The Annual Halloween Costume Drama

Mom dreaded Halloween when my brother and I were kids. On the one hand my brother, Kevey, could always be conned by Mom into “being something easy.” He was a ghost every year of his young life. But unlike most ghosts, he was never completely white; in fact, he was always the ghost that by coincidence happened to be the color of the sheets that were earmarked for the Goodwill donation bell.

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I recall one year in particular when he was a pink satin ghost with butter stains. He didn’t seem to care. “My ghost suit smells like popcorn!” he gleefully albeit stupidly proclaimed, running down the hallway in nothing but a pink satin sheet and Underoos. But hey, as long as he got to trick or treat, it didn’t seem to matter much to him what he was dressed up as. It was all about the candy MissFox .

For me, however, no bigger decision was made all year that was more important than what was I going to be for Halloween. It had to pass my muster list of Halloween Costume Absolutes: (1): It had to be creative. (2): It had to be something or someone that I wanted to be; not Mom. And (3): (which was the most important one), my costume had to be better than anyone on the block, including that Shelly Tuttle.

I also, under any circumstance, did not want to end up like my brother.

Mom and I would start the costume dance around the middle of September. She would ask me what I wanted to be for Halloween and I would tell her I wasn’t sure yet, and every year she would ask me if I wanted to be a ghost. “How about a beautiful, lemon colored ghost… Yellow would be lovely with your hair, Bethy.” “Mom,” I vigorously protested, “you wouldn’t even see my hair if I had a sheet on.” The Halloween arm-wrestling would end with me telling her I would think about it and get back to her.

Her follow-up tactic was for her to spirit me away to our local Zody’s in a lame attempt to interest me in the costume-in-a-box displays. I loved the smell of Zody’s, with its stale buttered popcorn combined with the rubber of new shoes. I’m assuming at this point it was Zody’s, and not my brother that was responsible for the signature odor that would hit me when the doors whooshed open to reveal Hong Kong costumes piled to the ceiling.

“Zody’s always has such a nice selection of costumes, don’t you think?… How ’bout this one?” She grinned as she held up the rectangular Tomy’s box with the clear plastic see-through panel and revealed a somewhat formed plastic mask with two eyeholes in it. The molded plastic yellow hair looked like no princess I had ever seen. At least I think it was a princess costume. The masks resembled the horror films that my cousin Donovan watched every Saturday with his creepy pals. They all look ugly and fake. (The costume, not Donovan and Company). Nope, I was afraid my costume had to be the real deal.

Meanwhile, my brother was eyeballing a GI Joe costume box. “Put that down, Kevey. You’re going to be a ghost, remember?” Mom took Kevey by the hand and directed him toward the color books.

“I don’t see anything, Mom,” I bellyached. So we would leave Zody’s with a big bag of salty popcorn-like stuff, and Kevey’s new coloring book. It was a definite sign that he was going to remain a ghost if he was rewarded in advance with a new color book.

“I know what I want to be,” I announced at the dinner table that night as Mom separated the candy corn into pumpkin and tarantula bowls. “I want to be… Pippi Longstocking.” Dad didn’t say a word; just kept reading his Herald-Examiner. He knew that this would be my obsession for the next four weeks, and would have plenty of time to comment as the big day approached. Mom just groaned. “Why can’t you be something simple, Bethy? Why not a clown or a hobo? How about Captain Kangaroo?”

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