All About the Masks We Choose to Wear

“A mask tells us more than a face.” attributed to Oscar Wilde

This beautiful mask was made by my friend Andy Laighleis, a fellow writer and gifted painter and photographer.

No, I’m not jumping into the current great national mask debate. This post is about the masks that are pondered over, debated about, and selected. It is Halloween, after all.

I thought I’d do something a bit lighter this week, so as we stock up on candy (or maybe you go the non-candy route and give Halloween themed pencils and things), and await the ringing doorbell, what are some of your Halloween memories? Your favorite costume? Your favorite candy? I’ll go on record as admitting I actually liked the infamous Mary Janes and Bit-O-Honey, not as much as the chocolate, but okay enough to eat them.

One thing I remember about Halloween in Ohio, there was a good chance it would be cold, maybe even a few snowflakes. There was always the decision between how to dress in enough layers or a bulky coat and still get the costume on so everyone could see it, or put the coat on over the beautiful Cinderella dress – which sort of defeated the purpose of wearing the beautiful Cinderella dress with the sprinkling of glitter.

And the masks! The eye holes didn’t always line up with my eyes, making it a challenge to see, and because the holes for breathing were a bit small, condensation would gather on the inside. Or maybe some of it was sweat from being all bundled up, including a hat to ‘keep your head warm and the heat inside’ and also having the mask on.

I only remember a couple of my costumes– Cinderella, and Casper the Friendly Ghost. And apparently I was Mickey Mouse when I was a toddler because there’s a picture buried in a scrapbook somewhere.

In late elementary school, my sisters and I, and my friend Susan Spencer Cleland and her siblings, and a couple other neighborhood friends dressed up as Snow White (Susan), the hag (me), and the Seven Dwarfs for the city’s children’s Halloween parade. We won first place! Back then our town had two parades – one early in the day for children to dress up, and one in the evening with area high school bands, floats, and adult groups like Knights of Columbus and Kiwanis dressing up.

When my kids were younger we still did the neighborhood candy gathering, and we’d meet up with friends to hit one of the larger subdivisions since we lived out in the boonies. Living in the woods has its advantages, having neighbors giving out candy isn’t one of them. I once made my oldest a dinosaur costume, complete with a large tail, claws and feet. His younger siblings were clowns, but he won first place. The tradition was carried on. As they got older and I was the Youth Minister for our parish, Halloween prep and time went into the Youth Ministry fall festival and haunted hall. These kids were amazing in what they came up with as far as games, the hall set up, and their costumes. I think being a parent for Halloween was as much fun as being a kid.

Celebrations are a good mix of both door-to-door begging and festivals. There are more fall festivals and Trunk-N-Treat nights organized by churches, and trick-or-treating hours planned by neighborhood groups. Our neighborhood isn’t one of them. We used to be one of the places parents carpooled to, we’d go through 5-6 large bags of candy during the two hour scavenging. But the organized activities keep the stream of cars away. Now we don’t even bother buying candy. Well, maybe one bag so we can put together treats for the grands . . .  and the extra KitKats go in our freezer. The other stuff in their bags is healthier, like bat-shaped pretzels, mini cheese-puffs, and Welch’s Halloween character fruit snacks. Not nearly as exciting or decadent– or having the same bargaining power or trading equity–as Three Musketeers bars, Reese’s Cups, or Starbursts, but I want to make sure moms and dads still let Nana Kim have play days.

We miss seeing all the littles in their costumes. There were the expected witches, princesses, and super heroes, and then some creative original ones. I’m always curious how the kids choose the costumes they wear, and how much the costumes hit home with the child’s personality. Years ago my mom volunteered in the office of our parochial elementary school. One Halloween the students either got to wear their costumes to school, or mom helped with candy distribution at the convent – either way one little guy showed up dressed as the devil. I can still hear mom’s laugh telling the story because he was one of the orneriest boys in the school and was always in trouble.

I don’t post pics of my grands – even though they’re all adorable and sweet – but after last Halloween I wish I did. The local Three Little Guys were especially determined in their costume choosing; one was adamant about being a pumpkin, (Dad found one!), one was a fire truck (not simply a firefighter, but the truck), the third was Frodo Baggins and with his curly black hair, blue eyes–and a seamstress for a mom who made the vest, breeches, and cape complete with elfin clasp–even Elijah Wood would agree he had a doppelganger.  Each costume fit the child’s personality – the one who always checks to make sure everyone is happy, the one who likes being a helper, and the one who is always up for an adventure. None of their costumes had masks they couldn’t see through or got sweaty inside.

How about you? What do you remember from when you were a little goblin or fairy princess? What’s the holiday like for you now?

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