If there is one lesson that I have learned in life, it is that I am not very good at learning my lesson.
In this case, I am referring to the Halloween festivities just passed. Remember two years ago when Episode I of the eternal Star Wars saga came out? The one that introduced Jar-Jar Binks, the most hated character to assault the big screen since Jabba the Hutt?
Anyway, two years ago, my middle child insisted that he absolutely must have a Darth Maul mask for his costume. So for $7.95, I purchased a rubber mask that, when wadded up in the corner of this child’s bedroom, looked like a striped frog that had gotten too cozy with a can of red paint.
All you parents know what happened that Halloween night. He set out with his mask on and came home with it two trick-or-treats later complaining that he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see through the eyeholes, and his head was way too hot in there.
So you think that I would have learned my lesson. This year, my youngest son insisted that he absolutely must have a scary looking orange pumpkin head mask. Somewhat dubious, I took him to the store where he had seen it and gave it a close inspection. The fumes of Halloween candy in the store must have addled my brains because the only thought that I had was that the eyeholes had that black mesh stuff and that he would probably be able to see fine through them.
So I purchased it for $9.95 only to have him come home shortly after he left trick-or-treating complaining that he couldn’t breathe and that it was too hot in there. But at least he could see through the eyeholes!
These recent Halloween misadventures got me reminiscing about my own trick-or-treating days back in the pagan Middle Ages.
When I was a child, the Halloween season lasted about three hours. Today, the Halloween season is a major industry that starts on or about Labor Day. In my day, activities would start to gear up on October 31 after supper around 6 p.m. This is where my friends and I would call each other up and ask, “What are you going out as?” We did not have the benefit of several hundred licensed Star Wars characters to dress up as.
What would invariably happen is that we’d borrow some old clothes from our Dads and go out as bums. Of course we would not call them bums today. This is not politically correct. Today, we would be dressed up as “street-persons.”
We would go out trick-or-treating with our pillowcases for about two hours. When we got home we’d dump all our candy out and sort out the Halloween “kisses” which were clearly not intended for human consumption. At least that’s what I did because, quite frankly, just the color of these things reminded me of the hairballs that our cat generously leaves about the house. And they had the consistency of congealed road tar, but didn’t taste as good. To this day, there are hazardous landfill sites devoted entirely to discarded Halloween “kisses.”
Today of course, Halloween costume plans are laid out months before the event. Pity the poor child whose parents neglect this vital activity until the day before Halloween. They may be stuck only wearing half the regalia that Prince Charles wore when he wedded the Lady Diana Spencer.
And decorations! Let’s not forget decorations. I remember spending about two minutes taping up our entire reservoir of decorations to the dining room windows. They consisted of ludicrously cheery skeletons, ghosts and witches that would no more frighten a child than if you handed them a month-old kitten. Today, you can’t get a house built in October because all the contractors are busy erecting Halloween decorations. This one house my kids visited last year had transformed their entire front yard into a graveyard, complete with bodies, a gallows, and dry ice.
Everybody’s out to do everything they can to scare the bejabbers out of our little kids. One year as I was out escorting my kids, I came across a Dad in one of those realistic monster masks crouching behind a car. I surmised that he was waiting to jump out and scare his little daughter, who was maybe all of about three years old and as cute as Jiminy Crickett, only smaller. She was with her Mom at the door of the house whispering, “trick-or-treat” to the bemused homeowners.
I thought to myself, “don’t do it man.” But of course, he jumped out from behind the car and scared his daughter half way to next Sunday. Whenever I think of doing something similarly stupid, I just have to recall the look on the Mom’s face as she was consoling her daughter. This look was directed at her husband and conveyed a clear message that wasn't his dream wish.
So maybe I have learned an important lesson in life after all.
Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.