Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween Past and Present

I was talking to child #2, a rambunctious 12-year-old boy, about Halloween. He was stuck, not having any blessed idea as to what he could dress up as for his favorite holiday. I suggested my old standby, a hobo.
“What’s a hobo, Mom?”

“Well, it’s a guy who rides the rails with a pouch attached to a stick, his worldly belongings in the pouch.”

“Why is he riding the rails? And what are rails?”

“The railroad. He’s riding because he’s got the traveling jones. And no job.”

“So, he’s homeless.”

“Yes, I guess you could call him that.”

“Mom, that’s not very politically correct.”

Suffice it to say that we were in the car, on our way to Party City to purchase a costume before I could go into the politics of Herbert Hoover, explain what “Hooverville” was, or why the Great Depression created more hobos than any other historical event in our nation’s history.

We purchased a gladiator costume, true meaning of which child #2 did not know either. When he donned it, and I pretended to be a Christian hiding from the Romans who would surely throw me to the lions, he looked confused and singularly unimpressed by my acting performance. I was still bristling over the fact that we had to buy a costume and was trying to make the best of a less-than-stellar situation.

All of this talk of costumes got me thinking about my costumes of the past. Thanks to a very creative aunt and a genius of a seamstress across the street from my house, I had some pretty wonderful get ups. Here’s a sampling with only one picture. Very few pictures exist because…well, I could lie…but my mom got lazy with the camera. (Sorry, Mom!)

1. Rudy Vallee: My ingenious aunt found a size 60 beaver coat that had belonged to her Aunt May. I donned that, even though it was about three hundred sizes too big, was given a pennant to wave, a megaphone to carry, a hat to wear and sneakers to put on my feet and I was transformed into the megaphone crooner of the 1920s. So what that nobody knew who I was, this being the mid-70’s? I was dressed unlike any other trick or treater and was in my glory.

2. A Can-Can girl: My seamstress neighbor had made a dozen or so Can-Can girl outfits for a church show that was being mounted at St. Catherine’s (my home parish) and tailored one costume so that it fit my pre-teen body to a tee. Mom curled my hair and let me go crazy with the blue eye shadow and poof! Insta-Can-Can girl. I went to a Halloween party at the roller rink where I certainly would have won first place—even the cool girls thought so—but since I couldn’t skate and was unable to sashay around the judges, I wasn’t even entered. Another one of life’s shattering disappointments.

3. A Nun: No Catholic childhood would be complete without a few hours dressed as a nun or a priest. In my case, I was fully habited in a floor-length habit with a white rope around my waist. Think six-year-old flying nun and you’ll get a visual. A whole gaggle of us neighborhood girls—thanks to the creativity of the aforementioned seamstress neighbor—were transformed into a little squad of sisters, trolling the neighborhood for candy. The interesting thing? No one looked twice—maybe because there was a convent in our town?

Here’s a shot of the Can-Can outfit, my siblings, and the neighbor kids (the ones whose mom crafted most of our costumes). See, not a store-bought one among them. Those were the days, right?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. I've always said about Maggie: she certainly can Can-Can!

    You should get your little man to watch two movies:

    My Man Godfrey
    Sullivan's Travels

    In truth, My Man Godfrey is the more important film in the canon, but Sullivan's Travels deals with the American Hobo, too.

  2. My grandmother could sew up a storm, and she often made our costumes for the Children's Day pageants in Chautauqua during the summers. So we'd reuse those for Halloween, and we did look pretty spectacular! Yeah, no costumes from the racks of Target, not back then (I don't think there were Targets back then!). You're a cute can-can girl, Maggie. I would've known that smiling face anywhere! :-)

  3. Maggie, I made almost all of my girls' costumes until they got into 2nd/3rd grade range. I can't sew (ironic, I know), but give me some velcro and fabric glue and I'm all set!

    Love the picture of you when you were little! More! More!

  4. Many of the kids here dressed up as princesses and pretend grown up Carmens. We have a high population of hispanic kids, and they looked great. I love the hand sewn, sort of grab bag costumes. Too many store bought Transformers and batmen are easy, but not smile inspiring. Your picture is adorable.

  5. Thanks, everyone! The sad thing is is that child #2 didn't even get to go trick or treating...the town cancelled Halloween because of falling tree limbs and downed power lines. Apparently, only I and another friend adhered to this cancellation so I'm taking child #2 to Friendly's for lunch on Saturday to make up for the fact that he didn't go trick or treating. Maggie