The Worst Halloween Ever (1979)
You will not find this fact in any textbook, or even on Wikipedia, but I can attest that October 31st, 1979 was The Worst Halloween Ever. Of course, we don’t know we’re making history while we’re making it. All I knew at the time was that I had the worst luck of any kid in the world.
Halloween fell on a Wednesday that year. My mother had wed my stepfather the Saturday before, and they were on their honeymoon, on a cruise to Bermuda. I was temporarily living in the back of a bar. Okay, to be fair, it was a cottage that was built on the same property as the tavern, a little ways behind it. I guess this scenario calls for some backstory, so here it is…
The bar was called The Blue Top. It was owned by an ornery fellow named Red. His always-cheerful wife, Weezy, tended bar and traded raunchy barbs with the patrons. How did I know this? I was there on a weekly basis. Mommy would bring me along on dates with her best friend, Helen, and then with Bud, the man who would eventually become my stepfather. Red didn’t approve of kids in his bar, but Weezy loved me, so his protests were over-ruled. I’d sing for the customers and they would reward me with quarters, which I’d divide equally between the jukebox and the shuffleboard machine.
Red and Weezy had an adult daughter named Lucinda. She was twenty-something, single, and pretty. Her long brown hair reached her waist, and she wore eyeglasses with huge frames, which were the style back in the day. Lucinda was my designated babysitter for the duration of my parents’ honeymoon. I was delighted at the opportunity to spend time with this effervescent, young woman, who doted on me. I got to take a different school bus to get to my second grade class, and there’d be hot cocoa and homemade cookies when I got home in the afternoon. It was all a great adventure, until Halloween day rolled around.
It wasn’t until that day, during lunchtime and recess, when all the other kids were excitedly talking about the costumes they would be wearing for trick or treat that night, that the terrible truth hit me… my mother had forgotten to pack my Halloween costume when she dropped me off at Lucinda’s!
Some more backstory is needed here. Growing up, my mother and I were on Welfare. I didn’t know that we were poor. To me, “on Welfare” meant that my books were mostly secondhand, with pages scribbled on in crayon, by some naughty child who owned it before me. My stuffed animals had been pre-loved as well. Freddy the teddy bear was eyeless, and Raggedy Ann was missing an arm.
When it came to Halloween, my mother could only afford a cheap plastic mask for 99 cents at Woolworth’s, never the whole costume. I was so proud of my Woody Woodpecker mask in kindergarten… until I got on the school bus, only to have all the other kids laugh at me. The scenario repeated itself the following year, when I wore a nurse mask (because that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up). I was very pleased with myself, until Joanna Rhinebeck boarded the bus wearing the same mask… along with a white nurse’s uniform and matching white shoes.
This Halloween was supposed to be different. My new stepfather, Bud, made good money as a fire inspector. So this year, not only did I have a scary witch mask, but a pointy hat and a black dress to go with it! It was to be my first Halloween in full costume.
I jumped off the schoolbus and raced across the yard to Lucinda’s house in a tearful panic. After I explained the situation, we hopped into her car and she drove us to 325 Howard Avenue. She parked in the driveway of the little log cabin that I’d called home for less than a week. We peeked through my bedroom window. The closet door was open, and we could see the box containing my witch costume resting high on a shelf. So close, and yet so far! We tried both doors and all the windows, probably looking like a pair of cat burglars to the neighbors. Everything was securely locked.
My heart was a lead weight in my chest during the sad ride back to Lucinda’s house. But I noticed she was smiling. Why?
“You’ll have a witch costume by trick or treat time,” she assured me when we got back to her place. “We’ll improvise!”
At seven, I had no idea what “improvise” meant, but I found out soon enough. I watched as Lucinda rummaged through her closet, in search of a black blouse or dress. Alas, there wasn’t a single black item in her wardrobe. The closest she had was a long, navy blue skirt.
Seeing my frown, she said: “Don’t worry. It’ll be dark when we go trick or treating. It will look black. Trust me.”
I stood still as she pulled the skirt over my head and tied it under my armpits with a belt. It matched the dark blue turtleneck I was wearing.
Next, Lucinda found some black construction paper that she used for craft projects. Her hands fluttered like hummingbirds as they busily rolled and glued sheets of paper together. My eyes widened in amazement as the paper took on a cone shape… a witch’s hat! Lucinda plopped it on my head. Next, she handed me a small whisk broom, and a pillowcase to use as a trick or treat bag.
I was a happy little girl as Lucinda took me from house to house along the busy Main Road. But, after we’d gone to only six houses, she uttered words that shocked me.
“This will be our last stop tonight,” she said, as we ascended the steps of a fancy stone house.
“What?!?” My jaw dropped. “I’ve gotten hardly any candy!”
“I’m only taking you to the houses of people I know,” said Lucinda, as she rang the doorbell. “Not strangers.”
To add insult to injury, the man who answered the door didn’t drop candy into my bag. Instead, he gave me a toothbrush!
“He’s a dentist,” Lucinda explained, as we made our way back to the car.
I was fuming as she snapped my seat belt into place. Halloween hadn’t been saved after all!
I thought of Halloweens past, when Mommy drove me to house after house, not knowing or caring who lived there. She’d take me to “rich” neighborhoods, where the houses looked like mansions to my young eyes. (Please note that we lived in a single-wide trailer at the time.) Best of all, once my trick or treat bag was full, she let me dump it out in the backseat of the car. Then she’d drive me to even more houses, until I filled it up again! The candy lasted for weeks, with Mommy taking the Snickers bars and anything with coconut for herself; everything else was mine.
Lucinda let me have one piece of candy before bed. Then she watched as I brushed my teeth with the toothbrush the dentist had given me.
I hope someone eggs his house, I thought as I brushed.
When Mommy and Bud returned from their honeymoon, I recounted my Halloween horror story for them.
“You needed a new toothbrush anyway,” said Bud. Ever the jokester, he was.
Mommy genuinely felt guilty though, apologizing profusely. “I have something that might make you feel better,” she said. “Wait here.”
I sat on the couch, wiggling with anticipation as she disappeared into her bedroom. She returned with a large plastic bag.
“This is from Bermuda,” she said, and handed me a tiny bottle of what appeared to be pink fairy dust.
“What is it?” I turned the bottle around and around in my hands.
“Sand!” Mommy said. “The sand is PINK there, Holly! Can you imagine?”
I could, but I wasn’t particularly impressed.
“And… be very careful with this.” Mommy handed me a gift that needed no explanation. It was a necklace made out of seashells!
I beamed, and put it around my neck right away. I noticed that there was still something in the bag. It looked big and kind of lumpy.
“I did something really silly,” Mommy said, as she reached into the bag. Ever so slowly, she pulled out the surprise. “I was so excited about the honeymoon, I wasn’t thinking straight. I forgot I wouldn’t be home for Halloween. I bought candy to hand out to trick or treaters!”
With that, she whipped out not one, but two big bags of sweets: a package of miniature Three Musketeers bars, and another of lollipops! “Only a couple of pieces a day,” she warned, as I pawed at the candy. “And… what else?”
I rolled my eyes and sighed. “I know,” I said. “I’ll brush my teeth afterwards!”
AUTHORS NOTE: Some names in this true story have been changed. Others have not. I have my reasons.