Halloween is the one holiday my family doesn't do right.
When we were small, my brother Ben and I went trick-or-treating once with my Dad, who waited at the curb and watched us scuffle up excitedly to ring our neighbors' doorbells. We had fine costumes, we thought, that hid our identities. They had come in boxes from Ben Franklin. I was Goldilocks and Ben was a clown. The mask smelled like new crayons and the world seemed to jiggle when you wore it. The garish smock itched even over clothes.
We each toted a brown paper grocery bag that could carry plenty of loot. Our friend John Owens joined us dressed in a drugstore costume, too. He was George Washington. A plastic orange pumpkin pail dangled from his arm.
But after ringing a few doorbells, my brother and I found out why we were different. Neighbors would greet us and John would shout, "trick-or-treat!" My brother and I, in unison, would shout, "God bless you!" Everyone stared, puzzled, at my brother and me. We took our candy and ran.
My parents never liked Halloween to begin with. Yelling "trick-or-treat!" at neighbors, even in fun, was something they wouldn't allow. So my parents had given us an ultimatum: We could either go "God-bless-you-ing" door-to-door or not go at all. After that Halloween my brother and I prayed John Owens would keep that fact to himself.
Luckily for us, the next year our church began holding an alternative event for kids like us whose parents hated Halloween. It was called the Harvest Festival. We'd leave a bowl of fun-size Milky Ways on the doorstep for trick-or-treaters and pile in our station wagon to go to church. There we'd pile into the auditorium with hordes of other kids whose parents loathed Halloween too. We'd play games and sing songs until the other kids outside had finished their Halloween fun and we could go home unnoticed.
The Harvest Festival picked up on two Halloween traditions: Kids dressing up in costume and getting scads of candy. There was only one catch: You had to dress like a character from the Bible. For girls, that presented some challenges if you wanted to be different. There were always too many Marys and angels. Rebecca, Ruth, Rachel or Esther would have been too hard to guess.
My brothers always went as shepherds. It usually happened that the Harvest Festival ended up looking just like an enactment of the Nativity with a few Davids and Goliaths running about.
I had just turned 11 the year my dad helped me concoct the perfect costume. I was Noah's Ark. I wore ballet slippers, brown Danskin tights and a black leotard. Around my middle was a giant cardboard contraption cut in the shape of a boat and laced together with string. A hat on my head formed the roof. And if you peered inside the ark around me, you could see what was nearly my entire stuffed-animal collection. My lion, Aslan, (named after the famous creature in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe") sat at the helm. All that was really missing apart from mates for my animals was an olive branch in my mouth. My parents were proud.
I was mortified. It wasn't until I actually spent time as the ark that it occurred to me how ridiculous I looked. I sailed around the auditorium for as long as I could stand it before I shed the shell for my plain ballet clothes. But the damage had been done. Parents had called me "precious." I couldn't help thinking I was 11 and I was an ark.
Somewhere, my friends from school were out gallivanting as Charlie's Angels. They were cool. And I couldn't help thinking I had ruined my chances of ever being picked to be Kate Jackson again.
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