Your first clue that Halloween couldn't be too far off was when the daylight hours of each day kept getting noticeably shorter. Then mounds of pumpkins appeared outside the door to the grocery stores. Autumn is definitely here, and that means Halloween isn't far off either.
I remember back when I was in the fourth grade, Mrs. Noriega began decorating our classroom with orange and black cutouts of bats, ghosts and jack-o'-lanterns about the first week of October.
Finally, after weeks of anticipation, the official announcement was made over the classroom loudspeaker: "This coming Friday, a schoolwide Halloween assembly will be held two hours before dismissal, and then you will go back to your classrooms for individual parties. Costumes may be worn."
That last little bit of information set off the quest for the "perfect" costume of such intensity that untold miles were added to family cars, and mothers would be kept awake until all hours of the night hunched over sewing machines.
"Wha'cha gonna wear," I asked my friend Billy, "to the Halloween deal this Friday?" We were riding our bikes home the little distance it was from school, but our path took us right past the front of the local five-and-dime store.
"I don't know," answered Billy. "Let's stop here and see what the dime store's got. I know I'm not going to wear the same thing I'm going to wear when I go out trick-or-treating. I'm gonna be really scary then, and you gotta wear something you can move fast in then!"
We found our way back to the Halloween costume section of the store and were supremely disappointed with the selection of available choices.
"These are all dorky," Billy opined, "but, hey look what they've got over here." He had found a section full of glue-on, do-it-yourself gore, complete with facial scars and warts. Why, with all of these ghoulish add-ons, you could virtually construct your very own - dare I say it? - industrial accident.
Billy decided to come back to the five-and-dime later with money, and I knew that the search for the perfect costume was going to continue. Somehow I knew, a white skeleton printed on black cheesecloth, topped with a skull-faced mask held on with a rubber band, just wasn't making it.
"What should I wear," I quizzed my mother, "this year for Halloween?"
"Why don't you make something yourself?" she suggested. "You could be a pirate or a hobo or something like that. All of those should be easy enough to make yourself."
"Nah, its gotta be sumthin' cool."
I spent the next two days selecting - and rejecting - costume ideas. Racecar drivers were thrown aside because I'd been one the previous year, and you couldn't repeat costumes from one year to the next. Everybody would remember last year and instantly know who you were, our child minds figured.
Cowboys were out, too; it seemed like everybody, when they were stuck for a costume idea, always fell back on the cowboy.
Finally, I decided on Zorro. I already had a pair of black jeans I could wear and a black, long-sleeved shirt. All I needed to make was a cape and a mask, and they were fairly simple tasks to accomplish.
The flat-brimmed Spanish-style hat was the most difficult object to come up with, but luckily I found one at the shopping center down the road. When it came to Zorro's sword, that was an item I quickly got outvoted on by Mom.
Billy and I were quite a sight as we rode our bikes to school that Friday. Me, with my black cape flying in the wind, and Billy, with a phony bloodstained shirt, bandages and paste-on gore, looking every bit like he'd already been in some sort of horrible traffic accident.
The all-school assembly was a disaster. You can imagine how attentive an auditorium full of kids in costume was; then when you added a bunch of lame skits that the teachers dreamed up that were supposed to be scary, yet not too frightening ... well, you get the idea.
The individual class parties went off much better. Some of the mothers had made cupcakes and brought punch with dry ice floating in it. We bobbed for apples, and the high point was when Billy lost half of his glue-on gore into the washtub with the apples floating in it.
After school, we road home with smiles on our faces and eagerly looking forward to the mischief that still lay before us that night.