‘A Simple Costume can do the trick. And get the treat.’
I blame it on The Headless Horseman. This was a Halloween costume I thought up, oh, when I was nearing the end of my trick-or-treating career. Like, when I was about 11. Appearing ‘headless’ involved poking the ends of my Mom’s yardstick through the sleeves of her ‘borrowed’ raincoat and balancing said yardstick on top of my covered-with-a-scarf head. The dangling ends of the sleeves were safety-pinned to a pair of Dad’s utility gloves, one of which was attached (somehow, the details are a bit fuzzy now) to a carved Jack-o-Lantern, so it looked like the Headless Horseman was carrying his head. I mean, if you were very young and impressionable or old and almost blind it looked like the Headless Horseman was carrying his head. But that was good enough for me.
You see, we Henrys were a family of Costume Makers. As opposed to Costume Buyers. I don’t think my parents were the type to buy, much less encase me, in a teensy infant Devil Onesie. But maybe they did, and I was just too little to know about it. If they did, they didn’t take any pictures. Thank the Lord.
Back to The Headless Horseman. A long night of balancing an increasingly-heavy Jack-o-Lantern ‘head’ in the crook of my arm convinced me that simpler costumes were the way to go. And even though I was getting Too Old for Trick-or-Treating myself, I had plenty of chances to help think some up. One of these was concocted for my brother Roger (I thought at one time it was for Doug, but Roger set the record straight for me last weekend). This was The Bag.
I wasn’t actually the brain behind The Bag (was it Scott? Dad?), but it was a doozy. The original idea was to have Roger ‘go’ as a Money Bag. (“What are you ‘going as’ for Halloween?” was what we kids asked each other every year.) We Big Kids (Scott and I, both Too Old to Trick-or-Treat) volunteered to place said Money Bag in our red wagon and ferry Roger around the neighborhood, thus saving wear and tear on The Parents and, a key benefit for us, scoring a share of the treats for our efforts.
Somehow, somewhere, we procured a large — very large — burlap bag. We put Roger inside, tied the top with rope and, to make it look like it was full of money, stuffed the bag full of crumpled newspapers. (The image of my Dad, burning cigarette dangling from his lip, wadding up paper and stuffing it around my little brother is forever seared upon my brain.) Then we cut a slit in the front for treat-reception, and stuck a hand-drawn dollar sign on the front. (This later fell off, so, instead of The Money Bag, Roger was just The Bag.)
Well, The Bag was not only big, it was a big hit. We’d pull the wagon up to a front door with the porch light on (the universal symbol for a house stocked with treats), dump Roger on the stoop, ring the doorbell, then go hide (and watch). Roger had been instructed to stay absolutely silent (for some reason Scott and I thought a Silent Bag was hilarious). He was just supposed to stick his hand out and signal with it:
Neighbor Lady, on opening door: ”Wow, what a clever costume! What are you, sweetheart?’
Neighbor Lady: ‘Um, I guess you’re a…bag?’
Roger: (silently waving hand up and down, for ‘yes’)
NL: ”Well, how many of you are in there?’
Roger: (still silent, displaying two fingers)
NL: ”Well, Harold. Better put two of those Milky Ways in there.’
(If the Neighbor Lady was giving out oranges, Roger displayed just one finger.)
Scott and I had a tense moment when one Neighbor Lady was so taken with The Bag that she got her husband to haul it inside. Turns out she just wanted to take a picture. Whew.
I kept the Simple Costume tradition alive throughout my Young-Adult-Invited-to-Halloween-Parties phase, once memorably donning a black dress and carrying a bottle of Chanel #5 to impersonate Catherine Deneuve for a come-as-a-TV-character party:
Guest Wearing Howdy-Doody Costume: ‘Who are you supposed to be?’
Me (with corny ‘French accent’): ‘Helloooo…I’m Catherine (tilting head to the side while looking at perfume bottle) De-noooove’
Of course, all this Simple Costume stuff went to Hell in a Handbasket when The Child came on the scene. I think it was The Strawberry that started it all (see photo, above). Thank goodness I had a Hershey shoot that October. In Flagstaff, Arizona, of all places. (But that’s a story for another post.) At any rate, I was able to delegate Strawberry Costume Duty to the inestimable Doris, The Child’s babysitter and craftsperson extraordinaire. She whipped up that Strawberry like there was no tomorrow.
But, in later years, I was personally responsible for The Number 2 Pencil and The Park Bench (See “Be afraid. Be very afraid”), and these — The Pre-War Building and The Bloomie’s Bag (I guess I had a thing for bag costumes):
Alas, I also have no picture of the simplest — and the quickest. This costume was concocted when The Child was, say, 5 or 6. I know she was in her hate-my-socks phase, because she was in the midst of taking forever hatefully putting them on one morning when I found this note in her backpack:
‘For Halloween tomorrow your daughter may wear a simple costume to school.’
Well, it was Halloween today, and I had five minutes before the bus showed up. So I grabbed a magic marker, drew the symbol for ‘fish’ on the front of a white tee-shirt, stuffed the shirt and one of The Dude’s surgical masks into her backpack, and told her:
‘Put these on when you get to school and tell everyone who asks that you’re a Sturgeon.’
New York City. October 2014