I don’t think I’ll be spending much time online this weekend, so today’s post – albeit a few days ahead of time – are a few stories from Halloweens past.
I loved Halloween as a child, and my older sister Ann shared my obsession. I don’t remember how we ever came up with the idea of a Halloween party, but the first party was held while I was in third grade. The Halloween of third grade remains bright and clear in my memory. Mrs. Ruisi gave us mimeographed sheets to color with Halloween pictures on them, those purple dittos the teachers ran off in the teacher’s lounge, where the ink perfumed the air with a heavy chemical scent I can smell to this day as the machine overheated from all the copying. I can still see my sheet; I colored it and hung it next to my bed. I had the lower bunk on our bunk beds and I loved to hang pictures next to my bed, mostly horses of course, but I’d also hang up Christmas things from school and Halloween things, and I can still see in my mind’s eye the witch, the pumpkin, the moon.
Somehow Ann and I concocted the idea of a Halloween party. My sister Ann is 6 years older than I am, so she was no more than 15 or 16 years old at the time. My parents did not pay for our party either – we did! Ann did, actually. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to my sister for all that she did to make bits of my childhood bright. The Halloween parties were one such memory.
Weeks in advance, I sat on the floor of our basement playroom, watching old Andy Giffith reruns on the black and white television set in the wall and making construction paper chains. Do you remember construction paper chains? You’d cut out strips and glue together circles to make links in a chain. I worked weeks on the black and orange chain that festooned the ceiling.
We walked to Grand Value, the five and dime store up the block, and bought cheap paper decorations, plates and cups, and junk food. We planned games: pin the tail on the donkey, limbo contests using an old broom handle as the limbo bar, musical chairs, dunking for apples.
Planning took weeks. Our basement playroom had to be cleaned from top to bottom, which for a child of 10 took a lot of work. Remember that my mom was sick by then and could not help; it was me and Ann doing all the work. But it was fun. We were throwing a party!
We even made “shrunken heads” that were creepy and scary all in one. How do you make one? Apples. All I remember is peeling and carving an apple, or doing something like that, and putting it on the old-fashioned oil burner in the basement to dry. They’d dry with these puckered, nasty little faces, and we’d put a string on them and hang them up. They’d smell okay for a few days but then….
The highlight of the party was the pinata. Ann blew up a balloon and fashioned paper mache strips of newspaper around the balloon. When it was dry, she popped the balloon, leaving a round shell which she decorated with orange crepe paper. Black noses, mouth and eyes and a green top made a great pumpkin pinata. I bought candy at Grand Value and Shannon’s candy store and we filled it to the brim. It was so heavy my dad had to help us put a hook in a major beam in the basement ceiling. We made it too heavy that first year and nobody could break it with the stick; we resorted to taking it down and letting everyone take a whack at it with the broom.
What a great party it was! Our Halloween party became a yearly tradition, which I carried on until 9th grade, the last party. By then, I felt uneasy about the party. Was it too babyish? Should I invite boys? 10th, 11th and 12th grade found us enjoying Halloween, our close set of friend from high school, at Jen’s house or Danny’s house, playing Uno, watching scary movies, and stuffing ourselves with junk food, but I never forgot those Halloween parties past.
Thankfully I went to Catholic school back then, and the day after Halloween was All Saint’s Day – a holiday, with no school. So the party was always held on Halloween itself, with the day after devoted to cleaning up the carnage.
What times we had. I think back now and marvel at how we, two kids with limited pocket money, pulled off a party that was such good fun. Would kids today do this? Would their friends expect fancy bouncy castles and party favors, or would they be happy with homemade pinatas and dunking for apples?
My sister Ann continues her Halloween madness now as an adult. She and her husband Tom deck out their house with amazing special effects and more. And I think she makes Halloween extra special for her children. After all, she got lots of practice with me!
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.