I couldn’t be a toilet. I couldn’t be a shadow of a Mummy. I could be the Mummy if I wanted, but not the shadow. My mother shot down all of my brilliant ideas. And no, the dog couldn’t wear a costume either. It wasn’t easy being a kid, especially at Halloween. And poor Spritzy. The all white dog was resigned to a lifetime of being a snowball for Halloween, year after year.
Every year, I wanted a store-bought costume, but my mother insisted on homemade costumes, pulling together stuff from around the house and second hand stores. But Mom wasn’t the type who kept copies of Good Housekeeping lying around the house; she was the kind who read the National Enquirer, while long Virginia Slim 100s dangled from her lips. She was no Martha Stewart.
Evidence: Melissa’s infamous ghost costume.
My sister was part toddler and part walking Cabbage Patch doll. Mom made her a ghost costume, using an old sheet from the linen closet. Light blue was the only color sheets she had. It would work. She cut out a face-sized hole, and laid the blue sheet over the back of Melissa’s potato-shaped head, like a veil. Then she painted my sister’s face a ghastly white with Covergirl foundation, and smeared streaks of Maybellene lipstick down her face for blood.
We went trick-or-treating in my grandmother’s neighborhood, an aging Catholic community where Mom had grown up. Because many of the old ladies knew Mom, we had to stop personally in each house.
We waited in Ms. Helen’s living room while she hobbled around in the kitchen. A painting of Pope John Paul stared down from the wall, hanging over a couch with plastic slipcovers. We choked on the smell of floral spray and baked goods. Mom whispered at us to remember our thank yous.
Ms. Helen was wrapping up special cookies, cookies only for the familiar children. A bowl full of the terminally-ill-colored peanut butter chews sat next to the door for unknown children and hoodlums. I knew them from their orange and black wrappers.
Ms. Helen thought I was cute enough dressed as a vampire, smiling at me wanly, but gasped when she saw Melissa in her bloody ghost costume. She thought my sister, with the pale face and blue sheet veil, was the Blessed Mother.
“Oh, how darling, Margi, you dressed her as Mary the Blessed Mother!” Ms. Helen exclaimed. Mom didn’t correct her.
I also incurred the wrath of Mom’s creativity one year, the year I planned to be a Ninja Turtle. Leonardo was my favorite Ninja Turtle. I begged for the licensed costume, the “real” costume, the one in the store with the picture of the actual Leonardo on the box. But Mom had an idea—a tortoise costume, which could be converted to a Ninja Turtle costume. It was also adult-sized, but she said she could fix it to my size with a couple of bobby pins. My mother thought she could fix everything with bobby pins.
She had it all figured out. I could wear my karate belt with it. But Leonardo was a black belt Ninja. I only had a white belt, which they gave to everyone who paid for the karate class. The next problem was the front chest part, which wasn’t muscular-looking like a Ninja Turtle, but brown and soft, like a Cuddly Turtle. However, my mother assured me she could address both of these problems, and that I would look just like “Leroy” on Halloween.
Red flags were everywhere.
I still felt like a Ninja Turtle that day. I couldn’t wait to put the foam tortoise suit on. While Mom warmed up a pre-trick-or-treat dinner of frozen chicken chunks and green beans, I karate-chopped and high-kicked my way around the house. I was contractually-obligated to eat at least half of this meal, or no trick-or-treat. That was the deal. I suffered through it, and finally it was time to get dressed.
Without the plastic mask that came with the licensed costume, I was stuck with my head—my stupid human head, which didn’t look like a turtle at all. I had a bandana cut from a blue t-shirt tied around my eyes, my curly brown hair sprouting all around, and a foam tortoise suit bobby pinned together. Then I had to wear my jacket over top of it.
“But Ninja Turtles don’t wear jackets,” I protested.
Meanwhile, Melissa had a knack for choosing costumes that would ensure Mom spent two hours applying make-up from the makeup bag. Princesses. Cheerleaders. Pretty Witch. The Sock Hop Girl with the pink felt poodle.
Mom applied the make-up on Melissa’s face, and told us about sock hop dances and the fashion of the strange poodle. Melissa sat very still for the eye shadow, her face very serious and poised, beyond eight years old. I watched. She wanted to be a grown-up. I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle forever. I karate chopped at the poodle.