Halloween, Capitalism, and Self Worth
Halloween used to be my favorite holiday after I became a mom. But not the scary stuff…the cute stuff like homemade capes and Little Red Riding Hood costumes made from red velvet window drapes — a la Carol Burnett doing Scarlett Ohara in Gone With the Wind — for my kids. Older Elvis in white jumpsuit, poodle skirts, lil cowboys in spats, all the non-Avenger super heroes — BatMan, SuperMan, but not Aqua, never AquaMan.
From 1991 to 2005 my wrap around porch would be covered in tattered nylon sheers blowing in the fall wind of the rural Midwest. I sat in costume on the small 5-foot square front porch of my house, located in the middle of town, as soon as school ended. Everyone from babies in strollers and toddlers in parents’ arms to 8th graders in clusters of cliques automatically got a goody from the giant basket of mini candies. But to get the really good loot which rotated every year — Beanie Babies, Troll dolls, Koosh balls, regulation sized bars of chocolate — the kids would perform in our driveway, not a part of the trick-or-treat tradition, but a new game created by me. They would dance, sing, tell jokes, ask a riddle, tumble, whatever they thought they were good at. By the second year, the line of kids and their parents was circling around the block. Kids would come in groups to do entire band bits and stand-up comedy, becoming more elaborate with each succeeding year. Sometimes they did it with no expectation of being rewarded at all, these attention hounds who have all probably grown up to become actors or politicians.
I went back to our old town for a visit 4–5 years later, was sitting in the High School band room with the music teachers, when a skinny junior kept peeping in from the adjacent instrument storage room. Finally Mr. M called him in, asked him if everything was okay, and what he wanted.
Said the boy Mrs. K, I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to come to your house every year for Halloween in elementary school with a toy trumpet, and then I took up trumpet in band and played it for you. It was the most fun I had every year. And now I’m first chair horn in school and county.
You never know what impact you may unknowingly have on someone impressionable, so always be on best behavior and carry Kleenex when you meet them as adults.
There was always an implied hint by others in my past that my life and work were of no value because it did not generate income. But when I was really struggling with it oh…I don’t know…20–25 years ago, my eldest said something to me, in wisdom beyond her years…maybe because she knew about it from school friends…that I had changed the way so many of the younger people in the small towns we had lived in would think differently about strangers because of how I engaged with them at school. Starting with small show-&-tells that included treats and where-in-the-world-is-India kind of presentations for 1st to 3rd graders in 1990, I ended my unpaid Ambassadorship of Teaching about Others in 2004 with multiple full days in the kids’ high school with every grade from freshmen to seniors. There was the history, the geography, the religions, the languages, the colonization, the foods, the caste system, the cities (yes, we had them), the cows in the roads (yes, we had those, too)…too long a list to remember now. These interactive presentations always involved feeding them papadums & samosas and dressing them in Indian clothes, with the teachers always learning to wear a sari. Some of the male identified teachers declined this part of the presentation. If one kid in rural Illinois has grown to adulthood knowing the difference between an Indigenous Native American and a person from the Indian sub-continent in SouthAsia, my job is done!