There’s a lot of nostalgia this time of year for the way things used to be. In some ways things were better and in some ways worse. When I look at the Halloween costumes kids have today, I am impressed; they light up, have parts that move or play recorded sound effects—really superior to what I had as a kid.
Growing up in the ’60s we had two categories of costumes: homemade and store-bought. Store-bought costumes were all made of the cheapest, thinnest fabric in existence. If it were any thinner, it would be spray. They were all sewn just well enough to stay together in the box, but started to shred when you put them on. All the costumes were based on cartoon or movie characters. You could gauge the popularity of a show by how many Batmans showed up at the door. After one night of trick or treat, the costumes were reduced to panels of unraveling threads. All the costumes had a tie at the back of the neck. It never tied tight and one string would reliably break on the third try. Your mother would use a big diaper pin, one with a yellow duck head on it (if you remember those diaper pins, you are officially middle-aged), to secure the costume: it would tear the fabric but hold until the end of the night.
But the real hardship in those days of yore, were the masks. They were all firm plastic. Hard enough to break if stepped on, and thin enough to cut your face. Usually, your mother had to cut the eye holes out more so the edges of the eye holes didn’t scratch. Visibility was limited to what was directly in front of you, no peripheral vision. If you were looking down to avoid stumbling over the lawn gnomes, you hit your head on the Welcome sign, and if you were looking up to steer yourself towards the porch, you tripped over the edge of the walkway. All the kids were staggering all over, looking like groups of very short drunks.
These masks usually had a small hole for the mouth, but no openings for your nostrils. It had the effect of holding in moisture from your breath so that the inside of the mask was like a sauna. You had to periodically lift the mask to get oxygen and the air would hit your hot wet face like a cold towel. Although you needed the fresh air, you couldn’t wait to get the warm mask back on. It was a real catch-22 situation.
The masks were held on by a single elastic string with sharp metal tabs at each end that went through holes in the side of the mask. The strings popped out easily, and one of the rites of passage in childhood at that time was to be able to wiggle that metal tab through that tiny hole and repair your own mask without asking your mother for help. Often, as you were putting the mask on, the elastic string would slip loose and snap you in the face. Many an eye came close to being put out by metal tabs traveling at Mach One.
We all carried these big paper shopping bags with twine handles that, like the costumes they matched, were designed to last only a few short hours.
First, one side would break and you’d have to carry your bag with one intact loop and one loose string. Within an hour of the first loop’s breaking, the second loop went and we all came home trying to carry a heavy bag with two short lengths of twine.
Ahh, the good old days. Well, maybe not that good…