by Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
We have entered the creepy season, that time of year when things that go bump in the night are putting a fright into both the unsuspecting and the suspicious.
No, it’s not election time. Halloween, the most revered of unholy holidays, is knocking on our doors and is running away, leaving behind a flaming paper sack. One should resist the urge to stamp out the blaze while wearing one’s bedroom slippers. And whatever you do, don’t use that fire to roast marshmallows!
Crafting our own homemade Halloween costumes is a long-standing tradition in our family. This is not so much because we were artsy but mainly due to the fact that we were, traditionally, poor.
When I was a kid, it was easy to create a hobo costume. All I had to do was dig out some of the more tattered duds that I wore for doing chores on our dairy farm, fashion a stick-and-bandanna tote sack and I was instantly transformed into a miniature Freddie the Freeloader.
The autumn when I was ten, I became determined to upgrade my Halloween getup. I scrimped until I could afford the purchase of a prepackaged clown outfit that I’d had my eye on at our local five and dime.
The costume consisted of a cheap plastic mask that was held in place by a thin rubber band, along with a tasteless and gaudy smock. The mask had two small holes for the wearer to peer through. A narrow slit near the mouth would, in theory, allow the ersatz clown to breathe. If used correctly, the mask would render its owner mostly blind and dangerously short of oxygen.
None of my plans ever go as planned. The second time I put on the mask, its flimsy rubber band broke. I was forced to become a one-armed trick-or-treater, with my left hand holding the mask up to my face while my right hand clasped the brown grocery bag that contained my sugar-based loot.
When they were seven and nine years old, our two boys decided to make their own Halloween costumes. And by “make their own” I mean “have their mother make their costumes while they superintended.”
They both wanted to have ghost disguises. This was fortunate, as making a ghost outfit is relatively inexpensive. It’s also simple enough for even the most artistically-challenged to pull off.
A couple of white sheets were sacrificed for the trick-or-treating cause. All it took to convert them into ghost outfits was to cut eye holes in the proper places. The boys then ran around the house exclaiming “Boo!” in their scariest voices. My wife and I made a show of being frightened by the sudden spectral infestation of our farmhouse.
Halloween morning dawned cold, windy and gunmetal gray. By midday a freezing rain was falling. By evening the rain had turned into heavy, wet snow. The white stuff tumbled from the sky in quantities often associated with pillow fights. A northwesterly wind howled across the prairie, reshaping the snow into rapidly metastasizing drifts.
Common sense might have suggested that everyone should simply stay home. Halloween would have to be cancelled; maybe next year, the boys’ trick-or-treating activities wouldn’t be afflicted by a blizzard.
But our sons insisted that since they (meaning their mother) had worked so hard on constructing their costumes, it would be a waste of resources if they were to skip Halloweening. It’s difficult to say no to a pair of ghouls who had so expertly honed their “puppy dog eyes,” so my wife trundled the boys into our family sedan and set off for a nearby town where the candy pickings were rumored to be rich.
It was actually a good thing that the boys went as ghosts. They were able to bundle up in their warmest winter clothing, which remained mostly hidden beneath their sheets. They may have been passable phantoms, although I don’t think that ghosts typically do their booing business while wearing knee-high snow boots.
The boys had a blast at first. They ran from house to house, their flapping white sheets blending in with the falling snow. Many who answered their doors were astonished to have visitors. “What are you doing out in this weather?” was a common reaction to the ghoulish callers.
It wasn’t long before my wife reached the same conclusion. With road conditions deteriorating by the moment, she told the boys that she was calling it a night. Even though they were both wet and shivering, they argued against quitting.
My wife decided to compromise by purchasing a prepackaged bag of candy for each of the boys. At our local five and dime, of course.
If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at [email protected] His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.