The embarrassing ghosts from Halloweens past

CB&GB_2Halloween is but days away, that night of the year when the streets are filled with children dressed up as ghosts and goblins and John Boehner. (Trust me, you won’t be able to schedule five minutes at a tanning salon between now and November 1.) It is also, alas, that evening when many of us are scarred for life. Here are a few of the embarrassing moments that some of my readers recalled from Halloweens past.

* Kat Nemec (who is also my immensely talented cousin – which means this is actually a story about my aunt, a woman who has always been like a second mother to me): “I’m eight years old. My mom learns that my cousin and his friends have a gorilla suit. She asks to borrow it so she can scare trick-or-treaters. She looks totally scary and real when she’s in it. A bunch of sixth-graders ring our doorbell. My mom is hiding behind the big tree in our front yard. She jumps out to scare them, howling ‘hoo hoo’ like a monkey. They turn around and yell ‘Get it!’ and attack her with shaving cream and eggs. She starts screaming, ‘Stop, I’m Mrs. Muench! I know your mothers, stop!’ But they’re a mob by now. Unstoppable. She gets chased down the block and comes home a mess.”

* Barbara Brown-Potter: “Our neighborhood in Essex Junction used to go all out on Halloween. One house in particular gave our daughter and her friend a quickened heartbeat as they approached the door. Dead bodies hung from trees and littered the lawn. Eerie sounds were pumped through hidden speakers. The girls, dressed as devils, would not go any further. ‘They’re all fake,’ I reassured the children. I grabbed one of their plastic pitchforks and thrust it into what I thought was a shirt stuffed with leaves – a ‘dead’ body. The ensuing scream of surprise from the resurrected corpse gave us all a Halloween moment to remember.”

* Cati Montgomery: “In fifth grade, I had a great costume: Green scrubs, green makeup, green hair paint, and a cardboard box decorated to look like a book cover. At every door, I had to explain what I was. No one understood. I was a bookworm. Yup: A fifth grade nerd in a not so clever disguise.”

* Natalie Hagopian: “Halloween, 1984. I was 10 years old and living in the suburbs of Detroit – Motown. My two best friends and I dressed up as the Supremes. We worked on our costumes for weeks and spent an enormous amount of time choreographing a routine. On Halloween, instead of the usual ‘trick-or-treat,’ we sang ‘Stop, in the name of love.’ The only problem was that it took us so long to go through the act that after nearly two hours, we had only made it to six houses. We had very little candy and started home feeling a little defeated. Just then, a teenage boy sitting on his parents’ porch called us over. He was passing out candy for his folks. We did our routine for him and he nearly fell off his chair laughing. ‘That was the coolest,’ he told us. Then, he dumped his entire bucket of candy into my bag. I nearly fainted. ‘No biggie,’ he winked. ‘I was really sick of handing out the candy and you girls just made my night.’ He made my night too!”

* Susan Nussbaum: “One year, the weather on Halloween was cold and rainy, and our mom wouldn’t let my twin sisters and me go trick-or-treating. The following day, the weather was better, so she sent us out then. People were a bit puzzled to see us standing on their doorsteps on November 1 and didn’t have much to give us. I still recall – forty years later – an older woman asking why we were a day late. Can you say humiliating?”

* Angela MacDonald: “Our daughter was about five and she was dressed as a pink Crayola crayon for Halloween. When she rang the bell at one house, the woman who answered the door yelled for her husband to come quick: There was a little person dressed as a penis!”

Happy Halloween. And if a gorilla pops out from behind a tree, be kind: It might be my aunt.

photo (This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on October 27, 2013. Chris’s most recent novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” was published in July.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.