Essay: Fred and Me

Oct 30, 2014

Credit PumpkinWayne / Flickr

Although some towns in the area have already celebrated their Halloween, tomorrow marks the actual all hallows eve. 

But no matter when you trick or treat, the point is for kids to wear the coolest costumes and see who can amass the fullest bag of high fructose corn syrup goodness...unless you are newly arrived in this country and your parents don’t quite get the cultural importance of trick or treat, as Lake Effect essayist Alexandra Rosas remembers.

There the four of us stood: the hobo with the 5 o'clock shadow, the circus clown with the red SOS pad hair tuffets, Casper, the not just friendly, but cute, ghost, and the bumbling Fred Flintstone.

My Colombian family had not been in this country long enough to understand the essential childhood nuances of Halloween’s Trick-or-Treat in the 1960′s, especially for a girl.

Things like My Trick or Treat Night Dream List, which stated that my costume will be home-made and glittery and have some netting, somewhere. Better yet, everywhere, with my trick-or-treat candy bag also home-made and glittery and matching my costume.

Or My Please Dear God Basics List: outlining that my costume will fit me. That my costume is one for a girl, since I’m a girl. And importantly, that I should be able to go with friends, and not all of my siblings instead.

And my Colombian Child’s Lord Just Kill Me Now List: spelling out, clearly, that I should not be sent out into the dark night with a plastic baggie full of pennies so I can pay the person giving out the candy so that no one can say I took candy from them. I should not have to go trick-or-treating with my non-English speaking parents only five feet away asking one hundred times “que es eso?” for every candy I get so that I end up translating for both sides--the giver and the getter--explaining what I got, to who gave it to me, not knowing who the heck wants to know anymore.

My parents did not understand Trick-or-Treat, and as painful as it was to go along with all the un-Americanism they threw into it, my siblings and I begged to be allowed to join the neighborhood children on this most exciting of nights.

Trick-or-Treat in the late 60′s went on in pitch black nights. We explained to our mother that we would need costumes. Times back then were charming; costumes were sold at local five-and-dime stores, boxed with a cellophane peek hole so you could see what was inside.

As my parents were out buying our costumes on Halloween day, we watched and waited for their return, all four of us squeezed against our front room window. Oh, the hope that we still had ... that somehow, our mother and father would come through for us and walk in with alter-egos of our dreams.

When they came home, we attacked them at the door, diving into the Ben Franklin Craft Shop bag. We held up the four boxes, and stared at the masks looking up at us from their cozy see-through homes. The hollow-eyed plastic faces staring back at us were no one we wanted to spend time being.

Our choices for the night were Mr. cigar chomping hobo man, white-faced Bozo the Clown with blood-red cream puffs for hair, Casper, and the frightfully inappropriate bulky Fred Flintstone.

Where was Snow White? Where was Superman? Where was Cinderella?

All I could think was, god in heaven why is this my life. Followed by what I've been saying to myself for years by that point: Oh well let’s just do this.

Would it surprise you if I told you that the only costume that fit me was Fred Flintstone?

Well, at least we wouldn’t be fighting over the least mentally harmful visage, cute dimple cheeked Casper. He came home in size 4T and just right for my little sister.

We suited up, pulling up the pre-flame retardant regulation nylon costumes that would instantly take you from Little Red Riding Hood to the superhero Human Torch if you got anywhere near a parent’s lit cigarette. My grandmother shook her head muttering the words "Tricker Tree" and sighing about the silliness of it all as she tied the strings at the top of our costumes in a double knot.

Does anyone remember those stiff plastic masks? With the skinniest of elastic bands stapled into place, with scarcely any room for a European sized nose behind it? Does anyone remember the way your hot breath would turn the non-breathable plastic into a Scandinavian steam room within seconds of stepping out into the cold night?

This was after dark, in late October. While your hands and toes and ears were freezing, your face would be getting a moisture beauty hot springs treatment. And those half-inch horizontal eye slits cut into the masks as a lie that they would allow vision? I still remember looking down and getting my eyelashes caught in the sharp plastic edges. To this day, I thank the god of corneal abrasions for saving my eyesight.

Years later, looking at a picture of us on this night, I see us lined up tallest to cutest, right before we left the house: Fred (me), Hobo (brother), Bozo (brother), and Cute Casper (baby sister). I look at this picture, and remember the feeling of resignation to my lot in life.

Equal parts anger mixed with despair. Fred Flintstone! What if someone in a lovingly hand-sewn pink sparkly princess costume from school saw me as Fred Flintstone! Not only was I store-bought but I was gender incorrect, too.

If only that were where the story stopped. We were also sent out into the night with a bag of pennies, so that no one could come back to say we took candy from them.

Why? Because we lived by The Colombian motto, ”expect revenge from everyone, and give no one a reason to say you owe them something.”

Ding-Dong. Tricker Tree! It's your Colombian Connection. Can I give you a penny for that Peanut Butter twist? I've got a bagful for you.

Lake Effect essayist Alexandra Rosas is a contributing author of the HerStories Project as well as other anthologies.  She's also Milwaukee GrandSLAM storytelling champion for The Moth, and she lives with her family in Cedarburg.​