RSS Feed

Halloween Madeleines?


I am a person who remembers absolutely everything. I remember being sick when I was two years old and believed (one, hopes, due to fever and not psychopathology) that tiny men were marching out of my laundry hamper. I remember the first day of kindergarten, the exact words in the note from Eric saying he didn’t like me that way in fifth grade, the way the flap of skin looked after I jumped on a clam shell in Maine when I was ten, and the phone numbers of all my friends from high school.  I remember the way the air smelled in Boston on a day when it brought the ocean into the City, and the diesel smell of the streets in Europe. I remember slights and offenses and try hard to forget them, I remember generosities and kindnesses, and I remember to do the things I say I’m going to do, unless I’m under enormous stress. (That’s a whole different issue).

So remembering things about Halloweens past should be easy, right?  All of the pumpkins, and costumes, and cobweb-covered porches should transport me back, like Proust in Rememberance of Things Past:

And suddenly the memory revealed itself: The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane.

No dice. I love Halloween; in general I prefer the autumn holidays because they don’t happen in summer (which I dislike) and I don’t have to buy gifts, decorate the house or forget to send cards again. I remember all of Sam’s Halloweens, from his first one-house trick-or-treat venture in a little dalmatian suit to the toddler year when he fought me the entire time I was applying his clown makeup, so that he went out looking like a tiny Phyllis Diller with a rainbow afro. Last year I dressed him as Sarah Palin (complete with a skirt suit and a rifle); the year before, I made him an iPod costume; one of my greatest creative accomplishments ever.  I am a veritable encyclopedia on The Halloweens of Sam;  It’s my own Halloween history I can’t remember.
I am sitting here looking out the window at fallen leaves. A pumpkin scented candle is burning, and I am reaching back as if a $250.00 fee for an hour of Freudian analysis depended on my success. If I really strain, I can remember precisely two costumes. When I was in kindergarten, my best friend Leslie’s mother made us pink satin tutus with real tulle skirts. I loved  Leslie’s house because she was the only child of well-to-do, older parents, who were able to provide Leslie (and often, me) with all of the good things in life. Leslie had a bedroom with carpet, a pink canopy bed, and her mother did not work, but stayed home to make us crustless fluffernutters for lunch.  Tragically, my own mother worked, had a one-year-old baby, didn’t sew, and refused either to buy “Fluff” or to cut the crusts off of sandwiches. Leslie’s family moved to New Orleans after that year and I never saw her again, but my tutu lived long enough for me to make my brother wear it when he was four or five. I put a washcloth on his head as a stand-in for longer hair, and called him “Mary.” (His session is right after mine).


The only other costume I can dredge up was related to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” a television show which, like “The Prisoner,” I watched with my parents with not so much as a moment of comprehension. Our highly flammable, non-reflective costumes from that era (maybe 1970?) came in boxes, and included a plastic mask with an elastic string around the back to hold the thing on your head. The eye slits were never where one’s actual eyes were, and even if you used your free hand (the one that was not holding the plastic bucket shaped like a pumpkin) to push it into place, it would return, immediately to its previous location. The one-piece costumes were very thin, and I remember the war about whether I would have to wear a coat OVER MY COSTUME, or just wear lots of layers beneath, so that I looked even rounder than I actually was. I remember trick or treating with my father, glad to have his hand to hold because I was virtually blind, with sweat running down my face behind the plastic mask while the rest of me began the conversion from flesh to ice because I had “won” the argument about wearing warm clothes.
I don’t remember any other costumes, but I remember two other things, both of which concern candy. I remember that my trick-or-treating years coincided with the first (real) episodes of razor blades and poison in candy, and that every piece of our hauls had to be inspected by a parent, with all homemade, loosely wrapped, or otherwise suspicious treats thrown away along with those that had a visible razor entry line or reeked of bitter almond. My parents were generally very low on the overprotection scale, but it would not have looked good in the press had one of us consumed strychnine in a Mars Bar and they had issued a statement that they were, of course, saddened, but that they generally tried to “let us try to make our own decisions.”

The other candy-related issue was the Great Sorting of the Haul. This process didn’t start until my brother was old enough a) to trick or treat without being carried and b) to escape the parental mantle of attention that protects younger siblings from being swindled by their older brothers and sisters.  We had very strict rules developed independent of parental involvement: the candy was dumped in front of its owner (post-parental inspection), and after we each had a chance to examine what we had, the trading began. No one cared about Mary Janes, Bit ‘O Honeys, or those peanut butter things with squirrels on the wrapper. This was about the chocolate (which is complicated, because while I dislike all things chocolate flavored, from cake to ice cream, there are certain types of actual chocolate that I enjoy). Also, it is patently clear to the most clueless of children that there is a Natural Hierarchy of Halloween Candy, and that while Dum Dum suckers may be at the bottom, chocolate is at the top).


When my brother was really little, I could persuade him that he should give me a Snickers bar for a plain Hershey bar, or even (until I was busted and monitored) give me chocolate in exchange for a worthless but deceptively impressive pile of junk like suckers and root beer barrels, but the older and shrewder he got, the more complicated became the trades. I coveted rolls of Spree candy, bags of Sweet Tarts (which my explains why my teeth are now very fragile and prone to breakage), Snickers bars, PayDay bars, Baby Ruth bars, and regular Hershey bars, or the kind with almonds.  I secretly hated Butterfingers (that crunchy stuff gets stuck in my teeth), both Three Musketeers and Milky Way bars (cloyingly sweet), anything with dark chocolate, 10,000 Dollar Bars, or most anything with caramel in it, with individually wrapped Kraft “Milk Made” carmels at the nadir of my list. Well, along with black licorice. The value of a Tootsie roll was also related to size (never let anyone tell you it doesn’t matter); the tiny rolls that came in appalling flavors like vanilla and lime were worthless, but the large version that required the support of a cardboard sheath, and could be broken into pieces along scored lines was a prize. As long as I provided no “tell” to my brother that would alert him to the fact that I was offering him something for which I had no desire, I could, over the course of the process, redistribute the wealth in a way favorable to me, if not my teeth or my physique.


That’s all I’ve got. I just spoke to my mother, who reminded me about witch costumes, a clown costume, and my brief belief in The Great Pumpkin, but those are her memories, not mine. I did ask her whether there had been some Halloween-related assault on my psyche that might have made me repress memories, and she told me that as far as she remembered, I had always loved Halloween. The good news is that despite my unusual amnesia in this area, I am able to look forward, with great anticipation, to the Jack O’Lanterns, costumes and wild October nights of begging that will take place this year, and for many more to come. It may be hard to get Sam to go trick or treating when he’s 27, but I’ve got stuff on that kid that will keep him under my thumb for the rest of my life……


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

18 responses »

  1. Ann,

    It is obvious the thoughts are clearing and the electolytes are flowing freely again.

    NOBLOPOMO or whatever,

  2. IF I could put pictures in this comment box, I would have to make a decision….Sam as Sarah Palin last year? Or Ann and I as Dog the Bounty Hunter and Beth a couple years back. Ann, your readers really ought to know….

    • Well, if you posted a picture of Sam, someone would undoubdtedly kidnap him, and we are not currently insuring him. Total loss. If you posted a picture of me as Beth, you would find a “Greater Lansing Apartment Guide” on your pillow. Total Loss.

      We were all pretty cute, though……

  3. I just love the candy haul and trade. I did the same with my brother. Black licorice, yuck. We lived in an apartment complex (Knob Hill-I never understood this name until I moved to SF and discovered Nob Hill) during the Halloween years I can remember-unlike you, Ann, I remember very little of my childhood, which is actually tragic. So we could fill pillowcases going door to door to door very efficiently (great if it was cold outside as we were indoors until we had to go to the next building in the complex). Of the end-of-the-year holidays, Halloween has always been my favorite. I do remember the razor blade scare, too. Crazy. Oh, and those damn masks-they really never did fit right. This post brought back some great memories. Thank you.

  4. You are welcome as always. We would have LOVED trick or treating inside, especially when it was snowing.

    I thought about leaving the Proust quote in French for you, by the way, but I thought that might be a bit affected. 🙂

  5. Oh the joy of trading, the razor blade saga, I can only remember one costume I wore. Some odd thing I concocted out of a card board box attempting to look like a Ms. Pac Man cartridge from Atari. I can remember the path we took, the night before planning our assault and who gave out the BEST candy.

    • I want to see that picture too, along with your liesure suit. 🙂 Funny, I can’t remember who gave out the best candy, either.

  6. Esther Spaeth Kelly

    Oh, Ann, I enjoyed this post! You skipped me down memory lane.

    I remember the thrill of the cheap boxes with cellophane windows that you saw the mask through all piled up to the ceiling at Muir Drugs. My mom made all my costumes, and I never really realized how much she must have loved me until I was up til midnight hemming my son’s grim reaper costume by hand last night. I would love to see a photo and/or to borrow your iPod costume idea.

    I will try to send your column to my older sister, Catherine, who could have been your twin in crimes of a chocolate nature.

    Thanks again, and happy hauntings…

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Muirs, I had completely forgotten Muirs.

      I will send you both a picture and instructions for the iPod costume. It does not involve sewing (which I don’t know how to do) but LOTS of duct tape.

  7. Dearest Sister;

    In point of fact, I actually LIKE black licorice (or “real” licorice, as we anise fans will sniff) a lot. So, thanks.

    Strangely, I can remember most Halloween costumes. My most endearing memory (for many reasons) was in 3rd grade, going as an M.S.U. football player. As proof of our father’s incredible devotion to us, he had an offer from one of his students, a 2nd string linebacker, to let me use his actual helmet. The only hitch was, he needed it for practice in the morning. Dad was going to drop it off at school mid-day so I could complete the ensemble (plus jersey, and ersatz pads) before the parade.

    However . . . there I was, with my classmates already in their finery, and appearing to not have a costume. Our principal (Jeff Richburg), took me aside, and very kindly offered that “we have spare costumes in the office if you want one.” (I can only assume the napalm-like boxed costume with vision limiting eye holes.) I could NOT convince him that the figurative cavalry was en route, and he must have asked at least three or four times.

    In the moment, I found it supremely annoying, though I doubt 8 year-olds can recognize being patronized. in retrospect, he wasn’t – he was demonstrating an incredible well of kindness, which I now see as his primary strength.

    Any rate, dad showed up, helmet in hand. I was NEVER that cool again in the eyes of my classmates. One upper classman (who used to give me wedgies and dirt baths on any pretext) looked at me in awe and said “that’s an OFFICIAL helmet – cool!” I had the exquisite pleasure of refusing him a moment of wearing it, in favor of my real friends.

    That leaves aside other years; going to a party in college as Judge Bork was another favorite.

    Finally, for the record – candy poisoning and random needle insertion is, near as anyone can tell, entirely in the realm of urban legend. A bit of clinging 1970’s residue in our angst-ridden lives.

    Any rate, I’ll trade you your Madelines for a Tira Misu?

    – Peter

    • I know you like black licorice. It’s probably a genetic problem.

      That’s a great story about dad and Jeff Richburg, and says a great deal about both of them. I never knew that happened – sadly, by the time you were in third grade I was deeply involved in my own adolescent machinations and really didn’t know there were any other people in the world…..

      I really didn’t know the razor blades, etc., were urban legend.

      I can’t eat either, but if you want Madeleines, I can make you some. 🙂

  8. reading this made me realize I don’t think we inspected the candy. . . 😉 I remember this all to well and I can also say I have almost no rememberance of what I wore for costumes…what’s with that? Sam and I were the same thing for Halloween last year!

    I was just looking at my friends pics and they are in Florida and all I could think is that Halloween would be wrong with out the crunching of dry leaves under foot. That’s what I remember, the smell of fall and the crunching and scuffing of leaves walking door to door…..

    • Well, clearly everyone is still alive despite your TOTAL failure as a parent. I didn’t realize we had twin Sarah Palins; height-wise, the real thing would have fit right in the middle.

      You’re right, Halloween has to be where there’s fall. I don’t see myself as a future “snowbird.”

  9. I too remember the razor blades and poison in the candy, as it was well publicized on TV about the was his dad put poison in his candy. I was about 7 or 8 then, and my parents inspected all of our candy, and anything homemade was definitely gone. I was watching Martha Stewart and she was making white chocolate ghosts for the trick or treaters, and I thought, that would have been chucked in my house. I will stick with my Almond Joy and Mounds.

    • Poor Martha. In her world, things are different….

      By the way: Mounds rock. If I could eat them, I would have one every day.

  10. Pingback: Pink Suit, Bad Juju, and a Stranger’s Nose. « Decency Is Not A Luxury

  11. Hi Annie,

    I wanted to let you know the Snicker’s Bar photo you used on this post is copyrighted by Jennica Reis, posted to Flickr, but not providing the rights necessary for you to use in this post. Please remove immediately.

    If you have any questions, please let me know.

    Jeremy Reis


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: