented dreams.