Mask

I view these prompts much like a psychologist uses a word association exercise. I write down the first idea that comes to mind and then attempt to develop it into some sort of cohesive thought. I will admit that Sunday Scribblings has caused me to think about times and events that I haven’t thought of in years. I hate to dwell on the “good old days” because as we all know, they weren’t always good, but this prompt brought up a memory that made me smile throughout the creative process:

As a child, I ranked Halloween second only to Christmas in the pecking order of holidays. This was long before the world became so mean and nasty that parents must scan their children’s haul with a metal detector or run it through airport security prior to allowing any consumption. Anything that is not factory wrapped to include nutrition facts goes straight into the dumpster. People used to actually give us popcorn balls, candied or carameled apples, and homemade cookies. If someone tried that these days, the police would set up a parameter around their house and a Hazmat team would be dispatched. But I digress (as usual).

As anyone who has suffered through any of my previous posts already knows, I grew up in northern Idaho, in the town of Smelterville. Yes, it was as beautiful as the name implies. The population was about 1,500 at its peak, now about 700. I think its claim to fame now might be the smallest town ever to host a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

There weren’t many choices for masks in those days. Maybe in the city there were choices, but not in small town Idaho. We all bought our masks at the same stores, so there was little variety. A girl could be a princess, a witch, or an angel. A boy was destined to be a pirate, monster of some type, or a devil. A ghost was unisex and no mask was required. The masks were one size fits all, so no matter what age you were you could not see out of the eyeholes. Costumes were not important as we all were wearing winter coats to protect against the freezing late October night of northern Idaho. Finding or creating a costume that would fit over a parka was hardly worth the effort and obviously wearing an overcoat spoiled the effect of a skeleton costume. Our masks were not only unoriginal, but also unscary. This was long before someone thought to make Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” into a Halloween mask. I still consider it the most terrifying mask of all time.

Lots of kids carried pillowcases to hold their bounty. My mother forbade that for two reasons. She did not have a pillowcase to spare and she considered filling up a pillowcase with candy to be excessive begging. So, I embarked with a brown paper bag. The hours for trick or treating were well defined in those days. As long as the porch light of a house was lit, they were fair game. When a house ran out of candy or got tired of answering the door, they simply turned out their lights and were no longer bothered. A large dog in the yard would cause a house to be skipped, porch light or no porch light.

The favorite house for many of us to call on was on Northview and belonged to Mrs. Watts. She was my third grade teacher and one of the biggest fans of Halloween ever. She had the best treats. She always had homemade goodies and sometimes, even, money. There was a catch however. It was not possible to simply hit and run Mrs. Watts’ house. To knock on her door meant you had to go inside and perform. (Imagine that in today’s world. Bringing a child into a strange house at night would result in the dispatch of a SWAT team and a hostage negotiator.) She would require you sing a song, recite a poem, dance, tell a joke, or whatever form of entertainment you could provide. Shy kids would avoid her house, but they would miss out on the best treats of the night. She would also go through the ritual of trying to guess your secret identity (another SS prompt) under your costume. She knew every kid in town and had taught most of us but she would still make it a game show. She would pretend not to know who we were much the way the people at the Daily Planet pretend that Clark’s glasses confuse them. Never mind that most of us early in the evening had pretty much abandoned our masks or had lifted them up to look out from underneath them as we had tripped and fallen several times due to poor visibility. Even if we were dead set to keep our masks on, the flimsy rubber band and staple system that held them on usually had a shelf life of about half an hour. My paper bag had been spilled, refilled, stepped on, torn, and pretty much mutilated. I desperately envied those with pillowcases.

The candy I arrived home with would easily last through Christmas. Even though mom tried to ration my intake, I consumed enough sugar to keep my insulin release redlined through the end of the year. But sadly, some of the candy was never eaten. The candy corn (who makes that crap anyway), those orange peanut shaped marshmallow things (my dog wouldn’t even eat those) and the orange and black wrapped toffee experiment would be around until mom tossed them out, sometime near Easter.

The sad thing is that my own children never got to experience a real Halloween. What with their flame retardant, reflector strip costumes sized to fit, streetlights, designer trick or treat bags, and healthy and nutritious treats.