Memoir Contest Winner: The New Halloween by Linda Mussillo

by Matilda Butler on July 19, 2012

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #186 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett


While it’s great to try out new place for your Halloween trick-or-treating, sometimes that’s no place like home and Linda Mussillo reminds us in this week’s award-winning contest entry. Women’s Memoirs hopes you enjoy Linda’s story and invites you to leave her a comment.

In addition, if you like Linda’s story, you can 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.


Linda Mussillo
Halloween-memoir-Linda-Mussillo-son, memoir contest winnerThe Mad Scientist jumped out behind me.
“Bah, ha, ha! With this potion, I will rule the world.”
Because our neighborhood had widely spaced houses making for some hard trekking, many of our neighbors had given up on trick or treat. It was time to try a different neighborhood this Halloween. Our friends lived in one of those newish developments with its own clubhouse and pool that was meant to bring the community together into a kind of village. The homes, patched closely together by strips of yard, were all built on well-lit streets around a central square. It was just perfect for circumnavigating in search of treats.
When we got there, cars from other neighborhoods already lined the streets.
When our friends greeted us at their front door, they said, “You see? This is Halloween Mecca.”
First we had dinner — electric blue voodoo punch and Halloween pasta in the shapes of jack o’ lanterns, witch hats, and cats. My son admired the rubber rats and multi-legged bugs scampering on the kitchen countertops and the giant felt bat swinging overhead. Cobwebs hung from every light fixture and trailed their way into my pasta. When I needed the bathroom, a Terror Room sign dared me to enter. My Mad Scientist was mesmerized by it all, but especially by the two spooky holographic portraits over the dining room table – lean one way and you saw a refined gentlewoman and man – lean the other and a vampiress and skeleton appeared.
This was not our house at Halloween. No gravestones in our yard, no skeleton blocking the entrance to the living room, no witch’s broom in the corner. We had only one Halloween decoration — a carved pumpkin with the requisite “O” mouth – a “screaming pumpkin” said my son– which promptly lost half its features in a freak pulp-removal accident.
“Yip Yip.” Our friends’ small dog alerted us to the first early arrivers – four trick or treaters who already outnumbered the typical turn-out in our neighborhood. I knew it would be a long night for the dog.
“How did you celebrate Halloween when you were a kid?” asked our hosts.
My husband, who has repressed most of his childhood, couldn’t remember a shred of his Halloween experiences, but I remembered a few Halloweens vaguely. On one of them, I wore a store-bought witch costume with a cheap molded plastic mask complete with elastic band. I never had a homemade costume. I recall vividly that I trick or treated for about a 10-block radius with a girlfriend around my age. I must have been 8 or 9, my son’s age.
“And I don’t think it was really any safer then.” 

“I would never, ever dream of sending my daughter out on her own,” said our hostess, who confessed to having also worn the molded plastic mask variety of costume.
“I never really celebrated Halloween at all,” said our male host. “My mother thought it was wrong, a day of the dead, a day you could maybe put a flower on a gravestone, but certainly not celebrate it.”
Perhaps that explained why his house now looked like the Prince of Darkness lived in it.
“We wait until after Halloween and hit the sales,” he said, explaining all the decorations.
I had spent weeks planning and putting together my son’s costume. My mother, for whom the purchase of the store-bought costume represented both a physical and financial effort, would have been stunned. Exactly one month before Halloween, I snagged a lab coat at the Goodwill. Three weeks in advance, I ordered an Einstein crazy wig. I popped the lenses out of 3-D glasses we’d snatched at a movie and co-opted some Groucho-style eyebrows from a pair of old-time big-nosed glasses. Then I scared up a small rubber mouse and a plastic spider for his pockets, and created an eyeball for another pocket using a ping-pong ball and a Sharpie. I searched vainly for a flask in every nearby thrift shop. It was clearly not a standard item. An old plastic packing tube that once held some panties became an improvised test tube. Voila! With a bit of food coloring in some water, green of course, the Mad Scientist had the perfect chemical formula to defeat the world or at least to risk dying his pants green forever.
While my husband and I were content to set our Mad Scientist loose without dressing up ourselves, it seemed de rigueur in this neighborhood for parents to dress up too. Our family of friends had decided to go as one of many coteries of Harry Potter characters—the best was Snape looking a bit like Ozzie Osborne in drag.
One too many voodoo punches later, and I was ready to concede that wearing a sign saying “Muggle” might be more spirited, and off we went into the busy, still-light night. Children streamed up and down paths, but the adults in costume attracted my attention even more than the kids did. My favorites were a frilly Bo Peep, a macabre clown, and a couple dressed as a bottle of ketchup and mustard.
To cope with the onslaught, some of the neighbors had set up serve yourself honor systems with a  giant bowl or caldron often accompanied by a freaky character with a sign admonishing “Take one or else!” Other neighbors were sitting outside on their porches or lawn chairs dolling out the goodies – one or two to a customer at most: “Here’s one for you and one for your sister…” Our friends had purchased five bags of loot in ascending quality, lollipops at the low end and chocolates at the high end, and expected to give all of it out. Waiting at my home were my own two bags, but I knew I needed less than one. I had chosen the good stuff though, the Hershey’s and the Reese’s and the chocolate pumpkin variety bag over the sweet tarts and the lollies and the gum. If there were the expected leftovers, these would get at least partially consumed by us, I reasoned.
We rated the houses as we walked. The Halloween lights on a few of them rivaled Christmas in Brooklyn. “This one gets the most festive award,” said my son. In one window, a stooped figure with a craggy, distorted face rocked and cackled while kids intrepidly or boldly met his glance. “That’s my brother,” said the host as he handed out his single pieces of candy. “We only let him out of the closet on Halloween.” Several kids were so transfixed they couldn’t leave the porch. Another house’s porch boasted a skeleton in a moving rocking chair. “Most creative use of a skeleton,” piped my son. Then came a stretch of quiet houses. Not just quiet as in no decorations, but quiet as in deserted. “These houses make me sad,” said our friend Snape as he heralded us past. “There’s a bunch of families here who go to the ROCK.” The ROCK I discovered, is a born-again evangelical congregation whose followers believe Halloween is a devil’s holiday, not unlike our host’s mother’s sentiments. I decided not to explain all of this to my Jewish son.
Up and down the walks we went, my son trying to cleave to the sidewalk rather than stride on lawns like most of the pack.

In usual mother-style patter, I said: “One piece at a time.” “Remember to say Trick or Treat.” “Always say thank you.”

“I am, I am,” he entreated.

Occasionally I heard his outfit receive a compliment or comment. “Oh Mad Scientist. What is that in your test tube?” But mostly, it was a dull chorus of “Trick or Treat” “Thank you,” followed by the quick padding of feet to the next feeding trough.

Remarkably though, I frequently heard this exchange: “How about a trick or treat?” from a host being greeted by nothing more than an open bag or sack or pillow case. Usually these were the older children being chided.  I witnessed one such horde without bemusement. One youngster had conceded to wear a football shirt, another an ”A” shirt while he carried a baseball bat cum weapon in his pillow case. The other two miscreants had on pajamas. Once I heard someone say, “And what are you supposed to be anyway?” “Oh, we’re Muggles,” he retorted, making me want to rip my MUGGLE badge off. Later, I saw that the same crew had made the full circuit of houses and were on their second go round. So much for Halloween etiquette, if there is such a thing.
Back home we sorted the spoils as is our usual Halloween tradition. When it came down to it, despite all the glitz and action, this probably wasn’t such a great haul. In our neighborhood you had to work and walk to get it, but once you got to a candy oasis, the home owner was generally quite generous, dolling out a large handful they were eager to part with. Often, they were thrilled to have a trick or treater at all, and usually took the time to comment on the outfit or chat awhile.
We’d only been home a few minutes when the doorbell chimed. A neighbor we knew well was stopping by to trick or treat and we heaved out two big handfuls of quality chocolate – not the cheap stuff – and we compared costumes and caught up. She was our only trick or treater that night. After she left, we ate some of our own good stuff, which may have led to my sugar-induced dream:  tweens wielding lollipops as weapons converged on my home, but I narrowly escaped on my broomstick into the night.

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