Last week, Hubby and I took Aspie Daughter to the local joke shop to visit the Halloween display there. It is gruesome, bloody and foul and my daughter loves it. She bought a few wonderful items such as a skeletal, headless creature to hang from her ceiling and mist-making equipment. Don’t ask,
She loves Halloween and really misses being in America at this time of year. Growing up in California, she, like her brothers, had a very different Halloween experience than that of my childhood.
We just didn’t ‘do’ Halloween in 1970s Britain. But in my family’s case, we didn’t need to: our 14th century, oak-beamed and freezing cold farmhouse in the English Suffolk countryside was in the middle of nowhere and it was spooky enough at the best of times.
I can remember lying in bed at night, alone in my huge room with the moon beaming its ghostly light through the leaded light windows and being terrified of a hellish wailing echoing out from the surrounding woodland. Convinced in my childish imaginings that it was a ghost screaming out from the wilds of the dark woods in the dead of night, I was petrified.
I later learned that it was the call of a vixen fox. I love foxes but that’s not the point. Listen to this and you will understand why I was so spooked:
There are only three things that I remember which were remotely ‘Halloweenish’ from my younger days:
- One Halloween night, we carved out swedes, put tealights in them and dared ourselves to walk around our old house, surrounded as it was by nothing but open fields and a dark wood beyond; one scream of that
ghostfox and I was back inside quicker than you could say ‘boo’.
- As a Girl Guide I once did apple bobbing at a Halloween party. Our Brown Owl dressed up as a witch, a role she seemed to relish rather too enthusiastically for my liking. I left Girl Guides shortly afterwards.
- I was obsessed with an audio (cassette tape) book I owned called ‘Gobbolino The Witch’s Cat‘ which told the story put to music. I used to recite it word perfectly and dance around to it for hours. I admit, was a very strange child…
My first real experience of Halloween was as a 19-year-old when I first visited Los Angeles in 1979 and watched the classic Michael Myers ‘Halloween‘ film for the first time. Now I loved all the Hammer House of Horror films with Vincent Price, having grown up with these classics, but I had never seen anything like this, and never mind the slasher bits.
No. It was Jamie Lee Curtis carving the pumpkin with the young children she was babysitting that really caught my attention. Glued to the screen, I watched fascinated as dark descended and kids streamed out of their homes, all dressed up in their Halloween costumes running through their neighborhood from door to door ‘Trick or Treating‘.
My American friends were incredulous and couldn’t get over the fact that I had no idea what ‘Trick or Treating’ was.
“What, you’ve never heard of Trick or Treating? Don’t they do it in England?”
When my little boy was just four years old, he experienced his first Halloween, American style. Waiting in line to pay for our groceries, the kindly checkout lady looked down at my son standing next to me and asked the dreaded question:
“And what are you going to be for Halloween?”
We hadn’t long been in America and I thought my son too young to even give it a thought. However, he must have had other ideas because, without missing a beat he replied,
“An imp! I am going to be an imp!”
Maybe she didn’t understand him becasue of his English accent but she asked, ‘What’s an imp?’ So I ended up trying to explain that it was like a goblin, but smaller, and very mischievous. I think. He must have got the idea from a story I had read to him. Thankfully he forgot about the imp idea.
That Halloween we stayed in, locked the door, turned off the outside light, hunkering down against the cold, dark night. It was just the two of us, his father worked the graveyard shift (pardon the pun) and I didn’t fancy opening the door to complete strangers in a strange land where we had lived for only three months.
I had heard rumours of the ‘trick’ part of ‘trick or treating’ and I hoped we wouldn’t wake up to an egg-pelted house. Nothing happened as it turned out but things changed after that first Halloween.
You know the old saying, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Well, that would be us. By the following year my son had started Kindergarten and soon enough, Halloween rolled around once again. One afternoon my son came running to me excitedly after school with a letter from the teacher announcing an upcoming Halloween parade. Of course, this meant he needed a costume.
It soon became clear to me that Halloween is the one time of year that American children get to dress up (‘fancy dress’ as we Brits call it) and it doesn’t have to be scary things like witches and vampires. As it turned out, my son already knew who he wanted to be: he wanted to be Batman. Fair enough.
Ready-made costumes seemed expensive to me, so I did the next best thing and made him one. Yes, you read that right: I made my son a Batman costume. Out of felt. It took me hours, but he loved it.
That was all it took. After that, it was the same thing every Halloween - scrabbling up some kind of outfit from home, adding a few shop-bought accessories and of course, it was always last minute. But this was part of the fun. I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, me or the kids.
One Halloween, same son entered a costume competition at his school wearing a shredded pair of old black sweatpants and an old white shirt of mine which we had fun slashing with a pair of scissors and donning with fake blood here and there.
All I bought was a plastic cutlass sword for 99 cents. I dotted a fake beard on his chin with my black eyeliner pencil and several ‘ooh arrr me hearties’ later, he was a pirate. When I dropped him off at school, my heart sunk slightly when I saw the other kids emerging dressed up in their sophisticated, shop-bought costumes. I didn’t expect him to win but the fun we had together more than made up for that.
But we were both in for a wonderful surprise. As it turned out, it was indeed my son who won the day.
Another year, I made a mummy outfit for my eldest son (thanks to an old sheet) while his then four-year old brother wanted to be the Terminator (his hero).
His older brother’s denim jacket, a pair of sunglasses and a water pistol later, he made an excellent job of running wild, stopping only to aim his water pistol at us shouting, ‘Hasta La Vista Baby’!
Over and over again.
I admit, this may not have been one of my best idea but the boys had fun and it made for a great photo opportunity. For this mum anyway.
As for my daughter, I thought she would just love to be a princess or a fairy or even an angel, but while she did humour me when she
had no choice was little, she soon enough put her foot down.
Not one for dresses after the age of eight, and being a tomboy at that (this also happens to be a common trait of Aspie females but of course we didn’t know it then, and anyway, I was a tomboy and what’s not to love about being one?), she decided she wanted to be a character from a ‘Zelda‘ video game called ‘Link’.
Her brother’s old school t-shirt turned inside out, worn over thick tights with a hat and sword acquired during one of our visits to an English castle while back ‘home’, and she was sorted. Unfortunately, most people thought she was Robin Hood which made her a bit cross, but I can see why.
I adopted Halloween as an American tradition to pass on to my children. So many fun-filled memories of our times together, trick or treating with friends and handing out candy to neighbourhood children.
What frights we had when walking up a neighbour’s garden path only to jump out of our skins as deep groans emanated from a moving gravestone; what silliness singing along to the classic sounds of ‘Monster Mash’ belting out from the house down the road. Nothing like it for spooky family fun, and I will treasure these memories for ever.
I still get shivers down my spine when I remember those nights long ago, huddled in my bed ever tormented as an eerie wind carried ghostly shrieks past my window, deep into the black, October night.