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 some kind of mist-making equipment.
She loves Halloween and really misses being in America at this time of year. Growing up there she, like her brothers, had a very different Halloween experience compared to mine.
We just didn’t ‘do’ Halloween. Did anybody then, back in Britain’s 60s and 70s? I don’t believe so. Our house in Suffolk 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. In my childish imaginings I became convinced that it was a ghost calling out from the wilds of the dark woods in the dead of night and I was petrified.
I later learned that it was the call of a vixen fox (and I love red foxes) but that’s not the point. Listen here and you will feel my pain:
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 farmhouse, 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 ‘pumpkin';
- As a Girl Guide (believe it or not but not for long) we once did apple bobbing. Our Brown Owl dressed up as a witch, which I thought at the time was strange as I did have my suspicions about her even before that. (I left Girl Guides shortly afterwards); and
- 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 know, I 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, although never mind the slasher bits.
What really fascinated me was watching Jamie Lee Curtis carving the pumpkin with the young children she was babysitting and then, as the night drew in, watching all the kids coming of their homes, dressed up in their Halloween costumes and running from door to door ‘Trick or Treating‘. My American friends just couldn’t get over the fact that I had never heard of ‘Trick or Treating’ and that I had no idea what it was.
“What, you’ve never heard of Trick or Treating? Don’t they do it in England?”
“Er, no, why else would I be asking?”
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!”
To this day I have no idea where that came from, neither does my son! The checkout girl didn’t understand him either, and kept asking ‘what exactly was 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. (I was reminded never to get that book from the library again).
Thankfully he forgot about the imp idea.
That Halloween we stayed in, locked the door, turned off the outside light and hunkered 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 them, join them? 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 parade around the school in their Halloween costumes.
It soon became clear to me that Halloween was the one time of year that American children got to dress up (‘fancy dress’ as we Brits call it) and it didn’t have to be scary things like witches and vampires.
My son already knew who he wanted to be. He wanted to be Batman. Except that ready-made costumes, from what I could tell, were very expensive and out of our league at the time.
So I did the next best thing and made him 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. ‘What can we make with what we already have?’ It always seemed to be last-minute, but this, to me, was all part of the fun.
A couple of years later, my son entered a Halloween 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 from our local for 99 cents and dotted a fake beard on his chin with a black eyeliner pencil. Several ‘ooh arrr me hearties’ later and he was a pirate! We had great fun doing it and never expected that he would win the competition, which he did! ‘s
Another year, I made a mummy outfit for my eldest son (thanks to an old sheet) and 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 all over the place, aiming his water pistol at us and shouting repeatedly, ‘Hasta La Vista Baby’!
Okay, so maybe this wasn’t my best idea and I probably left things just a little too close to the wire, but hey, it worked and the boys were happy!
As for my daughter, I thought she would just love to be a princess or a fairy or an angel and while she did humour me when she
had no choice was little, she soon 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 previously brought over from one of our visits to an English Heritage castle and she was sorted. The only problem was most people thought she was Robin Hood which made her a bit cross!
I adopted Halloween as an American tradition to pass on to my children and we have so many wonderful, happy memories of our times together and with friends trick or treating and handing out candy. Of jumping out of our skins when walking up somebody’s path only to hear groaning from a moving gravestone, or the sounds of that classic song, ‘Monster Mash’ belting out from the house down the road.
Nothing like it for good, scary, family fun, and I will treasure these memories for ever…
Yet, I still get a shiver down my spine when I remember those nights long ago of being huddled in my bed, tormented by those ghostly shrieks carried along by the cold wind past my window, deep into the black, October night…