Jen Jeffrey: Trick-Or-Treat Memories

Sunday, October 20, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

A Kentucky autumn, the weather was cool and the leaves on the ground crunched when I walked through them. I was finally old enough to go trick-or-treating with my three sisters. My oldest sister had a home-made costume because she was too cool to wear the masks with cut-outs for eyes and held on by an elastic band. My other sisters and I wore a store-bought, vinyl tie-on smock decorated to match the masks we wore. I have no idea why, but my mask was a frog. Not just any frog – but a happy frog with the widest grin. I think it was chosen for me because I wasn’t particularly fond of frogs.

I didn’t mind the smell of the new vinyl that was cool and stiff at first but then it became sticky and hot against the clothes that I had on underneath. I didn’t understand why I had to wear clothes under my costume. I thought I could make a better frog if I didn’t have clothes on under the plastic drape that mimicked a ‘see your hiney’ hospital gown, but Mama dressed me from head to toe before I put on my costume.

The mask was not much better. The one-size-fits-all claim was not true. I, being the youngest of the clan, had a smaller face and the eye holes never lined up properly for both of my eyes. I could only see out of one hole and, when the elastic (which was not tight enough to hold my mask securely) had inched its way down, I found myself holding my head back just to see through one of the openings. As I held my big sister’s hand and clutched my pillow-case for my candy, I tried to walk in the over-sized heat wrap and I had quite a time keeping up with my longer-legged sisters.

As we went door to door in our neighborhood, we rang the doorbell of many strangers’ houses. I was already informed by Mama not to eat anything until Daddy could look it over. Though my childhood was a safer time than today, we still had to watch out for ‘needles in our apples’. When I took Mama’s warnings to heart, I couldn’t help but wonder just who the bad people were who might poison my apples. Each house we came upon, my sisters rang the doorbell and yelled out excitedly, “Trick-or-tre-e-eat!”

I was busy taking in the strangers at the door who seemed like giants as they bent down to give me candy. My eyes were fixed on them as I tried to tell the difference between a good person and a bad person. My sisters had to remind me to open my pillowcase and to say, ‘thank you’ when candy was dropped in. I wanted to see right away what candy they had given me because I wanted the orange, yellow and white candy that were shaped like a witch’s fingernail. Mama called it candy corn but the only part that looked like corn to me was after I bit off the orange part and the fat end had the yellow corn-looking nibble that I could affix on my tooth pretending I had a big, yellow tooth.

I also liked the waxed lips and the waxed Coca-Cola bottles that had juice inside. I knew that Daddy wanted my Snickers, so I hoped that I would get a lot of those so that he would like my candy the best. Daddy got to go through all of our bags of candy to ‘make sure it was okay’, but I think it was mostly to pull out the Snickers from our bag after we did the work to get it – kind of like paying taxes.

When I was a new mother and my children were wee-small, I was afraid of the world corrupting them. It was my job to protect them and keep them from any harm. I was a young mother and very naïve, but I also attended a small Baptist church and I took everything the preacher said to heart. It was almost like Mama telling me about the bad people who put needles in apples as I listened to a preacher preach on the evils of the world. I bought into the black and white thinking so much that life just didn’t seem joyful anymore.

I had sent a note to my twin’s kindergarten teacher telling her that I did not want my children coloring or crafting anything to do with Halloween because it was against our religion. I thought I was being a good mother. My church offered something called “Harvest Fest” where the children could dress in “nice character” costumes and have a carnival-type setting of games and fun. The idea was to have a safe and fun alternative to Halloween as the world was getting scarier and more mischievous.

It was not an accident when I became a mother so young – I wanted children right away and it was the one thing that I felt I did well. Somehow, I was mature enough to raise my babies and enjoy being a mom, but a lesson I learned as I ‘grew up’ with my children, was to have balance and not go to the extreme. Sure, we were very active in church and lived an honest life, but it didn’t mean that we were not ‘good Christians’ if I let my kids color witches and goblins and have fun like the rest of the children. I was instilling that same fear into my children that my mother instilled in me with the bad apples and bad people.

It was good to warn our kids of danger, but I had to learn how to do that without passing on unnecessary fear. I can only imagine the teacher’s thoughts when she read my note to her that must have seemed like handing her my children wrapped in barbed-wire. She may have thought I was crazy or she may have felt sad that my children were harmed more by my singling them out, than to color a scary cat or Frankenstein.

A couple of years later, when my youngest son was old enough to go trick-or-treating, I finally came to grips that whatever was out there in the world to harm them that I could not protect them from every single thing. I have watched mothers drown their children in anti-bacterial gel on a constant basis and, children cannot build up a strong immune system. This is the same concept. I had to learn that a little protection was good but not to be a ‘heli-copter mother’ and hover over my children putting fear in their lives or singling them out.

Yes, we were Christian, but we were also human and living in a human world. I finally lightened up and let my kids be kids - just like I was able to be. Yes, the times have changed since my childhood, but if we raise our children with values and to make good decisions and allow them to make them – we cannot control so much that we don’t give them room to make their mistakes or to learn as they go.

I had fun dressing my kids up. Sometimes, they got the same type of vinyl costume and masks that I wore and sometimes we made our own costumes. It was fun to let them experience going door to door for candy that their daddy and I got to inspect… and snatch their Snickers.

When my twins were grown and my youngest was a teenager still at home, Halloween was an even bigger event for us. We really got into decorating and we had a good crowd of trick-or-treaters – well over a hundred. We lived in Mountain Shadows in East Brainerd and the kids would leave saying, “That was the best house!”  It wasn’t that I had the biggest house, but that I involved the kids and opened up my home to them and put effort in making things fun.

I dressed up and had a table outside with homemade cupcakes, Kool-Aid and lemonade. We had all sorts of hand-grabbing toys that made noise or jumped out as you passed by to get candy. It was harmless fun and only meant to give a small thrill - we were not ‘celebrating the devil’s holiday’ (or doing anything that would send us to his dwelling). Our hearts were to give of ourselves and show the neighborhood kids a fun time. My kid’s step-dad would even hitch up an open trailer, fill it with hay and pull his grandkids on a hay-ride to trick-or-treat through the neighborhood of many hills. Neighborhood kids would jump on when they were tired after walking up several of the hills.

Last year in Mama’s neighborhood, there was not one trick-or-treater. As she and I now live together, I don’t expect we will involve ourselves in any merriment this year. I know many churches offer “Trunk-or-treat” activities for children and some neighborhoods still may go all out with the festivities. Now, my grandchildren are experiencing the joys of dressing up and getting candy and I will leave it my kids to give my grandchildren the same fun memories that they had (but I guess I will have to buy my own Snickers).

What were your favorite memories of Halloween festivities? Write in and tell me, I would enjoy hearing about them!

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