Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

Halloween was not always such a big production.  Thirty years ago, it came down to a mad scramble once it got dark after dinner on October 31.  Suddenly, it would occur to us that we could go out and beg for candy.  In typical last-minute fashion, my brother and I would appeal to my mother’s creativity, which no doubt would be lagging by that time of day.  She would dig through the hall closet, perhaps find a hand-me-down costume one (or all) of our sisters had worn in years past, and that would be that.

1973, my brother and me
1973, my brother and me

I remember the year I declared I wanted to be a princess.  She looked me up and down, thought for a minute, and pulled a blue handmade knitted poncho over my head, cause nothing says “princess” like knitted evening wear.  She fashioned a star out of aluminum foil and stuck it on the end of a wooden spoon that she’d yanked out of a kitchen drawer.  A couple of bright red spots of blush on my cheeks and voila:  princess!  For some reason, I was satisfied with this.  It was all in the attitude.  If the tiara fits, right?  My brother and I were each handed a limp pillowcase for candy, got pats on the head, and off we went into the dark neighborhood.

Some years ago, my family was invited to a Halloween event where we were supposed to show up in coordinated costumes.  As the Family Organizer, I decided we would go as The Incredibles.  It was one of our favorite movies.  My husband is even named Bob, like the main character.  Our kids fit the ages perfectly.  I scoured the internet for deals on costumes.  Have you priced Disney costumes lately?  They’re no poncho-and-foil-star get ups.  But, it was important that we look impressive.  We might even win a contest, for crying out loud.  I shelled out some significant cash, informed the family what we were going to be, and waited for the night of the party.

Son was ready to go early.  He loved the idea of being Dash, the fastest boy in the world.  We spiked his hair, donned the gloves and boots, and I sent him out to the front yard to practice sprints.  I slipped into Mrs. Incredible easily enough, opting for black boots from my closet instead of the ones that came with the costume.  It was a little short in the torso, and a bit choky at the neck, but I was willing to take one for the team.  It was getting close to time to go, and our daughter hadn’t appeared yet.  She finally came out with a glowering look and her arms folded sulkily.  The back of the suit was totally unzipped.  “This doesn’t fit.  I’m NOT wearing it.”  In fairness, I’d ordered the costumes a couple of months early, so it was possible she’d grown some.  I tried zipping it up.  “It’s choking me!!” she yelled, clawing at the neck.  “This is SO lame.”  I ordered her to change her attitude and go upstairs to finish getting dressed.  She wouldn’t have to zip it up the whole time.  She could just do it when we got there and then wear a jacket over it to cover up the open back so she could breathe later.  Honestly.  Breathing was seriously an issue?  These were coordinated costumes, people!

It was almost time to leave.  Son (Dash) was waiting in the car.  I yelled upstairs for everyone to mobilize.  Daughter (Violet) came stomping down, each step an audible Attitude in Motion.  She was dressed in jeans, a parka, and tall, fuzzy boots.  Seeing my expression, she proclaimed, “I’m just going to be an Eskimo.  Everyone ELSE can be the Incredibles.”  That’s when I lost it.  “Get back upstairs and GET YOUR COSTUME ON!  We are GOING as a FAMILY and we are GOING as the Incredibles.  IT. WILL. BE. FUN.”   She retreated, peeling off the parka as she went.

About that time, in classic introvert form, Bob decided he would rather just stay home and read.  “Not this time!” I declared.  “We are going as a family.”  I must have lapsed into a Halloween-ish raspy growl because he set the book down and headed for the bedroom.  The man never does anything in a hurry.  “We are going to be LATE.”  I noted, which usually only served to make him go slower.  After five minutes, I stuck my head in.  “Ready?  Wait.  What is wrong with your suit?”   He had pulled it on, but absolutely refused to wear it without something underneath.  The suit strained at the seams, as he’d pulled it over his jeans, complete with his overly-stuffed wallet in the back pocket.  It bulged and poofed in all the wrong places, looking not so much like the muscles of Mr. Incredible as some odd tumorous affliction of his extremities.  “Oh, for heaven’s sake.” I said. No way were the costume’s boots going to fit over his white socks and tennis shoes (he wears a size 12 shoe).  “What?” he groused, “It looks fine.”

I rolled my eyes and gritted my teeth, just trying to make it out the door to our fun-filled family-centered event without the words in my head actually making it past my lips.  Our teenage daughter tromped out the door, the back of her suit wide open, giving me the big hairy eyeball.  Bob folded himself and his bulging muscles into the passenger seat, and we took off for the party.  Once we arrived, we put on our masks (matching, of course), and posed for the family picture that showed, for all anyone knew, a creative and happy crew.   We’d done it!   We were The Incredibles!   Our daughter played the part of Violet perfectly, people assuming her sulky, dour face was part of her role and not a result of a lack of oxygen and irritation at her mother for making her wear a too-small costume.  She played it so well, she actually won an award for Best Youth Girl Costume.  (oh, the irony!)

After the picture, Bob changed in the car.  It was pretty easy, since his entire outfit was already on underneath his suit.  Violet peeled off her suit and put the jeans and fuzzy boots back on.   So that was what was in the bag she’d carried out with her.  After about 30 minutes, I took off my boots, which were starting to pinch.  Dash was the only one who was still in character by the end of the night.

Next time, I’m heading for the hall closet, and we can be a family of hobos.

the Incredibles!
the Incredibles!

See Rock City

I’m a transplant.  Growing up as an Air Force brat meant my family uprooted every couple of years and moved to a new place.  New schools, new friends, new geography.  Although I was born in Japan, we stayed only 6 weeks after my arrival before pulling up stakes for Virginia.  (I should tattoo “Made in Japan” on the bottom of my foot just to prove I was there.)  After that, it was Florida, South Carolina, then Florida again before finally landing in Tennessee for high school upon my father’s retirement.

Starting high school in the small-town South was cultural whiplash.  As the new kid, I talked “funny” (too fast, no accent), didn’t get local references (turn left where the old hospital used to be–huh?), and found it really hard to make friends with people who’d not only known each other since kindergarten but had a good chance of being related to each other.  Enter my new best friend:  the only other person in the county who’d moved in from Elsewhere.  She commiserated with me when we couldn’t understand the lingo (what the heck was a hosepipe and why was it ruint?) and reminded me I wasn’t weird just because I “wasn’t from around here.”

Maybe it was this scratchy-wool-sweater discomfort that gave me a restless urge to wander.  Or it could be that just after my parents finally got all five of us out of the house and on our own, they bought a camper intending to travel and explore together.  Not a year later, my mother had passed away from cancer and the camper sat unused and vacant in the driveway.  Once I was married with two children, the unquenchable wanderlust descended with a vengeance.  I remembered my own rambling childhood, exposed to different people in different places, and I wanted my children to experience the same, to embrace the new kids that moved in and to find other people interesting and worth knowing.

As soon as our youngest was out of diapers, we took off for the West Coast and the Golden Gate Bridge.  We had to wait til then because I have an innate fear of traveling with very small children.  My mother had told me repeatedly how I had screamed and wailed in her arms for the entire flight from Japan to the US.  She recounted the feeling she had that the resentful passengers who glared at her were plotting to throw her off the plane, midair.  I would just be asking for karmic payback if I tried to travel with an infant (sorry, Mom).  Our children, then 6 and 3, did great–fate was kind to me.  We began to deliberately pay our business pharmacy bills with credit cards in order to rack up air miles.   Since Tennessee is fairly centrally located (it borders 8 other states), we took long weekends and holidays and drove to nearby states to explore.

It didn’t take long to realize we had actually been to quite a few states, mostly in the Southeast.  We decided to set a family goal to visit all 50 before the kids left for college.  That gave us 10 years from the time we started to reach our goal.  We tacked up a big map of the US in my son’s room and began sticking pushpins into each new state we visited.  We got creative, taking an Amtrak sleeper train from Atlanta to D.C. once.  Family and friends became waypoints.  We visited family in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Florida.  We saw friends in Minnesota, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and Mississippi.

As the kids got older, our travels usually included something educational.  We followed the Freedom Trail in Boston, explored the cliff dwellings of tribes in New Mexico, toured Frank Lloyd Wright homes and learned about architecture, and saw the 9/11 memorials in Pennsylvania and New York.  Long, tedious car trips transformed into an appreciation for the incredible varied landscapes of America.  Our country truly is America the Beautiful:   coastlines, mountains, deserts, lakes, plains, powerful cities and sleepy country towns.  We touched anemones in Oregon tidepools, marveled as Hawaiian lava ran into the ocean, and outran sudden prairie hailstorms in South Dakota.  Our nation’s national parks never failed to delight.  We hiked through Bryce and Zion in Utah, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Yellowstone in Wyoming, Denali in Alaska, and the Smokies in Tennessee.

Along the way, whether it was Route 66 or US-1, we sampled clam chowder, fresh beef, and once, quesadillas made from Cheese Whiz that made us laugh until we cried because they were so terrible.  Our kids were intrepid travelers, expert packers.  It became second nature to navigate airports and hotels, to find their way with a map in a new city.  They witnessed how to handle mishaps on the way–we once broke down in the middle of the Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan–and they filed away memories.  Unexpectedly, I found that there’s a comfort in having a home base.  Having been raised with shallow roots, it’s been a pleasant surprise to actually sink deep in one spot and nestle in.  Each time we returned home from a trek to Elsewhere, it was good to hear the familiar cadence of people’s speech (slow, with an accent) and to know that I actually know where my town’s old hospital used to be.

Two years ago, we reached our goal, checking off the last state when we crossed into North Dakota. We had a celebration in the middle of nowhere, the only witnesses a couple of cows and a cloud of black flies.  We snapped a picture by the “Welcome to North Dakota” sign, and I gave a private, silent high-five to my mom, who would’ve liked to have seen North Dakota (despite the flies).