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My Mother, The Halloweenie
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My Mother, The Halloweenie
Reflections on my favorite holiday and how it has changed.
Jennifer L O'callaghan
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
|AUTHOR'S OTHER TITLES (5)
Haul Out The Holly (Short Stories) This is a holiday story I wrote for a writing class, inspired by what my sisters and I call "The House of Tacky" in our neighborhood. [2,087 words]
Make Him Crave You (Short Stories) When bad dating advice happens to clueless women. [1,674 words] [Humor]
Not Necessarily Cancer (Short Stories) A young woman's reaction to her abnormal Pap smear. [1,920 words] [Literary Fiction]
Packed With Peanuts (Short Stories) This is a flash fiction piece I wrote for a writing class about an attempted late night snack. [731 words]
Remembering Jamie (Essays) Thoughts following the unexpected death of an old friend [793 words]
My Mother, The Halloweenie
Jennifer L O'callaghan
My first apartment was an isolated little abode hidden behind an automatically locking door and up a narrow flight of stairs. On most evenings, I enjoyed the solitude – even called it my penthouse, although it was only on the second floor.
But on Halloween, I hated it. Each year, I played eerie background music of shrieks and moans and lit my apartment in black light and flickering jack-o’-lanterns.
But no trick-or-treaters ever found their way to my door.
Granted, there were not too many kids in my neighborhood, anyway. And those that were there struck me as the rougher sort… The kind that would rather toilet paper trees or leave bags of flaming poo on doorsteps than beg for a fun-size Snickers.
So I began to bundle my bags of Runts, Nerds, Twix bars and Pop Rocks and head over to my parents’ house on the other side of the city to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve.
I couldn’t miss out on the fun, you see. It’s my favorite holiday. Ever since I was little I was fascinated by it… My grandma once told me it was the only night of the year that the veil between the living and the dead was so thin that it was possible for spirits to return to Earth. A chance to rub elbows with ghouls and ghosts? Bring it on!
And let’s not forget the candy. Free candy. No strings attached. Not like Christmas candy, which required at least nine months of mild behavior, peace on Earth, goodwill to sisters and cousins. Not like Easter candy, either, which came with a sort of obligatory holiness – after all, someone had to die to make that holiday worth celebrating. No, Halloween did not come with that baggage. Rather, it encouraged mischief, goofiness, devilish pleasure.
In short, Halloween blew all the other holidays out of the water.
My mother, however, did not seem to share my love of the spooktacular season. For one thing, she and my father gave out raisins instead of chocolate or bubble gum. Raisins, for God’s sake! Droves of disappointed children left our house each year with the little boxes of what she called “nature’s candy.”
I think there was a direct correlation between the number of raisin “treats” she distributed and the number of times our house got egged on Mischief Night.
The only time she outdid the ongoing O’Callaghan raisin fiasco was the year she and my father passed out nickels. Now I realize that in her day, you could go see a Saturday afternoon double feature for a nickel. She told me almost every time we passed the Colonial Theatre in nearby Pompton Lakes. But by the time I was old enough to don rubber mask and frightening fangs, a nickel wouldn’t even buy a pack of gum.
The fact that most kids bypassed our raisin emporium each year did not faze my mom. She did not stop there, either, in her efforts to thwart my plans for a howling good holiday. Once the clocks changed, she was convinced that every warm-blooded mammal - from our dog, Kekko, to my squabby father – needed a sweater when the sun went down. Therefore, my sisters and I had to don cardigans or pullovers as soon as we stepped out the front door at dusk each night. Halloween was no exception.
Her neurosis instantly identified my sisters and me to our fellow trick-or-treaters, no matter how cleverly we dressed otherwise.
“Which hobgoblin is Jen?” I would imagine them asking each other.
“Why, she’s the mummy, of course. The one in the sweater.”
I would try to plead my case… No self-respecting witch would wear a sweater on a night of mayhem, I told her one year. But no dice. I have never, ever seen Wonder Woman wearing a cardigan, I wailed another October. But my mom always prevailed. Even when Halloween fell on a balmy, 87-degree Indian summer evening, I could be seen going from door to door as a chipmunk … in a sweater.
As if all that were not bad enough, my mother’s willingness to believe in urban legends had a devastating effect on the amount of sugary sweets my sisters and I would enjoy in the week or so that followed the holiday. Frightened by tales of razor blades in Sugar Daddies and drugged-out hippies passing out candy wrappers of poo, my mother would send me, my father and my bag of loot to the local police station, where one by one, each treat would pass through detectors. Half my hard-won goodies, deemed too suspect to eat, landed in the trash bin each year.
There were some aspects of Halloween she couldn’t touch, though. For instance, each year, our church held a special party for its youth. And each year, I walked away with the bobbing for apples championship.
I was untouchable, mostly for my total commitment to the apple. Other kids’ lips would barely skim the surface of the basin of water, fearing their elaborate make-up would smear or their spangly costumes would be ruined. But I always approached the bobbing with gusto – willing to submerge my head and neck until my teeth snapped the skin of a wayward McIntosh. After all, I reasoned, no one would see the top half of my costume on Halloween, anyway – it would be under my sweater.
And the morning after Halloween was an experience that even my hippie-fearing, sweater-wearing, raisin-loving mother could not mar. My sisters and I would bring our respective stashes to the kitchen table and pile our collection of Butterfingers, Blow Pops and Baby Ruths in front of us, ready to bargain. Kathy wore braces, so she didn’t have much haggling power to trade her treats for more orthodontia-friendly goodies. But Erin and I approached our exchanges with furrowed brow and poker face.
“I’ll trade you a Reese’s peanut butter cup for one Chunky.”
“No way. A Chunky is worth at least two peanut butter cups and a package of Smarties.”
“Two peanut butter cups? What do you take me for? I’ll give you one peanut butter cup and three Bazooka Joes.”
“Throw in the green apple Laffy Taffy and you’ve got a deal.”
And so the bartering would continue until all that was left were the handful of Mary Janes at the bottom of our bags. You couldn’t trade those puppies for anything… except maybe raisins.
Although my days of going from door to door may be over, I have not given up my love affair with the holiday. But, I‘ve got to tell you – it has changed. And I don’t just mean the costumes. My eyes were opened that first year I went to help my parents pass out their candy.
Minivans drove up to our driveway and out would pop a neighborhood-load of kids, clamoring for candy, which my parents, now too old to worry about washing egg off their windows on November 1st, have finally consented to buy each year. I was appalled. When I was little, my friends and I trooped from neighborhood to neighborhood until our little legs quivered from exhaustion. We earned that candy, dammit.
That’s not the only new kink in the night, though. There are some kids who don’t even dress up anymore. A crowd of teenagers wearing jeans and a motley assortment of T-shirts came up our walk and thrust pillowcases at me. Not an even a chorus of “Trick or treat!” Just sullen, expectant silence.
“What are you guys supposed to be?” I asked, holding the bowl of candy out of their reach on my parents’ front step.
They looked at me blankly. One spiky-haired teen scowled back, “We’re not supposed to be anything.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Well, you can’t have any candy, then. You’ve got to work for it. You’ve got to dress up. What’s wrong with you people?”
And then my mother was at my ear, eyeing the collection of piercings and tattoos trampling her azalea bush.
“For God’s sake, Jen. Give him a Milky Way,” she hissed at me.
But I refused. And my mother, the same woman who dropped box after box of Sunmaid raisins into my friends’ hopeful bags 10 years before, the same woman who believed the mojo of my Princess Leia get-up would shine through from beneath my Alpaca button-down, my mother pulled the bowl of candy from my hands and dumped packages of Milk Duds, candy corn and Juju Bees into the bags of those costume-less kids.
I guess it’s not just the holiday that’s changed, but my mom as well. She’s afraid of the trick-or-treaters now instead of the adults giving out the candy. And Hershey bars fill the pumpkin bowl that once held her boxes of raisins. But I don’t get why she surrendered her candy to that pack of spiritless teens.
After all, none of those kids was wearing a sweater.
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© 2001 Jennifer L O'callaghan
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