Memory Lane

The first time I ever went trick or treating was in 2001, at the ripe old age of 28. (Good grief, was it that long ago already?) A friend with 2 kids was complaining about conservative Christian protests against Halloween and invited me to come along with them to see how harmless it all is. I have no problems with Halloween, or Harry Potter, or whatever, but I think in her mind I was a stand-in for all evangelicals (since I used to be one). She kept saying, “isn’t it harmless? What could possibly be wrong with this?” the whole time. Anyway, I went as a medieval queen in a dress my mom made for me when I was in my college’s medieval club (we called ourselves the Court of Logres).

Growing up among American missionaries in Peru, there was no Halloween. We had Costume Day, but it wasn’t in October – I think maybe August? There was no trick-or-treating, but rather a big parade around the mission compound (pictured left) in our homemade costumes. When I was 5 and my sister was 3, our family went as a bridal party and won second place for best group costume. My 6′ dad carried my 3yo sister on his shoulders as the Bride – she wore a long white dress that fell to his feet, making them look together like one very tall woman. My 5′ mom put a big basket over her head and torso, painted a face on her bare stomach, and wore a little suit-and-tie outfit with fake arms so she looked like a very short Groom. I was the Matchmaker and got to wear a fancy dress and hold a magic wand. I think that was our most creative foray. Other years I was Little Bo Peep (1st grade), Pinocchio (2nd grade), a Gypsy (6th grade), and a member of a motorcycle gang (10th grade). The coolest part of that was we were on actual motorcycles 🙂
When I lived in Bolivia as a young adult, I became acquainted with the Catholic All Saint’s Day festivities I’d missed out on as a Protestant in Peru. All St’s Day made me think of Halloween in a completely different light. The tradition in the place where I was living was to honor the dead on Nov 1-2. The family I stayed with had lost their grandmother the previous year, so on November 1 we spent all morning cooking a fabulous meal and preparing an altar in the bedroom she used to use. The altar had fruit and flowers on it, little bread people, and small dishes with all her favorite food. A nephew who was hanging around helping out told me that at noon, her spirit would come to the room and eat the food.
“Like really eat it?” I asked.
“Well, no, but if she comes and doesn’t see any food there, she’ll feel sad.”
Throughout the day, neighbors and friends came to the house to pray for the grandmother’s soul. Each was served a plate of food and glass of whiskey.
I was a little creeped out by the idea of grandma’s ghost coming back, so I stayed back in the kitchen helping prepare and serve food.
On November 2, we packed a big picnic lunch and all went to the graveyard. I sat with my host mother at the grandmother’s grave, and my job was to serve a little plate of cookies with a shot glass of whiskey to everyone who came by to say a prayer for the grandmother. Everyone had decorated their family graves with purple and black streamers, rosettes, and fresh flowers. I ended up having very mixed feelings about the event, mostly because when two Quechua people from the countryside came to “our” grave to pray, my host mom told me not to give them anything. That, and all the drinking. It wasn’t a happy intoxication. In fact, that night my host brother got very drunk, got into an argument with his sister, and slugged her in the mouth. It was pretty ugly.
Ok! So how about some happy thoughts! Last year was probably my most fun Halloween ever; I put together an elf costume from clothes in my closet, painted my face green, and went to a friend’s party where I got really, really hammered and danced for hours. This year? I gave Halloween candy to my students in class this morning. I think excitement tonight is going to be taking out the garbage. But that’s cool with me.

5 Responses to “Memory Lane”

  1. Rachel Says:

    I consider myself a pretty conservative Christian, but I have no problem at all with Halloween. I think it is pretty fun. Your costume days sound like a lot of fun.

    Last night I wasn’t feeling well so we left the house during Trick or Treat hour so I wouldn’t have to deal with the door bell ringing. This morning I feel a bit guilty we didn’t at least leave candy on the porch for the neighbor kids.

  2. niobe Says:

    What a fascinating collection of memories. I love hearing these kind of stories of worlds that I can’t begin to imagine.

  3. Caro Says:


  4. tara Says:

    you need to dress up tomorrow evening! did terry tell you that you all were coming over for a tiny harvest party?

  5. Elizabeth Says:

    Tara – yeah, I already have a costume planned out 🙂
    But Heather told me, not Terry!

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