Saturday, May 19, 2007

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.

31 comments:

Lucy said...

haha You cracked me up with this take on the prompt. VEry entertaining. I love the scenario of the police setting up a parameter for those nasty candied apple givers! haha You're right, today if you invite a child into your home you're facing a swat team. Weren't those innocent good old days, just wonderful? I think this is the first time I've read your blog and I truly enjoyed it. Thanks :)

myrtle beached whale said...

Is this the first time you have read my blog or the first time you have truly enjoyed it? Thanks for your comments.

Tracy said...

Thank you for the sweet comment you left on my art blog!

I enjoyed reading your post. Brings back alot of happy memories from my own childhood. :)

myrtle beached whale said...

Tracy:
well, I am a moron. I left you a comment and it didn't show up, so I left it again. Is my mask ever red?

InlandEmpireGirl said...

A story I never new about Mrs. Watts. Of course, we were busy trick or treating around our neighborhood " on Sunnyside". I can also still remember the best houses, what they gave out, and who made homemade stuff. Isn't it amazing the way our memories work? Our mom wouldn't let us take pillowcases either!!

~Kathryn~ said...

i love when i get to read (and learn) about other traditions - we dont' 'do' halloween here

thanks for dropping by my scribble

Rob Kistner said...

Mercy mercy me -- things ain't what the used to be.

Great post. It was fun to read, and all too true.

Kids today never got to know the joy of a 1,000 pound, wood and metal, foot-powered playground "merry-go-round" hurtling at you at full speed, and attempting to jump on or off -- without being concussed by the 2" diameter metal tube exoskeleton.

Nor the joy of all-steel and sheet metal, 45 degree angle slides, baking in the sun, 12' high, over solid concrete, with an 85 degree angled ladder to climb to the top. Hell climbing the ladder was as much fun as sliding down the slide!

No, things ain't what they used to be. If we continue to coddle children as we do, two generations from now our offspring will be gelatinous blobs, with no skeletal structure whatsoever, and unable to withstand any sort of a blow to their external surfaces.

Sorry about going off. Your post was thought provoking -- its your fault.

myrtle beached whale said...

Rob:

Our seatbelt was mom's right arm. I never wore a helmet to ride my bike and had some horrible crashes and it never affected me. It never affected me. It never affected me. What were we talking about?

myrtle beached whale said...

Kathryn:

I did not know that. I thought All Hallow's Eve was a Pagan ritual that the Celts started. I assumed it would have been practiced by all the colonies, even penal. You do have one tradition that I can totally make my own. Seafood for Christmas dinner. It doesn't get any better than that. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Lucy said...

thanks for visiting me myrtle! and Yes it was the first time I visited! sorry you couldn't leave your comment, I'm having blogger trouble, but I've fixed it ( i hope). I love that u remembered that famous line from the movie!

Sian said...

Loved this, especially the guessing game. She must have been a great teacher.

ren.kat said...

Not sure if I feel more disappointed that your children never had a relaxed Halloween or the fact that they have probably never seen a town without a WalMart!

My trick-or-treat days were in that transition time. The world was scary but we just closed our eyes and pushed on. Here, they don't "do" Halloween, as Kathryn said. At least not traditionally. The last few years the kids have caught on because of movies. They've got the trick down seriously. I don't think the kids or parents fear the houses, it's the people in the houses calling the police.

Thanks for the coherent thoughts!

paris parfait said...

Very entertaining piece! But I always liked candy corn.

sognatrice said...

This was great and reminded me a lot of my trick-or-treating days, only I ate all those treats you found so disgusting--coulda sent them to rural Pennsylvania ;)

gautami tripathy said...

Interesting and thoughtful post.

Crafty Green Poet said...

sometimes I feel I really missed out - we never did trick or treat when I was growing up in UK.

myrtle beached whale said...

Thank you all for your comments. I had no idea that anyone actually read my drivel. Most people on SS seem to be so deadly serious, I thought my brand of humor might be lost.
ren.kat: great point about the evil empire

Paris Parfait and Sognatrice: I think I still have some candy corn left from previous years but it may be under couch cushions. You are welcome to it. I think nomatter how good your dental hygiene is, candy corn will still give you a toothache.

raymond pert said...

Wow! You know old friend, Shoshone County is rocking Sunday Scribbling. If you got a chance to read my sisters' posts (and mine), I'd say the four of us wrote, dare I say it?, the best of the week. We might be leaded, but g-damn it we have soul and we can write!

I've got a blog post, by the way, cookin' in my head about you...I'll be referring to you as Wucky, if you don't mind, and it'll be a good one. It's not quite done cooking yet, but I'll get it up there in the next week or so.

Man, Sylvia Watts...she was a little off her rocker, but a kind lady...what a great story.

Patois said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the post, including your intro. I, too, got the caramel apples -- and got to eat them, too. Nowadays, of course, I'd steal them from the kids and eat them myself were it not for two reasons. One, as you said, Hazmat. Two, I'd lose my expensive dental work.

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

Great post! I remember going to Mrs. Watts house in Smelterville, but didn't remember the performances!

Did most of my "trick-r-treatin'" in Pinehurst. And - don't beat me up - we used PILLOW CASES! Our take was that they were sturdy enough to last the evening and we didn't have to buy anything to carry our candy in. (Maybe my mom rationalized that since she bought and gave out FULL-SIZED candy bars - and we usually got around 300 trick-r-treaters - that her kids should make "a haul."

You brought back great memories. . .even of the cheap "masks" available at the time. I had forgotten about the elasitic string held by a staple on each end. What a joke.

Also loved Rob's post within your post about the playground equipment. I remember those "hot" slides - if your legs were bare - as in short pants or DRESSES - (Arg!) -you'd STICK to the slide and burn your skin off. . .

Thanks for the email about your post. It was great!

myrtle beached whale said...

Raymond Pert:

I read all your blogs and your sisters' too. Did you ever consider that we can all write a little because of Mary Woolum's influence? It is not coincidence. Feel free to use me as you will.

raymond pert said...

You can add to the list of Shoshone County writing all stars the great work of Pinehurst in my Dreams. Even though she doesn't Sunday Scribble, she is a member of the Shoshone County writing hall of fame.

(She was a Silver King girl, but across the hall from Mrs. Woolum with me and the rest of Mrs. Hokanson's students.)

btw, I think you said you couldn't remember your fourth grade teacher: Mrs. Gullman, perhaps? Did you have Mrs. Maddox in the fifth...or was that your Mrs. Wakefield year?

myrtle beached whale said...

No, Wakefield was sixth grade (I had pubes). I did have Maddox in the fifth. She wore tons of makeup and torpedo bras. I didn't have Gullman, though I remember her, kind of shaped like a fire hydrant. Was there a Mrs. Lyons? I think that might have been 4th grade. Bunker Hill went on strike in 1960, and a spent part of that school year in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. A lot of the miners went there to work uranium in Shirley Basin (another reason dad died fairly young). It was one of those one room school houses like Little House on the Prarie. That is probably why my Silver King recollection has a hole in it.

Silver Valley Girl said...

Yes, your post also brought back memories of trick or treating in Kellogg. I remember those plastic masks, and having them on when we walked through Sunnyside School during the Halloween Costume Parade. And I remember the way breathing into those masks made my face sweat. What a fun story about Mrs. Watts. I was never a candy corn or circus peanuts fan, either. Now that my girls trick or treat in Kellogg, it is a little different, as you said. But their favorite place to go, one of the "favorites with a reputation" is Don Knott's house, because he is the Wonder Bread man and he gives out Hostess treats. He is famous and very popular on Halloween.

myrtle beached whale said...

I have not seen Don Knott since 1972. It will be amazing seeing him as an old man this summer. My image of course is this little dark haired boy. We played a lot of sports together and were good friends back in the day.

myrtle beached whale said...

My mom would not take me to Kellogg to trick or treat. Big cities made her nervous.

sister AE said...

We had the same kind of Halloween in the small midwest town where I grew up. Not much choice in costumes there either.

My dad was a doctor and when kids came to our door, he and my mom always asked "do we know you?" If they said (or nodded) yes, then the guessing would begin.

And in my neighborhood it was the kindergarten teacher who had the best treats!

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

Loving the comments as much as the blog. You are infamous in your humor, and considering where you grew up - you have to be. . .

MarmiteToasty said...

Love your post......halloween over here is not as big as in the states, but since me doodle maties lived here we have had some great times.... shame she moved back to the states........ the kids love coming to my house on halloween cos we scare the jeeheebers out of them lol....... we dress up and when anyone knocks the door we open it real quick with blood curdling screams lol.... and I usually snatch there bag of goodies lol......... of course they scream and often cry LOL.... but we alwayes come clean in the end :)...... and all is good......... my 4 lads have always trick or treated but we use to make out costumes cos money was tight....... good times :).....

x

Carly said...

Oh, but see, each generation makes it's own memories. Thanks, I'm sure in part, to Grandma for not allowing you to use the pillow cases because I was allowed to use the pillow cases. My memories consist of box snoopy and woodstock plastic costumes. So wonderfully made that if you fall down a hill trying to keep up with your brother's, they rip clean off of you. :) Also, I have marvelous memories of my Father, myrtle beached whale, himself risking his life to test a Reese's Peanut Butter cup for us because that certain candybar looked Risky. :) Lord knows what my son will remember about Halloween but I have a feeling it will not be too much of door to door trick or treating. More about Chicken Stews and Trunk or Treating at the neighborhood Church. Great post though, Dad. I enjoyed it!

myrtle beached whale said...

Carly,

You were allowed to use pillow cases because the more booty you collected, the more for me to pick through and "test". I think all the Reeses and Kit Kats were indeed tainted. Too bad there were not Dove bars in those days, or I would have had to save you from them too. It is a father's duty that I was only too glad to perform. I don't think you ever ate that disgusting candy corn or circus peanuts either.