Let’s just say that 1984 was an especially cruel year for me. My parents took any shred of self-esteem I had developed and pretty much decided to shred it in one fell swoop. They, of course, did not see this at all. In fact, their ego crushing move actually came to me in the form of a gift!
My father recently decided to clean out his attic, an area that has the same square footage as a large apartment but looked for the last twelve years like the inside of a Goodwill drop-off center that has never been sorted. He was lucky no one (me) called the producers of Hoarders.
But last month he announced that it was time to do something about it and the attic now looks much different thanks to his hard work and persistence. During the process of the big clean, my father made a pile in the back corner for me of childhood things (i.e., ‘stuff’) that I could go through at ‘my leisure’; ‘my leisure’ meaning immediately or yesterday since when my dad is in get-something-done-mode, the only timetable that’s comfortable is the one marked ‘Right Now’.
So last week I spent about an hour in there going through a total of only two boxes, simply because it was such a trip down memory lane that I had to stop and reminisce with every rediscovered symbol of my past. The items I found ranged from amusing and slightly humiliating, like my old letters (of which there were, sadly, many) where I artfully pretended I was Kirk Cameron‘s wife; to bittersweet and nostalgic, like finding a never-worn nightgown from my grandmother to my mother with a lovely card wishing her a safe, happy delivery of her first baby.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for finding two old Halloween costumes gifted to my sister and me by our parents circa 1984.
Now, back in the day, Halloween costumes were generally procured from one of two places – the local drugstore or your parents’ linen closet. I fondly remember standing in my neighborhood Walgreen’s choosing among the plastic wrapped packages, trying to decide which character I would become that year. I had to mostly wish that the body of the costume properly showcased who I was trying to be, because the string holding the plastic mask on my face pretty much broke by the third house I hit up for candy.
Or if it was the linen closet I raided, well, we all know how easily a good old-fashioned pillow case could become a scary ghost with just a pair of scissors. So minus having to take all of my candy to the local hospital to have it x-rayed for hidden needles, Halloween really was a simpler time in 1984. No Chasing Fireflies or Pottery Barn Kids with their elaborate costumes that cost more than your average car payment.
So imagine the thrill that my sister and I experienced when our parents returned from a business trip to New York City with Halloween costumes that they had hand-picked for us from FAO Schwarz®. These were costumes made from actual material that slipped over our heads and truly looked like what they were supposed to be. It was like winning the Halloween lottery … at least BEFORE I realized what the costume was that they so lovingly chose JUST for me.
Keep in mind that in 1984 I was eight years old, an age where Halloween costumes are really beginning to matter, both socially and to a child’s self-esteem, and I had pretty high expectations for an FAO Schwarz® treat.
My parents revealed my sister’s costume first, which was a very scary, very lifelike, but most importantly, VERY COOL witch costume.
Just what every average four-year-old needs, right? After handing it over to her and watching her face light up in delight, they turned to me and pulled mine out of the bag. My first reaction was that there must have been a mix-up at the store. I half-expected my mother to begin shrieking about how the ridiculous sales lady put the wrong item in their bag, because surely, SURELY, what had just been revealed to me must have been a mistake, right? I mean, they wouldn’t actually *choose* this costume for their daughter, as in on purpose.But, no, there was no wringing of the hands or frantic dialing of the phone, instead it was all smiles as they handed me my special costume.
Wait for it…
Yes, you read that right, no need to adjust your screen. My parents looked at all the available costumes in the largest, fanciest toy store in the world (at least back then) and thought to themselves, “I know what Ashley would look great in! I know what she would just love to be! She would love to be an elephant!”
Because what every little girl dreams of is dressing up like an animal that on its best day weighs as much as a barge. I suppose had they chosen a cow instead, I would have been slightly more insulted but I am not sure by how much. And of course, because this costume came all the way from New York City and was so expensive (I know this because my mother told me – she loved nothing more than to qualify a gift with its high value), I had to pretend as though this gifted costume was great. I had to act as if I would love walking down the street next to my little sister dressed up as the coolest witch ever to come to town while I trudged along beside her as a pachyderm, secretly hoping no one would recognize me through my eye holes.
I don’t honestly remember much from the trick-or-treating that year, but I feel fairly confident that more than one person at more than one house made a joke about how I must want peanuts more than candy.
Like any good mother would, I snatched up those Halloween costumes from my father’s attic and immediately brought them home for my girls to try on.
Let’s just say that seeing the photo evidence some 25 years later did nothing to lessen the painful memory of that poor little girl whose parents apparently saw her as the world’s largest land animal.