Memoir Contest Winner: Puttin On the Mask by Ronda Armstrong

by Matilda Butler on June 7, 2012

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #183 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

FIRST PLACE WINNER for Halloween Memoir Contest — From an Adult’s Perspective Category

Childhood fears of masks are finally overcome with the help of a friend. Kendra and I are pleased to publish Ronda’s story, the first place winner in the Adult’s Perspective Category October 2011 Memoir Writing Contest.

If you like Ronda’s story, be sure to click the LIKE button (Thumbs Up icon) at either the top or the botton of this page. We appreciate knowing you enjoyed the story and the author does as well. We invite you to leave Ronda a note in the Comments section.

If you like to write memoir and like food, we invite you to click for details. We hope you’ll enter our Food Mention and Recipe contest — deadline is July 1.


by Ronda Armstrong

In 1956, I knew precisely what I wanted to be for the Halloween party at kindergarten.

“A clown!” I announced to my mom.

My inspiration? The upbeat clown in a favorite book, The Little Engine that Could.

Mom’s eyes twinkled. “Better get busy turning you into one!”

Ronda-Armstrong, memoir contest winner, memoir and HalloweenShe found a pattern and stitched up a cheerful clown outfit in red, white, and green gingham. Saddle shoes and a jolly full-face clown mask, with a petite top hat attached, finished my look.                      

Numerous times before Halloween I donned the costume and paraded through the house, practicing, “Hello, I’m Ronda the clown!” 

Every time I stopped at the wall calendar in the kitchen. “How many more days, Mom?” 
“Let’s count together,” she said. “One, two, three…” 
Finally, the day arrived. 
Photos snapped of me at home while modeling my costume, and during the Halloween party at school, captured a happy clown but not the full story. My spirits took a spill when I discovered an unexpected fact: masks posed a communication problem for me, a child with hearing loss in both ears. Masks muffled voices, making it difficult to hear and understand what was said. With faces covered I couldn’t read lips, a survival strategy I counted on. My soft voice and hearing-related speech errors made matters worse. When I wore a mask no one could understand me either. 

Ronda-Armstrong, memoir author, memoir writing contest
The year following my stint as a clown, another obstacle arose. Putting on a Halloween mask created a strong association with the ether mask I remembered from my earliest childhood surgeries, conjuring up unpleasant memories and hospital antiseptic smells. Striving to be like my peers in elementary school, I endured dressing up for Halloween. Other kids ripped off their masks as soon as possible to dig into the candy. More than sampling sweets, I wanted to be rid of the dreaded mask and get my bearings back.

Life improved when I began wearing a hearing aid in my teens, but easier communication did little to dissipate my dislike of masks.

As an adult, I avoided masquerade parties. “That’s not my thing,” I said when invited. 

Or, “I have plans,” and made sure I did.

A few times I relented, dressing in simple attire, but one guideline stayed firm: no mask. 

One day when I was in my late fifties, Halloween parties came up during a chat with a friend. After listening to my litany of laments, she looked at me quizzically. “Ronda, does that make any sense?” I wondered what she’d say next.

“You’ve worn dance costumes for years!” She continued, “You wear contacts for dances, not glasses, and you cope with your hearing loss just fine.”

Oh, dear. A friend caring enough to point out the concealed truth. Donning elaborate ballroom dance costumes, jewelry, and makeup for showcases and competitions shared many similarities to dressing up in masquerade for Halloween parties. In the space of a short conversation, reasons vanished for my longtime tale of woe.  

Soon after, Castle Club, one of several dance organizations to which my husband Bill and I belong, announced a “Masquerade” theme for their October event. 

Bill responded, with no hesitation whatsoever, “I know what I’ll be!”

Somehow I knew what was coming. “What?’

“A clown!”

“You’re already a clown,” I said.

He laughed, undeterred as he gleefully located the multicolored clown wig stuffed in the back of a dresser drawer and plopped it on his bald head. He gazed in the mirror and described what he planned to purchase — a red clown nose that squeaked and a giant bow tie. 
“I’ll be a clown in formal wear,” he concluded, after deciding to wear his long tail tux coat. 

One clown in the family was enough and Bill fit the part. Making others smile constituted one of his big goals in life. His trademark hearty laughter often trailed over a gathering’s background buzz.

Catching Bill’s enthusiasm, I pondered my costume options.

“So what have you decided?” Bill asked.

I smiled, “Since you’re going as yourself…..I’ll go as myself — an angel.”

“That’s perfect! Others often call you a caring angel.”

Ronda-Armstrong, memoir writing contest winner, memoir contestA white ball gown, stashed in my closet, sparked my imagination. It featured delicate inlays of pale pink and decorative silver sparkles sewn into the bodice and the full sweeping skirt. The ruffle running down the full-length sleeves resembled angel wings. Silver wrapping wire, adorned with stars, twisted into a round halo for my head. 

Fun inventing my costume stopped when I considered a mask. “What would an angel wear?”  

I searched costume stores, dollar stores, and department stores with no luck finding a suitable mask.

After decades of not enjoying Halloween as a costumed participant, I refused to give up the chance to wear a mask. Time was ticking. I rifled through drawers of odds and ends, discovering a hand full of mid-sized decorative stars, fashioned with silver sequins. Recalling plain, white half masks for sale at a dollar store, I hurried back to the store, purchased one, then tacked the silver stars in strategic spots around the edge of the mask.

“Will this work?” I asked the two resident cats peering at me curiously from their spots on the bed. I held it up to my gown hanging on the closet door. 

I threw my arms in the air, “Yes!”

A short time later I gingerly stepped into my gown, fastened the glittery choker around my neck, pinned the halo to my hair, and slipped my feet into sparkling silver shoes. Time to put on the mask. Hands trembling, I slid it over my head and turned toward the mirror. An angel stared back. Below the mask, an expansive smile crossed my face.

At the ball, Bill and I were dubbed “The Clown and The Angel.” We danced, posed for photos, and laughed a lot. Most of all, masquerading unveiled a miracle for me — a happy Halloween story once again. 

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Ronda Armstrong is a lifelong Midwesterner, growing up in Kansas, and then moving to Iowa thirty-six years ago. After she retired from her school social work career four years ago, she started devoting more time to writing — primarily true stories, essays, and meditations. 
A number of her pieces have been published in the DES MOINES REGISTER, in several CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books, in Midwest anthologies from Shapato Publishing, and in NURTURING PAWS from Whispering Angel Press. She is also part of the writing team at Ronda invites you to leave her a message in the Comments section. She’ll be glad to be in contact with you. 


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