Sunday, October 15, 2006

Halloween, Part One

I’ve always been kind of last minute when it comes to putting a costume together. As a kid though, I had a secret weapon. My step-father was an artist.

John was a quiet, introspective man as I knew him. He trained us to appreciate a dry, literate wit. And he was always making something. There were years of fabulous costumes and school projects where his creative energy could pour out in a way his life as a business man did not allow.

On my sister, I remember a giant turkey costume consisting of a paper mache turkey head and some kind of feathered tunic. I have a picture of her from another year in a princess costume complete with wand, lavender pointed hat with a fall of tulle and elaborate purple cloak. She looks overjoyed in the photo; smiling to the bursting point. She’s everything she dreamed of being. John was like that; a dreamer.

I remember a second grade school project I left to the last minute. It was supposed to be a diorama of a dam. By the time John and I were done, we’d created a landscape complete with a concrete lake dam, sticks glued over a tributary representing a beaver dam, astro-turf crop lands and a lakeside resort. The only reason it didn’t win the science fair was because when a group of hapless first graders asked me what it was, my old nemesis first grade teacher heard me retort “duh, what does it look like?” The nerve of first graders to not recognize artistic genius!

I’m sure during those Halloweens when we were a family, there were many inventive costumes for me. But I only remember one. I was eight or nine. It was shortly before I left my mother and John to move to California and my dad. In case it’s not yet apparent, I was a problem child and I think it got to the point where my mom just didn’t know what to do with me. The nuns at school certainly had had their fill.

“In California you’ll get a clean slate but don’t burn your bridges,” my parents counseled me.

So I swanned around at recess finally standing up to the bullies. “I don’t have to be nice to you anymore. I’m leaving.” Add “Does not follow directions” to the “Doesn’t play well with others” list.

That was the year I began my lifelong romance with the automobile. I had just seen Herbie and was determined to strut my stuff on Halloween as the Love Bug himself. I have no idea what John thought when I made this declaration. But I know he enjoyed a good creative challenge.

He and I went down to the garage and over the course of several hours fashioned a Herbie out of two cardboard boxes bolted together, paint, and a pair of suspenders. My head and shoulders stuck out of the top as though I was standing out of the sunroof. It was a brilliant design and whimsical execution. Lucky for me, Herbie was already enough of a cultural icon that people got it and I didn’t have to answer the inevitable “And what are you supposed to be, little girl?” with “What do I look like?” which, if I’d been older, would have been followed by a “dumbass.”

Over the years, I was the beneficiary of many such creations of ingenuity and mundane genius on the part of my step-father. But the Herbie costume was my favorite. It was one of the more ridiculous things I dragged out to California along with the Dam Diorama. I insisted on keeping Herbie hung with pride in the garage over the real cars.

It was not simply out of a pack rat instinct to horde everything, trying as I was to keep some sense of normalcy in my up-heaved life. It was in recognition of an act of love. In my memory, there are some fantastical constructions for my brother and sister. But even then, I was aware I got something special from John. I think he knew I got him. Without judgment.

Nearly twenty years later I was helping my father clean out the California house I’d moved to. The one I ended up growing up in. I had been long gone, established in my own Tinseltown life and my dad was finally selling and moving on with his own life. Herbie came down from the garage rafters. It seemed so tiny now I had to laugh. The cardboard was floppy and crumpled in places. The paint faded. Still the design seemed like a simple stroke of genius to me.

“What do you want to do with this?” My dad asked.

The clear implication was “We’re trashing this, right?” I knew I had to as well. What can a grown woman in a little Hollywood apartment do with a cardboard Herbie costume? Still, I couldn’t be the one to crush it into the recycling box. I let my dad do that. I wondered if he was ever jealous that he hadn’t been the one to make for me that silly car that had survived so much.

So it’s time for Halloween again and as usual, I’ll have a bowl of candy ready. But it seems like kids don’t trick or treat anymore. I’ll be watching out for that kid with the funky costume that some inspired parent “helped make.” The one the kid’ll always remember wearing and feeling like, despite whatever was not working in their life, someone cared about them.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Kid Sis said...

Sooooo beautiful.

I loved Herbie.

Do you have any pictures?

4:20 PM  
Blogger greg said...

Every post feels like a faded picture. You put the past into a beautiful perspective.

2:20 AM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Wow, thanks, Greg. That's a wonderful compliment! Can I quote you on that?

Sis! You know, I can't believe it but there are no pictures that I know of. I'll have to check with mom. I guess that's why the writing is a good thing.

10:01 AM  

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