Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween! (A Middle-Aged Glance Back ...)

I wish I was able to share a few photos of spooky around-the-house decor, as so many of my blogging buddies have done. I love the jack o'lanterns, the black cats, the witches-on-broomsticks. Truth is, we just don't decorate much for Halloween. We do have a little fluttering ghost that we usually hang on the front porch, but he's not been rescued from the back of the closet this season, and at this late date, I don't see much point in dragging his ethereal butt out. He has a sign that hangs from his neck that's supposed to say "BOO" -- but one day Rocky pointed out that the B looked much more like a D, so we named him "DOO." (You have to say it in a deeply resonant, ghostly moan: "Doooooooooooooooo...")

Alas, there'll be no play for Doo this Halloween. Maybe next year.

I have such fond childhood memories of Halloween! When I was in either the 1st or 2nd grade (please don't ask me to be specific - it was a long time ago!), I attended my school's Halloween carnival dressed as Bozo the Clown. As I recall, I won a prize for best costume. I also remember feeling, for perhaps the very first time in my young life, like a complete dork. Oh help, I'm a clown! Many of the other children were made up as miniature hippies -- pint-sized replicas of the counterculture revolutionaries taking the country by storm in that mid-60s era -- and therefore they were cool. Looking at that old (I guess it's truly "vintage" now) photo of my Bozo-self as I stood on the doorstep of our house on Tanglewood Drive, I think, "What an adorable, creative costume that was!" Too bad little Jen didn't quite appreciate it at the time.

I remember dressing as a gypsy in the 7th grade and being allowed to wear makeup -- something I'd never done before. I draped myself in Mom's scarves and bangles and bobbles, and she applied deep, sooty black mascara to my little blonde lashes. What a beguiling, exotic creature I'd suddenly become! We wore our costumes to school that day, and I distinctly recall standing behind a tall, gangly girl in the cafeteria lunch line who turned to me and exclaimed, "Wow! You should wear makeup all the time! You look so much prettier!" As I was still an innocent and not yet prone to viewing every comment as a potentially passive-aggressive slight, I took that as a supreme compliment. And I'm pretty sure that shortly thereafter I began wearing mascara, which I now consider one of those "wouldn't even want to be on a desert island without it" necessities.

The church I attended during my teen years wasn't into the benign "Fall Festivals" that churches hold these days (though those do seem more fitting for a Christian organization than the type venerating demons, gore and supernatural phantasm). Oh, no -- we always had an honest-to-goodness haunted house as the highlight of our youth group's Halloween extravaganza. For years it took place in the big old rural barn owned by Mr. Melvin Wood, which the adults of the church transformed into a maze of blacklighted horror. We kids traipsed through in groups, clinging to one another in absolutely delighted fear, screaming like banshees as we went. Severed heads, mad scientists, wolf men, and a plethora of other creepy creatures in turn reached out to grab and paw at us, invoking shrieks of teenaged terror as we made our way through the wicked labyrinth. At the end of the maze, we were flung out of the barn by a long slide extending from the hayloft. Now that was fun!

When I was in the 9th grade, the slide wasn't there. Instead, the line-up of ghouls included a guy in a mask who chased us kids out of the barn with a chainsaw. (Well, that's one way to be rid of those pesky adolescents.) My fearless and outspoken girlfriend Sam had accompanied me, and as we ran wildly through the cowpie-laced field with Chainsaw Guy hot on our heels, she suddenly turned to him and screeched, "FUCK YOU!" At that point, he ceased his maniacal pursuit, and I began to sweat. Oh, we were dead. I was certain of it. Here I'd brought this "heathen" girl with me, and she'd yelled a horrible obscenity at someone I went to church with. Probably a deacon. I remember agonizing for the better part of the following week, riddled with fear that Sam's vulgar admonition would somehow land me in hot water. Of course, it never did. And in all likelihood, Chainsaw Guy deserved it.

Another element of the church carnival was the hayride. Mr. Wood hitched up a cart to his rusty tractor that was large enough to accommodate a good number of rowdy kids, and beneath the starry sky we were hauled around the bovine-scented pasture. Mr. Wood was the only adult chaperone present and hey, he was driving so his back was turned. Supervision was most definitely at a minimum, which naturally led to the hayride becoming synonymous with an itchy makeout session on wheels. The more chaste among us simply sat close together and held hands, but the kids destined to lives of ill repute (oh, we just knew that they were -- we also desperately wanted to be them) paired off and snuggled down into the hay and engaged in a moonlit rendition of God only knows what. Sadly, I was never one who so much as got her little hand held on the Hayride of Love, as boys that I liked didn't seem to like me back, and vice versa. (Except for once at camp, when doe-eyed Kerry Jordan, on whom I had a raging crush, tried to kiss me and I pulled away so violently that I conked my head on a tree and practically knocked myself senseless. He never made a second attempt.)

Oh ... How fortunate we are to have memories of laughter-filled times gone by! I may now be middle-aged and no longer an active participant, but Halloween never fails to induce a certain shiver of excitement in me that can only be the stirring of ghosts of a delightful past. Three giggling hobo girls kicking down neighborhood streets, a brisk wind whipping fallen leaves into their path; a bright plastic pumpkin overflowing with sweet treats, eating so much candy corn that I thought I'd literally burst; devils and Supermen, ghosts and princesses, the masked, smiling eyes of overjoyed children ... I remember it all so clearly, and with so much fondness in my heart.

Whether you're simply reminiscing or making new memories this year, may you enjoy a hauntingly happy Halloween!


  1. LOVE the hayride story! Can totally relate! I too was one of the "chaste" ones - I was both pious and envious at the same time, but NOW I think how MISERABLE that would be in HAY man! Hehe! Actually, NOT looking forward to tonight - the incessant ringing of the doorbell, the EXTREMELY hyperactive dog that is going to go BESERK! I will be doing a little "treating" for myself BEFOREHAND (I've got me some good German beer that I'm going to be imbibing in!) Maybe after a couple of THOSE the juveniles/dog won't bother me as much!

  2. Isn't it crazy how vivid childhood Halloween memories are? When I was in 6th grade, my mother (for lack of a better last-minute idea) dressed me up as Joan Crawford. I'm pretty sure she was drunk.

    Naturally, not a soul knew who I was supposed to be. Including me. Good times..


OK, spill it!