Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Start of the Holiday (and Memory) Season

I felt a sudden lifting of spirits when I saw the first twinkling lights that told me that Holiday Season 2015 is officially here: the lights were strung on my neighbors Joe and Pat Cosentino's golf cart at the staging area of the Sun City Anthem Candy Caravan 2015.

2015 Halloween Candy Caravan

We started the Caravan five years ago, having come from places where kids swarmed our front porches in search of treats on Halloween night. But no kids crossed from the all ages section of our community to Sun City on Halloween night 2010. Our doorbells didn't ring. Our spirits sagged...until we decided to hop in our golf carts, bowls of candy in hand, and drive over to the all-ages part of the community in search of kids. Since then, it has become a highlight of October, a great start to the holidays. Even after Bob and I sold our golf cart to get a small second car two years ago, I have continued to participate thanks to Joe and Pat, who invite me to ride along in their golf car jumpseat to distribute Halloween treats.

This year was as festive as ever. Kids and their parents (who suddenly looked impossibly young) were out in force. We loved seeing kids in their costumes, loved their excitement, enjoyed their sweetness. While the smallest celebrants, experiencing their first Halloween or their first walking trick or treat time were especially sweet as they alternately smiled at the treats and glanced around bewildered, struggling to make sense of all these people in the streets. And there are always some standouts in our memories.

Several years ago, a little blonde girl dressed as an angel lit up as I leaned over the front seat of my golf cart to offer her some treats. She carefully selected one and then sprang into the passenger seat of the cart, kneeling to face me and planting a chocolaty kiss on my cheek. "Oh, thank you!" she said. "Thank you so very, very much!" And then she slipped down and skipped away.

This heart-warming hit with all of us this year was a little boy who tried to give us all candy after we had given him treats. "I want you to have a Happy Halloween, too," he said earnestly, extending a Twix. "I want to share."

Our hearts melted at the innocence and joy we saw on his face and the faces of so many other kids dancing around the sidewalks and streets, wishing everyone a Happy Halloween.

We were so busy enjoying the kids and giving out treats that we forgot to take pictures this year. So for 2015, the holiday spirit poster kids are my dear friend Tim Schellhardt's two young granddaughters Lucy and Leah Yarbrough, the children of Eliza and Chris Yarbrough of Craig, Colorado. Lucy, who is 18 months old, was experiencing her first ambulatory trick or treating as a duckling while Leah, 3 months old, just enjoyed all the excitement around her, smiling in her pumpkin hat.

Lucy Yarbrough

                                                      Leah Yarbrough

I couldn't help but smile, too, looking at these two beautiful little girls at the sweet beginnings of their lifetimes of holiday celebrations. It put me in memory mode -- something that happens off and on to a lot of us during the holidays. I was remembering back, through time, when my own life was new, with so much holiday excitement around me and so much to come.

I had a flood of memories about Halloweens past.

A few of them proved less than stellar -- usually times when my mother's sense of the perfect costume and mine didn't exactly coincide.

There was the Halloween when I was five, slinking disconsolately from door to door dressed as a pig and behind the horrendously hot pig mask, I was suffering my very first of many, many toothaches though I didn't dare tell my mother just yet -- because I didn't want to miss a minute of trick or treating.

Then there was the Halloween when I was nine and suddenly in the full grip of puberty, having shot up to my adult height of 5'4" that year. I self-consciously hid my face while holding out my treat bag at every door because the only costume my mother could find that would fit my new adult shape and was not a sexy French maid or Can-Can girl outfit was a giant, furry skunk ensemble. Although nobody made fun of my skunk outfit, there a few newer neighbors who didn't know me and who made comments like "Aren't you a little old to be doing this?" I realized anew the downside of looking so much older than I really was, mourning a childhood ending way ahead of schedule.

But most of my Halloweens past were great fun. Costume-wise, nothing topped my brother Mike's turn as a nun when he was ten. Several years before, my mother had made a nun's costume for me after I begged to have one like my friend Pat so that we could play "nuns in the convent" together -- rather  like other little girls played house. By the time Mike was ten and I was thirteen, the habit was long outgrown, both physically and emotionally. But I had kept it as a treasured relic of a childhood ended too soon.

Now my brother, without a Halloween costume he liked, decided to borrow my nun's attire. He made a splendid nun! The first place we hit was the local convent where the nuns -- who reviled him as an incorrigible rascal at school -- didn't recognize him and, assuming he was a girl, told him how lovely he looked as he smiled coyly and fingered his rosary beads. We barely suppressed our laughter until, ladden with homemade cookies from the delighted nuns, we were off the convent grounds.

Perhaps the greatest Halloweens of all were the earliest ones I remember  -- in the late 1940's and early 50's. Our new suburban Los Angeles neighborhood was filled with small homes built hastily for returning World War II veterans in 1946. Our neighbors were truly extended family, with sweet, loving, accepting and only occasionally contentious relationships, some of which survive to this day. On Halloween nights back then, we were happiest when our neighbor Jack took us trick or treating.

Jack was, in one sense, a typical suburban postwar husband and father. In another sense, he walked to a distinctly different drummer: he was a bartender at a nightclub with a shady reputation, was proud to be related to the famous stripper Lili St. Cyr and was a transvestite.

Halloween was his favorite day of the year. He would get all dolled up, as he used to say, and gather us together for a grand trick or treating adventure, marching proudly in his high heels down the center of the street, with us following like eager ducklings. At each home, he would greet whomever opened the door with an enthusiastic hug and kiss while we scrambled around at his feet collecting candy dropped by stunned homeowners. At the time, we thought it all was simply hilarious. Only now, looking over the pictures our father took of Jack in his Halloween finery, do we sense something different. "Jack looks very comfortable in his outfit," Mike remarked after reviewing the old pictures with me. "I suspect it was only on Halloween that he could safely take it outside. It must have been some respite from a life of quiet desperation in 1950's La Canada." And we remembered how quietly and quickly Jack and his family moved away when we were still very young.

Jack and Bill - Halloween 1949

Jack and Shel - Halloween 1949

How Halloween has changed from the days when we were young! Our favorite treats back then were homemade cookies, candy, fudge, popcorn balls and caramel apples. Some people would invite us into their homes for an impromptu fun house and buffet of goodies. Now one wouldn't dare do that and all treats are brand-named and hermitically sealed. And yet a spirit of revelry and joy prevails. One street in our all ages community had a Halloween block party with a Star Wars theme. Other homeowners sat in their driveways, around portable fire pits, watching the celebration. Costumes sparkled and glowed thanks to new technologies.

Even some new Halloween customs are an improvement on the old. My brother tells me that in Thailand, where he and his family live, Halloween is seen as a time when children can practice giving instead of getting. And so kids start out with sacks or buckets filled with candy, toys and homemade crafts to give away. He sent me pictures of his children Maggie, 6 and Henry, 3, gearing up for Halloween Thai-style -- an occasion for learning to give to others with joy.

                                                           Henry McCoy

Maggie McCoy


Learning to give with joy...

What a lovely way to start the holiday season!


  1. Kathy, I still have a picture of my nun outfit. That is hilarious that Michael used it as a Halloween costume. Did you ever tell the nuns the truth? What a hoot having a transvestite in the neighborhood. Bet he loved it.

  2. Thank you Kathy for writing about our "Candy Caravan". The joy of seeing all these little ones, and watching the proud and Caring parents participating, brings hope and faith for the next generations to come. As our shouts of ,"Happy Halloween, from Sun City" rang thru the streets, our hearts opened up and bridged the gap between our neighborhoods.

  3. totally enjoyed reading this Kathy. Your niece Maggie, and her brother Henry are cuties. I loved the Thailand ways of giving....

  4. Not sure how I got here but glad I did...:)
    Halloween was second only to Christmas as a fav holiday when I was little.
    So many great memories...my mom and aunt would dress me as a gypsy every year...lots of makeup...long skirt...jewelry...scarf around my long, dark hair..sooo fun.I guess my mama didn't have a camera back in the 40's because I can find no photos of Halloween back then. Sure wish I had a few.
    I enjoyed your post very much and will be back to visit. Come have coffee and a powdered donut with me sometime soon. :)

  5. I wanted to Follow your blog but see no where to link...

    1. Hi, BJ:

      Up at the top right of this page, click on Join This Site! Loved your Halloween story! No, I don't think parents back in the 40's documented their children's lives quite like they do today! I couldn't find any pictures of myself in costume either!

  6. I don't have memories of Halloween being a very big deal in my neighborhood. The big thing was the day before, Cabbage Night, when mischief was done--but that was not my thing. I do enjoy seeing people, especially the little kids with parents who research on Pinterest, in costumes,

  7. We live out of town and don't get trick or treaters. Parents drive their kids into town to trick or treat where the houses are close together. It's probably a good thing, because I would eat all the leftover candy!

  8. You make it sound tremendous fun. Halloween does not figure at all in my memories, it didn’t exist. We had very gloomy All Saints and All Souls days; no costumes or treats in evidence.

    But we had other occasions, like Carnival, when children dressed up and received candy and all manner of good things.

  9. I loved this post, Kathy! It's such a treasure to journey back with you and learn of your stories and traditions and such special memories. My heart is warmed by the actions of your niece and nephew in Thailand and the generous child on your caravan route (which is THE best idea ever!). And hearing about your various costumes and holiday experiences makes me smile.

    You know, the only Halloween costume I remember is a cat costume when I must have been 9 or so. And I suspect I remember it only because I have a photo. I loved Halloween, remember going out with my dad while Mom handed out the home goods, parties at school -- and yet there is little record of it. What I do remember is that Halloween was my first diet at about age 8 or 9 when I rationed my candy (note: I rationed my candy, not my mom). In retrospect, this disturbs me -- these were the 1950s and I was thinking of body image at that time? I was a plump kid but not revolting. Food for thought, no pun intended.

  10. What a great post. You and your neighbors have a fabulous idea. We don't get any kids in our older neighborhood for folks that are retired either. It always breaks my husband's heart just a bit. He loves Halloween.

    I've never really enjoyed Halloween. I still don't. I dressed up my kids and enjoyed their excitement, but it just never has been a holiday I enjoy.

  11. Dear Kathy, thanks so much for sharing your Halloween memories. They brought back my own, especially the one of my younger brother at age 2 or so dressed as a ballerina. With his golden curls he wowed the mothers in the neighborhood and brought home a grocery sack stuffed with goodies. Peace.