Tag: Hallowe’en

Playing Dress-up

dress-up box

Browsing through my local dollar store last week I came upon an aisle filled with Hallowe’en costumes. Yes, already.  The paper and tinsel costumes didn’t interest me that much, but a pair of bright-eyed children did.  They cruised up and down the shelves, studying each costume, checking with mom if it was acceptable, then going back to ponder the merits of a pirate versus a princess, a witch versus a vampire.  The costumes were entrancing, but flimsy.   If bought five weeks in advance, I wonder if they’ll last through to Hallowe’en.

The incident reminded me of the old dress up box in my childhood home. It lived at the back of my closet on a broad shelf created by the ceiling of the staircase.  Perfect place, don’t you think?  Dark, set apart, magical.  The truth was the trunk held a few of my mother’s old clothes but for my brothers and I it was treasure chest, yielding endless hours of entertainment and long involved tales of derring do and fair maidens.

In an age of slim fit pants, my mom’s old bell-bottoms seemed hilariously ridiculous, but paired with an oversize shirt knotted at the waist and a paper hat, they made a great sailor, change the hat for an eye-patch and a bandana and you had a pirate.

Carefully wrapped in tissue paper was a beautiful, lady’s blouse.  Made of amber silk with tight cuffs, puffed sleeves, pin-tucks on the bodice, fitted to the waist and flared over the hips it was truly a work of art.  It was also fragile with age.  I learned later that my great aunt had made her living as a seamstress.  The blouse was one of her creations.  Sadly, it turned to dust before I learned to appreciate it.

The biggest prize in the box was a cape—navy twill on the outside, scarlet satin on the inside. It served as Red Riding Hood’s cloak, Zorro’s cape, a bull-fighter’s capote, and a nurse’s outdoor wear, just to name a few.

On rainy days, when we were too much underfoot, my mother would banish us from the kitchen to the dress-up box. We could come back when we had a costume and a story to go with it.  Maybe that was the start of my story-telling career.

When my brothers and I outgrew dressing up, the box was tucked away in its special place, only to be rediscovered by my nieces.  Once again, the dress-up box played a starring role in a child’s imagination.  Little girls in swirls of gauzy scarves clunked down the stairs in too-big high-heeled shoes to regale their grandparents with long, involved and impossible tales.

I have the box, now. It was originally a wooden box for paper.  My great grandfather was a newspaper man and needed a lot of paper.  The large quantities he order, about 200 quires, came in these wooden, leather covered boxes.  As far as I know, this is the only one that has survived in my family, and it is in poor repair.  Anyone know how to reattach the leather covering without ruining it?

I no longer play dress-up, but I like to spin stories. Maybe that’s a technique I could explore.  Before sitting down at the computer I could don a long skirt with petticoats, a tight-sleeved blouse and an over-size hat.  Then I’d be in the proper frame of mind—and body—to tell tales of women on the frontier.

Share your dress-up story in the comments below to be entered in the draw for a free copy of The Man Who Hated Christmas.

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Sunday I began eating the Hallowe’en candy — not because I’d been out trick or treating on Saturday night, but because I always buy treats and no one comes knocking on my door.  It has been this way for several years now.  The neighbourhood children have grown and gone and newcomers tend to gather at the community centre or a school for a party.  I see more costumes on adults in stores and restaurants than I do on children on the street.

When I was in school, Hallowe’en was a very different event.  We had a party at school during the last hour of the school day.  The teacher hid caramels wrapped in Hallowe’en paper all around the school yard and then we went hunting.  Those were awful candies.  They’d pull your fillings right out of your teeth if you weren’t careful, but we took pride in finding them.  There were also some hard humbugs.  Took a long time to suck one of those down to manageable size.

The really good candy came after dark.  My younger brothers and I, dressed in costumes cobbled together out of the rag bag and the dress up box,  would go into the village (we lived on a farm) and make the rounds of the ten or so houses there.  We refused to speak, believing we could hide our identities that way, but, in such a small community, everyone knew where one girl and two small boys lived, so we weren’t as incognito as we believed.  We’d have to go inside, usually into the kitchen, turn around to show off our costumes and shake our heads yes or no as our hosts asked questions.  Then they’d put homemade fudge, or brown sugar candy into our small bags.  We only had a small paper bag.  My mother thought it disgraceful that kids in town would canvass with a pillow case!     My Dad had a particular fondness for Aunt Georgina’s fudge.  Luckily, she knew that so always tucked a few extra pieces into our hands “to share with your Dad.”

Once I became a teenager, the annual trek to the neighbours for candy became a thing of the past.  The only time I got to wear a costume was for the Sadie Hawkins Dance at high school.  Once again, the rag bag was a treasure trove, since we all wanted to look like the Yokums from Li’l Abner.

I did crash my three year old godson’s Hallowe’en party once.  I dressed as Brunhilda.  That’s the nose cone from an airplane on my head with tin foil horns attached.  My godson was scared. His mother laughed and laughed.  She still teases me about that day.  My godson is now over 21.

Hope you all had a sweet Hallowe’en, however you acquired your candy.

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