If I love Halloween, it’s because my mom loves Halloween. Halloween in Logan, where she’s from, was a BIG deal. The costumes weren’t expensive, and the candy was the penny kind, but the coal camps were always aglow on Halloween night with porch lights, and the alleys would be filled with excited, costumed kids going house to house. The southern coalfields are also full of some of the creepiest, freakiest ghost stories (which they love to tell small children right before bed. Thanks Grandma Betty.), so my mom has brought that love with her to Jackson County, and I have benefitted from it.
Now, I am not a super competitive person, except for things I know I can win: trivia games, cake making, parody songs, and how long I can keep up a giant Christmas tree (first year playing, and I am a champ). But I also have a jewel in my competition crown that I feel safe saying no one else has: I was the Fairplain Elementary Halloween Costume Champion for every year I was in school. That’s six winning costumes: a princess with pony, the scariest witch, a flower in a pot with a bee, Little Bo Peep with sheep, Maid Marion with a tiny Robin Hood, and the piece de resistance- Uncle Fester from The Addams Family - complete with lightbulb that lit up in my mouth and a hairy Cousin It beside me. And for those of you keeping count, I only named five because, while I can’t remember the exact costume I wore in first grade, I remember forever that I won.
But now I have a confession to make: while I may have walked away with the candy and toy prizes, I was only the costume mannequin (with my brother acting as a costume accessory). The genius behind those costumes was my mother, who channeled not only her upbringing in the mecca of Halloween, but also the frugalness that necessitated creating a costume when people didn’t have much money. Scouring Gabe’s, thrift stores, and Jo Ann’s fabrics, she made costume magic from nothing but her imagination and her sewing machine. She went to Charleston to the magic shop to find the lightbulb I needed to complete the Uncle Fester look, and to the hair shop to find the fake hair needed to cover Cousin It. All I had to do was walk the circle around the Fairplain Elementary playground or cafeteria, and not lose my brother on the walk (although I did accidentally run him face-first into the school piano. Cousin It looked great, but he was blind as a bat).
Some people, they are painters, musicians, writers, but my mother’s art is costuming, and it must have been painfully obvious to the Fairplain Elementary administration that she wasn’t going to be beaten, so to avoid six more years of Terri Ranson Costume Wins with my brother, they stopped awarding costume prizes for Halloween right after I left school. And my mother, being a good sport, was fine with that.
Like all artists, the lack of tangible recognition was not going to deter her art. Prize or not, my brother was going to be in a great costume (sometimes by his own choice, sometimes with a bit of prodding towards the “correct” costume choice). He was a helicopter pilot with a real pilot helmet, the goofiest Alfalfa ever, Terminator with acid-burned half-face and machine arm, and a Beetlejuice so good he could have stood in for Michael Keaton. And while in my brain, I know that adding an unnecessary competitive element to costume contests is just that, and that no kid should ever feel like their costume wasn’t enough, in my heart, I know: my mom got robbed of twelve straight years as the Costume Queen. Now, she gets her fix by sending my niece Halloween costumes in the mail, which she wears as regular clothes because she’s two and doesn’t care if people think being a lobster in September in weird.
But it’s just not the same, and to compensate, she’s taken to dressing up her four stone ducks in seasonal costumes throughout the year. I spent a half hour of my life, I will never get back, in Amish Country, picking out the right “summer outfit” for a concrete duck. A summer outfit. For a concrete duck. I made the mistake of telling her, sarcastically, that I thought her wooden bear statute needed a scarf for winter, and we went to Wal-Mart, where she accosted an employee, and asked them where they kept the scarves. The employee, being a helpful kind, asked “For a boy or girl.” To which my mother replied, just as helpfully, “For a bear.” As if that was a real section of the store, and in thirty years, we’d just overlooked it.
So what I’m getting at is that for as long as my niece and future nephew aren’t going to make it the east coast for a proper Halloween, complete with a Terri Ranson Champion Halloween costume, candy getting on Simmons Drive, and a telling of the tale of how the ghost of Mamie Thurman tried to carjack my mom and her cousins on 22 Mine Road; my mom needs a substitute child to costume. Not a concrete duck, not a wooden bear, and not our dog, Moose, who is tolerating his numerous colorful bibs with the patience of a saint. An actual child, one that will, with minimum prodding, pick the costume to wear that just happens to be the one my mom wants to make, who doesn’t complain about sitting still while getting stage makeup applied, and who isn’t afraid to risk a possible electric shock for a good costume effect.
If you have such a child, please send them my way, so I can stop answering the question, “Do you remember where I put the winter outfits for the ducks?” and pretending it’s totally normal to ask where the “bear scarf section” is. Because if she doesn’t get a child to fully costume soon, I’m afraid I’m going to have to step in, and while I know I can still pull off Uncle Fester, anyone who saw me run Cousin It into a piano in 1992 is going to be a little leery of jumping on board.
But hey, even in Halloween costume competitions, it’s no pain, no gain.