So what ever happened to Halloween? Is it because I grew up, or Halloween grew up too? My memories of Halloween are filled with homemade fun. Costumes were pulled together from the box of Good Will cast offs in the attic awaiting drop off at the charity shop, bits and pieces of things found around the house and sometimes raiding Grandma’s costume jewelry. Our favorite costume that was easy to pull together year after year was the Old Lady; we’d wear one of my grandmother’s old polyester dresses, put on chunky black shoes, carry a big black purse (and something to stash the candy, of course), and don an ugly acrylic gray wig purchased from Grand Value, my home town’s answer to Dollar Tree. Sometimes if we had a bit of loose pocket change we’d invest in one of those corny makeup kits and add moles or wrinkles that made us look like we had leprosy. Actually, if we were more creative, I suppose we could have been old lady lepers or zombies…
The most ‘commercial’ costumes ever got were those boxed costumes with the ugly plastic masks. Remember those? You got a shiny plastic costume and a mask. I remember a whole wall of those boxed costumes at Grand Value. I always wanted to buy one, but they were too expensive.
Parties didn’t involve bounce castles, fancy games, laser lights shows and treat bags for all. My older sister paid for our party out of her babysitting and later her work money. She would make a pinata by blowing up a balloon and covering it with paper machine; crepe paper layers transformed the newspaper-coated sphere into a pumpkin pinata. She got the idea from library books. From September onwards, each week when we got our allowance, we’d jog up to Grand Value and buy candy for the pinata, or cardboard Halloween decorations, or packages of black and orange construction paper. I’d make paper chains to hang from the ceiling of the basement play room. The year we got fancy we bought ghost and pumpkin candles.
There was bobbing for apples using my mother’s big green Tupperware bowl, and lots of chips and dip; and candy and caramel apples, and popcorn balls. There was a limbo contest using a mop handle for the limbo stick, musical chairs, bobbing for apples and the pinata.
A good haul when trick or treating meant chocolate – real, honest to goodness Hershey’s chocolate, M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Mounds and Almond Joy bars. Colorful bags with a Dum Dum pop, five pennies, and a few pieces of gum. Usually the old bachelors on the block dumped quarters and pennies into our bag. One old lady still gave out apples, which my mother made us throw away.
I don’t know about you, but the Halloween decorations, costumes and whatnot were out and on the shelves around here in August – and this area doesn’t celebrate Halloween all that much. You can’t go trick or treating on our block; you’d have to walk a mile to the next farm to get one small candy bar. The kids trick or treat in town or go to parties and such. There were commercials on television showing all sorts of fantastical costumes that looked like they belong in a theater company. We actually got a Halloween catalog here that sold nothing but adult sized costumes for $200 and up, realistic looking tombstones, spiders, mummies and zombies to deck out your house. Amazing.
I don’t begrudge anyone some innocent fun, but the older I get, the more I yearn for the old construction-paper-chain and bobbing for apples days. There was something so wonderfully spontaneous and creative, joyful and innocent, in it all.
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.