Cardboard Trees and Vampire Memories

With my favorite holiday, Halloween, coming down the pike in a little under two weeks, It’s made me reflect on my Halloween experiences from my youth. I’m a child of the Seventies, which means that I grew up during an interesting cultural transition time. Things will never be the same, naturally, but a lot of what made up the memories of my youth have not merely morphed into something else, but disappeared all together. Some for the better… some, not. The ability to sew, comes to mind.

One of my favorite family traditions took place every year, right about this time. I would have gotten into my Mom’s powder blue, 1971 Pontiac, and we would have driven to the mill store to pick out a pattern and fabric. It was time to get the costume all worked out. The two of us would find a seat in the little alcove filled with monstrously thick books and then pour over them, looking for just the right one for Trick or Treating. The only real limiting factor was that, living in northern New England, I had to be able to fit a winter parka underneath it.

Eventually, I’d pick the design and then the two of us would set off and search the piles of colorful fabric bolts, looking for the best matches. Purchases in hand, we’d go home and start putting it together. I say “we”, but in truth, it was mostly Mom who did the work. That’s not to say I wouldn’t help if I could, but like most children who offer to “help” Mom or Dad, I tended to make things go slower, rather then faster. My end of the project usually involved standing on a stool and worrying about being stuck with straight pins.

Every year, my mother would create some amazing costume out of nothing but some bundles of cloth, a tissue paper pattern and her Singer, electric sewing machine. Over the years, I had been successfully been kitted out as a ghost, a mouse, a vampire (at least twice), a shark, the Headless Horseman and no doubt a few others that escape me, but those are the fabric based costumes that I can recall.

A few costumes however, required more than ability with sewing. It required cardboard.

The first of these rigid costumes that I remember was the year I went as Pac Man. That wasn’t too hard to work out. Two large pieces of heavy yellow card stock cut into circles, minus a wedge for the mouth and attach it all at the edge. Holes for arms and a few to spy out of and there you go! Hardly the most involved costume, but hey, we’re talking Pac Man during the early eighties, here! I thought it was awesome and I was not alone.

The next idea was a lot harder and drew heavily on her bulletin board construction skills. Luckily, as a Junior High teacher, she had a lot to draw upon.

I wanted to be a tree.

A TREE! Where did I come up with these ideas? A lot of rolled cardboard, construction paper and Sharpie markers later, I was the spitting image of a maple tree in full foliage. That is, as long as all the maple trees you had seen were about five feet tall and made of cardboard and construction paper. I remember walking down the road at a tight legged shuffle, dropping leaves as I went and trying to spot them through the slot I peeked out of and skooching down to pick up my wayward, leafy appendages. Now I knew how a tree must feel as they shed their hard made mantle each autumn.

Eventually, of course, I stopped going out Trick or Treating and moved my efforts to scaring the beegeebees out of the kids who came to our house, begging for candy. Nothing too over the top… but fun. Then, like life does, things got busy and with a move to an apartment with my then girlfriend/now wife, we simply didn’t get Trick or Treaters or didn’t participate. After a few years and a succession of moves, we wound up on our little island where Halloween is once again something to revel in. All my creative costume juices, having long since dried up and turned to powder, were reconstituted by the flood of scary fun and enjoyment that is the norm out here. I was back in the scary business!

The first year, I simply dressed up as a Mad Scientist. White lab coat, spiky hair wig, goggles and high black gloves completed the look. It was believable and easy to assemble. I took on the roll with great enjoyment and did my best to scare kids a bit. Times have changed since the 70’s though, and kids simply don’t spook as easily. Next year, I’d do better. Much better. I was into this now.

The next year I threw my self into this project. With the materials and equipment at hand, I set aside the time to craft a huge skull… thing. Made out of clay, I patterned the basic shape on a horse’s skull. With the addition of sharp, tyrannosaur-like teeth and a more menacing brow, no lower jaw and a black robe that draped over the entire shebang and I had created a large and freaky looking monster wraith. I named him Tony.

I put the robed skull on two hinged, five-foot poles, one pole in front and the other in the back of the skull. What this meant was that Tony, when worn by me, could be moved like he was on a long neck. Held straight up, I was easily nine feet tall. If I wanted to go get close to someone, all that was needed was to swing Tony forward and I could be in your face in a split second. Add some glowing eyes and I had an instant kid magnet and/or repeller.

As I wandered around the neighborhood, I noticed that I was almost irresistible specifically to young boys. They were terrified of the giant monster but couldn’t resist getting a closer look. At one point, a nine-year-old pirate decided that he needed to exhibit his bravado to me and the others in the area. As I floated along down the road, he followed at what he thought was a safe distance calling, “I’m not afraid of you! You can’t scare me!”

In one fluid motion, I swung the head around and down to within a few inches of the pirate and scraped my vocal cords to emit the best, “Depth of Hell” sound I could muster. It was hard to see out from behind the black cloth that covered me but I could just make out his ragged pirate butt as he ran in full-screaming flight, down the street. On the sidewalk, now standing alone, was his father. For a brief second, I thought I was going to be in deep trouble. Then, with both hands cupped around his mouth, the man yelled to his fleeing son, “Run, Forrest! Run!” Hey, we live on an island. How far can he go?

This year, it’s Short Stacks turn to go out and collect candy. It’s his first real Halloween experience. We didn’t know if he would quite understand the idea behind a costume, but we asked him for his pick. With out hesitation, he made his pick. We’ve asked him several other times, just to be sure. He is.

He wants to be a dump truck.

It seems that so far as costume ideas go, the apple does not fall to far from the cardboard tree. At least the dump trucks don’t. Dear Lord. I better not bring up the idea of a Dump truck Tree. He’d want that instead. Now where’s my utility knife and duct tape?

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3 Responses

  1. I’m highly impressed by the Tony head. You are a very crafty man indeed and it looks as if your talents will come in handy in the next few years.

    You should make sure to collect old disgusting garbage and make it simmer a bit so that you can add a smell effect to the truck. I think it would be killer!

    I’ll pass on the stinky garbage. Good though, though it was!
    I like Tony. He came out better than I had envisioned. The funny part is when I store him away in the basement, after Halloween has passed. He hangs on a hook at eye level, waiting to make someone jump. 😉
    -TP

  2. Wow, but you had an imaginative childhood experience! I was born just a “few years” earlier in 65 and we had the carbon copy store masks that were all molded the same way. 2 eyes and a slit mouth to breathe by, plus an enormous rubber band to keep it on your face! In Michigan, most Halloweens were already way cold weather so we had to cover up the lower costume part with a winter coat! I hope you post pictures of short stack’s costume. I’d like to see how his dump truck turns out.

    Oh, it was cold in New Hampshire too! A prerequisite of every costume was that it had to fit over a down jacket. As for the costumes you remember, I’ll happily direct you here. It’s one of my favorite sites and sums things up perfectly. If you’ve never heard of Homestar Runner, you’re in for a treat! If you have… well, you’re still in for a treat!
    -TP

  3. I was a pirate for a few years, but then started to get my sister’s dance recital castoffs. Great stuff: giant caterpillar, tinman, snoopy, … Those dancers have all the good costumes.

    Raiding the wardrobe department?! BRILLIANT! We don’t have a dance company around here, but we do have a theater group! I’m not sure if I should go with the “Tevia” costume or the “Willy Loman” costume. Hmmm.
    -TP

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