Janet Sheridan: Halloween loses its allure
I did not glide into adolescence gracefully. Unlike my peers who seemed to frolic into their teens with nary a backward glance, I plodded forward reluctantly, unconvinced that being a rookie in junior high school was better than being royalty in elementary school. My uncertainty intensified as stores filled with costumes and candy, the mountains displayed swaths of color, and Oct. 31 approached.
I loved Halloween. In the rural area where I went to elementary school, the entire community attended a rollicking party. Children entered the festivities along a darkened spook alley where a witch offered samples from her bowl of worms, an open coffin held a bloodied corpse, and a sobbing ghost loomed from a doorway. We children responded with gusto: shrieking with fright, clutching one another, and pretending not to recognize our costumed parents.
Having survived the spook alley, we entered a decorated gym to bob for apples, drink root beer ladled from milk cans frosted by dry ice, watch cartoons shown on a bed sheet stretched across a corner, and participate in a costume parade with prizes.
I looked forward to Halloween all year.
But my festive spirits slumped when I learned Halloween was celebrated with a dance in junior high school. Furthermore, costumes could not be worn because the year before Gina Johnson had showed up in pigtails and baby-doll pajamas. Even worse, a date to the dance was essential; only odd balls would attend without one.
I thought of trick-or-treating with my younger siblings instead, wearing a ghost costume so folks wouldn’t know I was walking on my knees.
Fortunately, during the summer camp for beginning band students, I was seated next to Kenny Thomas, whose big grin balanced his big ears. We quickly bonded as the only clarinets who couldn’t control our squeaks, so he resisted just enough to appear manly when his ninth-grade sister dragged him across the school lawn and twisted his arm until he asked me to meet him at the dance. I had a date.
In preparation, I used some of my tomato-picking money to buy new shoes that were dainty but painfully tight, begged until my older sister Carolyn let me wear one of her store-bought dresses, and did a terrible job of shaving my legs — a procedure I had yet to master. Before leaving the house, I sprayed myself with dime-store perfume and ignored my dad’s alarmed yelps that my lips were bleeding: his standard act when his daughters wore lipstick.
I walked with girlfriends to the school and limped into the dance, worried that the nicks on my legs would bleed on Carolyn’s dress, and she’d kill me. Then I waited for Kenny to ask me to dance, which he eventually did: twice. My friends thought he was quite attentive.
The rest of the time we girls stood around pretending to have a good time and watching the ninth-graders close-dance — some of them locked so tightly Mr. Beckstrom threatened to call their parents. And our dates? They choked one another with black and orange crepe-paper streamers they’d ripped from the ceiling decorations while a distracted Mr. Beckstrom harassed huggers.
The fun finally ended, and we watched as our dates galloped off into the night, looking for trick-or-treaters to rob.
I hobbled home, responded with a surly “yes” when Mom asked if I’d had fun, failed to find band-aids for my blisters because they were on my legs, tried to badger Barbara into giving me some of her trick-or-treat candy, and burst into tears when she refused and then called me a big stupid.
Adolescence did not come to me easily; and Halloween fell victim to my difficult transition.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.