Halloween Parade

by Terry Hogan

I was on a plane returning from a trip to Washington, D.C., wondering whether I could write an article about Halloween. I wasn't having much success on coming up with a topic that might be of interest to anyone, even me. I took a break, and struck up a conversation with a young woman sitting next to me. I've learned a few things about young women on airplanes. They generally are disinclined to strike up a conversation with old men. Go figure. I, personally, find myself fascinating. But I have learned that you can get women talking and forgetting about their predisposition by asking them questions about themselves. The less you say, the better the conversationalist you are. Go figure.

The young woman was currently a representative for one of those flashy '' dot com'' companies on the internet. She was flying to Indiana for a business meeting. I found that ironic, but I didn't offer the observation. Silence is golden. She used to be a grade school teacher in Alexandria, Virginia. As she talked, she mentioned that her school was like a little community school in a bigger city. She recalled the Halloween parades that the school held each year. As she talked, it was clear that the Halloween parade had changed little over the miles or over the years. Life works in mysterious ways.

I too remember the Halloween parades held when I was a grade school student, helping to put the first nicks, scratches, and rubs on the new Allen Park School. I was in the first, first grade class and was in the first sixth grade class to graduate from Allen Park that had been through all grades there. It was nearly 50 years ago when I first attended Allen Park.

Allen Park had the Halloween parades. We would all bring our costumes to school and the poor teachers would have to help us get them on. Some were simple white sheets with eyes cut out, some were very elaborate, and expensive. Some of the kids clearly had limited resources or perhaps limited parental support for costumes. A few would have no costumes at all. In the later years of grade school, we boys began to find more interest in the girls who became princesses or fairies for the parade. Their mothers probably wouldn't have been amused.

It always seemed hot on the day for the parade. Kids with rubber masks walked around half-blind as the round eyeholes of the masks kept sliding out of view. Sweat would pour down their foreheads and around their cheeks, only adding to the vision problem. We would march out of the classroom, by class, and out the door, across the street and down the sidewalk. Crosswalk patrolmen would stop traffic as we, resembling a multicolored millipede, crossed over and headed for the neighborhood west of the school. During the march, there would be the occasional stumble and fall or the ''rear-ender'' caused by a blinded rubber mask wearer plowing into the kid ahead.

I don't recall that we drew much of a crowd, from either the neighborhood or from parents. I do remember that most of the limited audience were older folks. This may have been due to retirement, or to the strong grandparent gene that begins to express itself in later years. For those of you who are not geneticists, in the human male, the grandfather gene is located on the Y-chromosome. It is inactive during parenting years, but becomes active when he reaches the age of potential grandparenting. Through mechanisms not fully understood, the gene expresses itself. As a result, the Y-chromosome creates a chemical which, when secreted into the bloodstream, makes the ''Why'' questions of little children suddenly cute, instead of irritating. I suppose that is why geneticists call it the ''Y-chromosome'', but I could be wrong.

But, back to the parade. It was one of those events where the anticipation far exceeded the occurrence. It was something to look forward to. We got out of school, got to dress up and march around, and to act up a little, within certain bounds. In anticipation, the hot rubber masks, the heat building up under the rest of the costume, never came up. Looking back, I'm guessing that some of the teachers had a slightly different perspective of the outing. Mark Twain didn't say, ''Teaching wouldn't be bad, except for the kids.'' But he should have.

The Halloween parade was a glimpse of later life. As adults, we would make decisions or look forward to taking certain actions, only to later look back philosophically- ''it seemed like a good idea at the time.'' Sometimes the parade wasn't all that much fun. Other times it was. Like life, it's what you make of it.

Two teachers and one principal stick out in my memory of Allen Park School. Mrs. Montgomery was my third grade and my fourth grade teacher. I remember her gray hair done up in a bun. She was a good, kind-hearted woman, with one exception. She didn't like my handwriting, or more correctly, my ''penmanship.'' She gave me an ''unsatisfactory'' grade once for it. I hold a grudge. It was my first recollection of ''being wronged.'' My handwriting was terrible, but it was the best I could do.

I also remember Mr. Poole. He was my sixth grade teacher and was strict. He carried the end of a fiberglass-fishing rod that he would use to hit kids. If you slid down in your desk seat so your leg extended into the aisle, he would walk up behind and hit your leg with the fiberglass rod. It hurt. On the other hand, I had a friend and a classmate who was talented in math. Mr. Poole would take him aside and work with him on advanced math in an effort to keep him challenged and interested. This was long before a talented or gifted concept was floating around.

The principal was Miss Lester. She was an authority figure. It was not a good day when you were sent out of class to see Miss Lester. She was a large woman and could intimidate a young child who already knew he was in deep trouble simply by being sent down the hall ''to the principal's office.'' Looking back, I'm sure it was role-playing on her part. She was the one who taught me how to tie my shoes. I was the only left-handed child in the family, and for some reason, I couldn't pick up the difficult task from right-handed parents. Miss Lester had me tying my shoes in a matter of minutes. She was either really good, or the fear of failing was the motivation I needed. To this day, I tie my shoes in a slow, mechanical manner (''by the steps'') that seems strangely out of context.

This was also the period of time when we were sure that ''the bomb'' would come. We would practice in the classroom, the totally useless exercise of ducking down under our desks. Sometimes we would also practice taking cover in the hallways, away from windows. I don't recall if this was only for tornado drills or whether it was for ''duck and cover'' for nuclear blasts as well. ''Duck and cover'' has got to be one of the best examples of governmental placebo programs ever foisted upon us.

But kids, being kids, we did what we were told, and thought no more about it. Death is an abstract concept to a child and the flash and loss of city is unimaginable. But ghosts, goblins, and witches that cook little boys and girls in large black iron pots- they were reality. Things that go bump in the night; things that live under the bed or in the closet; things that lurk in the bath tub drains- these are real to small children. Halloween made light of these fears. Seeing witches to be classmates demystified.

If you have a chance, see if one of the local grade schools is going to have a Halloween parade. Make time to attend. Enjoy the parade before you. Enjoy the one in your mind's eye, when you were looking from the other perspective, perhaps through a hot rubber mask.

And if you are one of those who believe Halloween promotes devil worship or in some other way is harmful to children, think back. You didn't turn out to be a witch or troll. Did you? Let children be children. And let grandparents enjoy them. Happy Halloween.

Backtrack and enjoy.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online October 24, 2000

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