Don Bauder 7:49 p.m., May 22
I was eight years old when my mother’s side of the family got involved in making Halloween costumes for my cousins, my younger brothers, and me. It became an annual event. My grandmother, Dottie, my aunt Polie, and my mother despised store bought kids’ Halloween costumes, and, to prove a point, they went well out of their way to create superior and original costumes for us.
Polie was our family’s seamstress; she was always sewing together Hawaiian shirts and loud floral print swim trunks for us. My cousins and I were the only kids at Ramona Elementary who habitually wore Hawaiian shirts to school. When October rolled around, it was child’s play for Polie to sew together our Halloween costumes. Then she, Dottie, and my mother would design and fabricate elaborate paper mache masks for us, using plastic milk jugs as their foundations.
In fifth grade I wanted to be a dragon. Dottie and her two daughters threw themselves into making a dragon costume for me. Polie quickly fabricated a green costume with back spikes that extended all the way down the arrowhead tipped tail. The head, however, required much more preparation and work. BIG, they decided, was the way to go. Their plans called for something much larger than a milk jug, and they had to build the mask from scratch. The foundation of the mask was made of chicken wire, sculpted into the basic shape they wanted, which was then covered in masking tape. They then placed layer upon layer of paper mache over the masking tape. Slowly, a great dragon’s head mask began to take shape.
After hours of work, my dragon mask was completed. My mother, grandmother, and aunt had really outdone themselves this time. It was beautiful but enormous, and I was more than a little intimidated by it. I tried it on tentatively. The green mask was awkward and heavy. To support it properly, the base of its weight rested on my shoulders. To see, I looked through a six-inch wide, four-inch high mesh screen in the mask’s neck. The dragon mask towered a good 12 inches above my head and then its muzzle projected out an additional 13 to 14 inches.
Trick or treating was laborious. The mesh screen was not easy to see out of and night only made it worse. I kept bumping into things and accidentally hitting people with the distant span of my mask. When my cousins, brothers, friends, and I all went trick or treating, every time someone answered a door that was equipped with a screen door, which, by the way, always open out, my mask’s snout was broadsided, causing it to shift uncomfortably on my shoulders. The interior of the mask was stuffy, and even with the help of porch lights it was still difficult to judge the looming shadow of my mask in relation to menacing screen doors. Try as I might, no matter what side of a porch I stood on, I was struck time and time again across the paper mache snoot.
“Oh, sorry,” the person at the door always said.
“That’s okay,” I said from deep down inside my costume but the part of the dragon mask covering my mouth muffled my response.
Not understanding what I’d said, the person at the door just laughed good-naturedly and moved on to the true reason for our meeting. “Hah hah. Okay then, who out here wants some candy?”
People offering us candy at their doors were usually impressed by my costume, which, really, made the whole thing bearable. “Oh, my,” women often said while theatrically placing a hand across the base of their throats. “What a frightening dragon.” Or sometimes “dinosaur.”
For some reason, men at their doors always confused me for an alligator or crocodile. “Hey, Cindy!” one man called over his shoulder while holding a clear glass bowl full of miniature Hershey bars. “Come on out here and get a load of Lyle the Crocodile, would ya!”
Only our endurance, or lack of it, would gauge the sugar and chocolate accumulation of our future bounty, that and my demanding dragon costume.
When October rolled around, and I knew all the costume preparation was nearing, I sometimes wished my mother would forgo her principles regarding inferior disguises and just, for once, buy me a crappy store bought costume.