I don’t know what’s going on. Yesterday I found myself beseiged by a group of possessed children waving plastic, fake-blood-drenched fingers at me in the aisles of the supermarket. They were my kids. And what’s worse, I not only proceeded to buy them a pack of aforementioned fingers, but I also threw in a fake ball and chain, a blood-soaked axe, a good-for-nothing-broom, and several bags of the cheapest, most toxic-looking lollies China has ever produced.
And why? Because it’s Halloween again. You know, that glorious time of year where we get into the spirit of a tradition we know nothing about by spending money we don’t have on shit that will have disintegrated by Monday.
And I suddenly found myself wondering: “How did this happen?” Because, you see, I come from New Zealand. A place where, when I was growing up, the only thing a pumpkin was ever good for was eating. And even then only if it was on special. The idea of carving scary faces out of it, or pumping dry ice out from under your garage, or worst of all, scabbing food from the neighbours, was simply unthinkable.
Or was it? Thanks to a timely post by my trusty school-girl friend Lara on the subject (actually I think the article was more specifically about sex and Halloween) I was given pause to reflect. Had I not also, as a child, marvelled at the idea of Trick or Treating? Of dressing up and charging into the streets in search of free food? Of course I had! What 10 year old wouldn’t? Maybe I should give my kids a break. Buy them those goddamned costumes and stop being a drag, I thought to myself.
But then again….Halloween in MY day didn’t involve my parents doling out cash like it grew on trees. Ha ha ha! As if they would have! In fact, with Lara’s help, who by the way has a memory like a steel trap for these things (and usually the photographic evidence to prove it), I was able to recall in some detail the events surrounding the first ever Halloween expedition our neighbourhood had ever seen.
Here’s how we remember it. The year was 1987.
Kathryn was wearing a paperbag with nothing but knickers on underneath (an allegation yet to be verified), while I had adorned my head and face with a pair of my mum’s thick opaque tights. Over my nose and mouth. Bank robber-style. Lara’s parents apparently loved her more than Kathryn’s and mine, because she was wearing a home-made cat-suit complete with little ears and whiskers. Bitch. We set off in search of treats, or as we called it back then “scabbing”.
I remember that very few people opened the door to us. Those that did asked us to repeat the question. Were we selling something?
“No, give us lollliessss!!!! Trick or Treat!!!”
“Yeah! Like on Who’s the Boss!”
They brought an older kid out to translate, and then when they finally understood what we were on about, roared with laughter and shut the door in our faces. Most people, however, pretended not to be home. The worst ones pulled back their orange curtains and stared at us from their lounge-room windows, as though we couldn’t see them. We stared back. They tsk tsk-ed their lament of wayward children like us and retreated from view. We moved on, undeterred. I’m sure one old biddy threatened to call the police. Ha! Never mind us worrying about the kind of homes our kids might go up to when they go trick or treating today; back in our time, it was the householder who felt victimised. Children demanding food like that? The shame of it!
I do recall that we got a packet of biscuits though. Maybe not the whole thing, maybe three vanilla wines each. And Lara reminded me there was also a can of tinned fruit, though I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t used on us as a weapon: “Go on!! Get!! Or I’ll throw this tin of peaches at you dammit!”. She also mentioned that poor Kathryn lost much of her costume and had to limp home in shreds when the neighbourhood boys threw a bunch of double-happies at us on our way past. Yeah, double-happies, remember those? What kind of parents bought their kids fireworks and let them go unsupervised? Our generation’s, apparently. “Here you go darling, go and terrorise the neighourhood kids will you? Especially the girls.”
On our last stop we called into my own house. My mother was on the phone when she opened the door, a pretty important call as I would later learn, but at the time all I registered was a woman shrieking foul insults at me and my friends. Standing, as we were, in our cats-pajamas and paper-bags and gangster get-ups. Her arms weren’t arms, but axes, chopping us up bit by bit. You think a bit of dry ice is scary, try catching my Mum on an off-moment. She grounded me and sent me to my room. I hope I managed to keep my score of wine biscuits. (PS, no hard feelings Mum).
Anyway, as I stood there in the check-out today recalling all these bizarrely comforting memories, it struck me. We were pioneers! We broke in that virgin land that had never before heard of a thing called “Halloween”. And we paved the merry way so that our own children could one day enjoy the occasion as they will.
But at what point in my efforts to bring Halloween to New Zealand, did I say “I’m going through this torment so that when I’m 35, I can spend 100 dollars on crap and junk for my own kids. Every year?” When did I resign myself to listening to ungrateful brats console each other that my house always gives out the crappy lollies from China that will probably poison you? Smarmy buggers, I want to yell at them. Smarmy little buggers in your warehouse costumes!! Bring back home-made costumes! You insult your forebears with your lack of imagination, your total absence of originality and determination!
To be able to rock up to someone’s house and see the dry ice in the hall, to be met by a kindly old lady whose focus for the entire week has been what type of lollies to stock this year. Do you think that stuff just “happens”? Where’s the appreciation for our sacrafice? For our burnt ankles and shattered spirits and empty stomachs? Where’s your knickers and tights and paper bags? You want Halloween? How’s about you taste tinned fruit on the backside! And hear that? That’s the sound of double happies snapping at your ankles! And then I’m gonna ground your ass! How do you like that eh!? You want Halloween, om gonna give you Halloween!
But you know what, as I tucked the kids up into bed I realised something very, very significant. Actually, I didn’t realise it at all – it was my kid, the ten year old, who pointed it out. He said: “Mum, I don’t know why you always get so grumpy about Halloween. You always take all our lollies away and eat them yourself anyway.” Which is, in fact, the truth. I confiscate Halloween hauls every year under the pretext that it’s bad for their teeth, only to gorge myself silly on “candy” for a whole week straight. He’s right. I just love Halloween.
So from now on, when I put my feet up with my bags of hard-won goodies in hand, I will do so guiltlessly. I will raise my wrappers to my 10-year old girl-gang in a solemn salute. Because we brought Halloween to New Zealand. Hoorah!!