The Halloween Costume

Chapter 24

November 3, 2011

Halloween Howl was a “spooktacular” success this year.  Sally Oswald wants to thank all the volunteers who made it happen, particularly Mayor Grant “The Demon” Combs, who brought the house down at the dance.  Mayor Combs, TMZ is calling.

Speaking of the mayor, the Town Council surprised him with an honorary induction into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” after his performance at the Halloween dance.  He said that he was glad he didn’t have to go to Cleveland to receive the award, but he is thinking about donating his guitar to Shirley’s “Hard Rock Cafe.”

Hazel and Mildred Bradford baked fifteen dozen cookies for Halloween treats.

Elaine Brown went to the dance as “Little Bo Peep” with husband Frank, Frank’s brother Mike and wife Sarah, and Frank’s other brother Pat and wife Sherri, as her sheep.

Sue Brady has been driving Jim’s Toyota Highlander while her 1965 Volvo 1800 is in the shop in Kansas City.  Sue inherited the car from her father, who bought it new in Stockholm when he was a student there in the ‘60s.

Gwen Burton will be taking a trip to Lyon, France right after Thanksgiving to purchase some new pieces for her shop.  She says the change from American Primitives to French Country has been “tres bon.”

Tom and Michelle Clemons were guest speakers at a workshop on running bed and breakfast inns, sponsored by K-State Extension and the Concordia Chamber of Commerce.

Jason Glenn has re-opened Mayflower Antiques after finalizing the purchase from George and May Finley.  There was a minor issue involving property lines that had to be resolved.  It seems that a firewall had been moved sometime in the 1940s and three inches of the Finley’s store really belonged to Shirley Jackson.  Shirley graciously agreed to sell the three inches to Jason for $1 and his promise to eat breakfast in her restaurant at least once a week.  Since he and Harry have been eating there just about every morning while work on “The Convent” is going on, Jason didn’t see that as much of a contract concession.

Dorothy Westover discovered that Beekeeping for Beginners is not a “how-to” book; rather, it is a mystery involving Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice in detection, Mary Russell.  The Excelsior Book Club will be reading it in November.

Tom Reece, friend of Marshall and Marie Green, has optioned his book, “Along the Frontier,” to James Cameron who is planning to film it beginning in 2015.  The book is an allegory in which the Earth is “discovered” by aliens who treat the inhabitants like  the “discoverers” of North America treated the Native Americans.  Tom is working on a second book about a collective of computers, operated by the CIA, which, on their own, create an organism that become sentient and then turns off the computers that created it, causing much consternation and confusion all over the world.

I’d say that consternation and confusion is the normal state of things when computers are involved, so…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday.  It’s the one day of the year when people can be whomever, or whatever, they want to be, even if it’s only just themselves.  We think of Halloween as mostly a holiday for kids, but I think the adults of Walnut Shade have as much (or more) fun than the little ghosts and goblins roaming around town.  These days, of course, ghosts and goblins have mostly lost out to ninjas, fairy princesses, super heroes and characters you’d find in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but among the adults, winding yourself in strips of old sheets like a mummy or swathing yourself in diaphanous material like a spirit (though dressed modestly underneath, to be sure) is still enormously popular.  While we adults don’t knock over outhouses anymore (except for Oscar Baker’s “decorative” outhouse that everyone in town hates and is slightly embarrassed by; every year it is not only unceremoniously toppled, but dismantled and scattered all over town; Oscar blames it on the kids, but I can name at least a dozen adults, male and female, who have been in on the annual crapper caper; for days after Halloween, Oscar resolutely and diligently scours the town for the bits and pieces of his “vernacular architecture,” as he calls it, and patiently reassembles it, convinced that the next year it will remain unmolested and intact, unaware that plans have already been laid to transport it to another county, if not universe, the following year), we do enjoy the celebration that has come to be called “Halloween Howl” sponsored by the Main Street/PRIDE committee.  Starting with a multi-generation costume parade at dusk, continuing with trick or treating throughout the town with the young ones, and ending with a “Ghouls Night Out” dance at the elementary school gym, the Howl is one of the most popular events in town.  This year, the committee went all out and hired a “KISS” reunion band from Kansas City to play the dance.  What was hilarious and slightly surrealistic was seeing the look on the band’s faces when about two dozen attendees showed up in KISS make-up and costumes!  Who knew that in costume Mayor Combs is a dead ringer for Gene Simmons?

Halloween is also a significant holiday for me because it was when, years ago, I learned the concept of empathy.  When I was growing up, my family was not particularly well-off.  My father worked at the limestone quarry for minimum wages, which meant that he bought home about $25 a week in 1955, when I was in third grade.  My mother was the financial manager in the family and managed to pay the mortgage on our five-room house, feed and clothe my sister and me, and put her tithe in the offering plate each week.  Christmas in our household usually came in September at the start of the school year when I’d get a new pair of black dress shoes and a pair of Converse sneakers, along with a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts.  My sister would get “church” shoes and a new dress or two.  These clothes were meant to replace the previous year’s clothes and had to last until the following year, which they did sometimes and sometimes not.  School supplies just about wiped out the meager savings account that my mother accumulated over the year and we were rarely able to participate in extracurricular activities that required an additional fee, though in those days there were very few things to do at school besides football, basketball and band.  Fortunately, I was too skinny for football, too short for basketball and too uncoordinated to ever participated in the marching band.

For some reason, that year I convinced myself that my mother was going to buy me a Davey Crockett costume to wear for the Halloween celebration at school.  Davey Crockett was every male kid’s hero in 1955 because of the Disney movie and TV series.  Fess Parker, as Davey, was on the cover of Look, Life, Time and Boys Life and the movie that came out that December was one of the largest-grossing films of the year.  Knock-off coonskin caps were the head-gear of choice for any boy between the ages of three and twelve, and I just knew that in addition to that cool chapeau, I’d get a buckskin shirt and pants, and a flintlock rifle to complete the outfit.  Where in the world did this idea come from?  I knew that the family budget was tight because my father had missed a month of work because of an accident at his job, but still my eight-year old mind believed that I was going to be the coolest kid in school that year when I showed up in full frontier regalia.

The day before Halloween, my mother called me into the bedroom where she had her sewing machine set up.

“Ronnie, I know that you want to dress up as Davey Crockett for Halloween this year, and I’ve been working on a costume for you.”

With that, she pulled out a shirt that I recognized as my white “Sunday” shirt from the previous year.  She had dyed it a funny brown color and had sewed what sort of looked like fringe along the sleeves.  She had also sewed fringe on last year’s blue jeans, the ones that were about two inches too short by now.  Somehow, she had constructed a “coonskin cap” out of an old fake fur hat that I learned, years later, she had bought at an secondhand store in St. Joseph.  Speechless, I put on the costume and immediately burst into tears.  My dreams of being Walnut Shade’s understudy for Fess Parker were shattered by a pieced-together faux-buckskin costume and a fur hat that had once been worn by a member of the second-tier haute monde of that minor metropolis to our east.

At first, my mother interpreted my tears as tears of joy, but she soon realized that I was instead bitterly disappointed by what I would have to wear to school the next day.  She had done her best to outfit me in the uniform of my dreams and all I could do was think about how embarrassed I would be (particularly because I had been telling all my friends that I was going to be coming to the Halloween celebration at school in an “official Davey Crockett coonskin cap”).

“Ronnie, I’m sorry that I couldn’t get the genuine Disney things you wanted, but I’m sure that you’ll be the hit of the school in this.  No one else will have anything like your hat.  You know, it came from St. Joseph.”  That was supposed to make it all right, but it didn’t and for the rest of the day, I tried to think about how I could get out of wearing what my mother had made me.  I’d just wear my normal clothes to school and tell everyone that I had forgotten about the party, but the next morning, I realized that wouldn’t work and I reluctantly put on the funny-colored brown “buckskin” shirt, the blue jeans that were two inches too short and the coonskin cap made of fake fur from the Goodwill store St. Joseph.  

As I walked to school, I became more and more depressed at the humiliation I was about to endure when I heard a voice calling “Ronnie, Ronnie.  Hey, wait up.”  It was Stan Hawkins, my best friend, who was running to catch up to the “Davey Crockett” impostor.

“Hey, cool hat.  Where’d you get it?  Is it an official coonskin cap?”

“No, my mom made it,” I said, trying not to sound embarrassed.

“Wow, cool.  It looks just like the real thing.”

I was so wrapped up in my own disappointment and impending loss of face that it took me a couple of minutes to realize that Stan was dressed in his normal school clothes:  the jeans with the patches on the seat of the pants and the shirt with missing buttons on the cuffs.

“Where’s your costume, Stan?”

“Oh, here it is,” he said and he pulled a brown paper sack from his back pocket and slipped it on his head.  It had two eye-holes cut out and a slit where his mouth would be.  “My mom didn’t have time to make me anything this year, so I made this myself.  Neat, huh?”

Stan’s mom was then what is called now a “single parent”; Stan’s dad had died when Stan was three.  His mom worked as a cook at the high school from seven a.m. to two p.m. and then cleaned a couple of the shops downtown, getting home in time to fix dinner for Stan and his younger sister, Alice.  Two nights a week, she worked from seven to ten at the Tasty Freeze, but none of the jobs paid much and the Hawkins family was one of the poorest in town.

Standing there looking at Stan with a paper bag over his head, I realized what a jerk I was for feeling sorry for myself in my homemade Davey Crockett costume.  It wasn’t until years later that I understood that my family was almost as poor as Stan’s but we had just that little bit more that lifted us from the ranks of the truly poor to the class of merely poor, a group that was rather large in Walnut Shade at that time.  Even though Stan was my best friend, until that time I didn’t imagine what life was really like for him and his mother and sister.  Since then, we’ve talked about it many times, over lunch at the Pioneer when I turn in my weekly column for the Miller County Ledger.

“When you did you figure out that our families were some of the poorest in Walnut Shade?” I asked Stan over our standard lunches of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and whatever pie looked the newest.

“I don’t think I consciously understood it until we got to high school and started thinking about college.  I knew that my mother would never be able to afford to send me, so I just started working hard to get any kind of scholarship I could.  You alway seemed to know that we were at the bottom of the economic scale, but it didn’t seem to bother you.  Why is that?”  Stan had never asked that question just that way before.

“Well, you see,” I replied, “it had to do with a paper bag and a coonskin cap.”

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
This entry was posted in Observations, Small Town Life, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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