Ode to Halloweens Past

Over the past few decades, Halloween has both grown into a bigger event and become somewhat controversial in some circles.

When we were young it was a wonderful escape from the ordinary as my sister Lisa and I each picked out our mask for the night, which we called our “false face”. We would gleefully trick-or-treat around our small neighborhood in South Knoxville. I still recall the house on the corner of Baker and Davenport Road that gave the best Halloween candy. Seeing all the older people’s faces light up when we came to the door was enormous fun. However, it was hard to breathe with the masks on our faces, so we would remove them after each house and replace them only when we got to the next door.

For a few years we collected money for UNICEF on Halloween. As the door to each home opened, we would say, “Trick-or-treat for UNICEF!” We felt privileged to do our part–doing good on Halloween as well as collecting candy.

When my sister Lisa was in the 6th grade and I was in the 8th, her boyfriend and his best friend egged our house on Halloween. This kind of hijinks was typical, but it certainly did not endear the boyfriend to anyone in our household, including my sister.

As teenagers, our Methodist youth group had the run of our church fellowship hall, and we turned it into a haunted house of which we were very proud. We worked together to devise the most appropriately scary “haunted house” that would still be safe for all concerned. We chose the fellowship stage as well as the Sunday School classes leading to it. Going through the haunted house was electric with the unknown around every corner.

In my 20s, the church Halloween party featured simple handmade costumes as you can see in the photo above. Left to right, I am dressed in a robe and shower cap with cold cream on my face; our friend Craig dressed as a hillbilly, Russ put his shirt on backward and called it a costume; my sister Lisa was a witch; and our friend Jeff was a leopard.

Another Halloween church party, either the year before or after, I tied balloons to a purple leotard and went to the party as a bunch of grapes, while my friend Gina was a Hershey’s kiss. Although her costume was more ingenious, I won the prize for best costume. A few years ago, when we moved Mama from our family’s home into a condo, I found my trophy featuring a smiling pumpkin on top.

In the late 1990s, what had been for us a time of simple pleasures, dressing up in costumes with friends and playing games, became associated with darker forces. Sure mischief had always been part of the Halloween mix, but good fun was all we were ever looking for. Some churches and other organizations began sponsoring “trunk-or-treating” instead of “trick-or-treating” because it was seen to be less spooky, less scary. At these events, church members give children candy and toys from the trunks of their cars.

Although going around a parking lot getting candy from car trunks during the daylight can be fun, there is just something more compelling about the simple pleasures of dressing up, and going door-to-door at night in your neighborhood.

As I was searching for pictures of Halloweens past, I found other photos from the many lives I have led: a photo of the University of Tennessee system-wide administration women losing a tug-of-war against the UT campus women in October 1985. That’s me in the Paris Match T-shirt in the middle of the losing side.

I also found a picture of my beautiful sister Lisa (at left below) who was matron-of-honor when I married my now ex-husband Brian. This was my second wedding, and you can see my then 7-year-old son Justin (center photo) taking a phone call at the event. He would grow up to marry Tracy, the daughter of my lovely friend, Vicky Martin (photo below right), who helped serve at the wedding. It can be a small world in South Knoxville!

My dear sister Lisa died in June and the mystery of her passing is something I will never quite understand. I was more sure of many things when I was younger and collected the thoughts of wise people who inspired me. I found two of these quotes today in one of my many scrapbooks.

It takes so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price . . . One has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms.

One has to embrace the world like a lover. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.

Morris L. West, from “The Shoes of the Fisherman”

Today my younger self is advising my older self to be open, not to be closed off. To risk the pain that comes with living. To risk the loss of those you love–those you cannot imagine that life can go on without. I cannot always take these ideas out of the closets of my mind. I take them out today, looking forward to tonight when I will hold my 10-month-old grandson Walker in my arms and give away Halloween candy to children on our front steps. Walker’s eyes will be bright. He will try to take in the scene of colorful outfits and laughter. He will try to understand the mysteries of the night, as will I.

When we were young, we put on our false faces and for a few hours visited the friends of our parents and grandparents who were utterly delighted with our costumes and our chorus of, “Trick or treat.” I remember fondly our grandparents’ across-the-street neighbors Alfred and Grace Cummings. Always with a smile for us children, these dear people made a difference in our lives no matter that they were just our loving cheerleaders. They believed in the good in us. They helped us believe in ourselves.

As an adult I “learned to play the violin in public” by getting divorced a few times. The first marriage was a disaster in many respects, but from it came my adorable son, Justin, who has traveled many roads with me. On Halloween 1989 in Ft. Worth, Texas, I helped Justin into his Halloween costume–he went as a scarecrow–and the next day, on All Saints Day, gave birth to his baby brother, Aidan, who gave us great joy. Sadly I could not find the photo of Justin in his costume, but I found a few of him from that time period: Justin in his baseball uniform and singing a solo at an elementary school event. Fantastic, talented, much-loved Justin!

In one of my scrapbooks I found a quote by opera singer Beverly Sills in 1981 as she spoke to graduates of Barnard College, an independent women’s college in New York City:

Women are told today they can have it all–career, marriage, children. You need a total commitment to make it work. Take a close look at your child. He doesn’t want you to be bright, talented, chic or smart–any of those things. He just wants you to love him. He will be the one who pays the price for your wanting to have it all. Think carefully about having that baby. Not to have it would be a great loss. To have it too late greatly increases the health hazards for you and the child. To have it without a commitment to it would be a great tragedy. There are two keys: one, believe in yourself; two, love. You must ooze it from every pore. Love your work, your husband and your child, not just to hear his needs but to feel his needs. For your husband you must reserve that 30th hour of the day when he has you all alone to himself. If you wonder when you’ll get time to rest, well, you can sleep in your old age if you live that long. You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.

Beverly Sills, opera star & impresario, May 1981

I never thought that I could have it all. Being born poor tends to ratchet down your expectations for taking over the world. Being female had it is own limitations, even though I have fought that reality for most of my life. Luckily for me, my husband Kurt does not feel threatened by a strong woman who has her own ideas.

The world has changed so much since I was young, but the fundamentals are the same: love deeply, profoundly, and passionately. Fight the fear. Flee the hatred. And open your door on Halloween.

~ 10/31/2022 – Anna

About aamontgomery

Seeing new possibilities in everyday things
This entry was posted in Autobiographical, Childhood, Courage, Family, Home, Ideas, Knoxville, Women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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