Each year my mother would reiterate her two rules about Halloween. The first rule was “no accepting sweets.” The “no candy” rule extended all year with the exception of the Christmas multicolored ribbons my Aunt gave as a gift. However, on Halloween she saw the parade of little monsters and goblins ringing our doorbell as beggars. “Saying trick or treat doesn’t make it right,” she muttered. Mom had grown up poor and proud. She had never asked for a handout in her life.
As generous as she was to the neighborhood children every other day of the year, on Halloween she halfheartedly handed them sticks of sugar-free gum or tiny bags of popcorn. As soon as I was old enough, I shared the task of opening the front door. I was not allowed to join them. As I glanced at the full sacks of tasty treats each child gripped tightly, the demon of envy crawled up and out like a Halloween spider. The trick I learned was to look into each child’s face, not what they carried. It melted my resentment like warm chocolate and it is a technique I have used all of my life.
Mom’s second Halloween rule was that I could only wear a costume I designed and stitched myself. We were not poor, but every spare nickel and dime went into a savings account my mother called my college fund. “It’s just a waste of money to buy a costume when you can make one yourself,” Mom said.
This was my treat. I spent weeks thinking about what costume I could make that was both unique and fun to wear. Looking for something unlike the trite witches and ghosts, I would flip pages in magazines. After watching the Shriner’s parade one summer, I crafted an outfit that resembled a genie sprung from a bottle. I sorted through the old clothes, costume jewelry, hats, scarfs, bits of fabric. The balloon leg pants came from a tattered chenille bedspread. The pants puffed out at the legs, held tightly to my waste and ankles with elastic seams. The wrapped turban was scrounged from one of my father’s old jersey undershirts. I wore a single hoop earring. I stitched slippers that had a curled back point at the toe. I can still see that one-of-a-kind costume in my memory and feel the sense of accomplishment. It has lasted longer than the taste of any candy.