Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fred and Me



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There we stood: the hobo, the circus clown with the red SOS pad hair tuffets, Casper the friendly ghost, and 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:
My costume will be home-made and glittery and have some netting, somewhere.
My trick-or-treat candy bag will be home-made and glittery and match my costume.

My Please Dear God Basics List:

My costume will fit me.
My costume is one for a girl, since I’m a girl.
I should be able to go with friends, and not all of my siblings instead.

My Colombian Child’s Lord Kill Me Now List:
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 three 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 the pitch black night. 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. 5 o’clock shadow hobo man, white-faced Bozo the Clown with blood-red cream puffs for hair, Casper, and the god almighty ugly 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.

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 here.

50 comments:

  1. I love this - how effectively you took me right there to your little living room as you all stood there waiting for the costumes!
    Poor little Fred Flinstone.

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    1. Katie, I am so glad I'm getting to know you.

      Thanks for reaching out!!!!

      Delete
  2. I think you may have made Fred hip.
    xo

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  3. I adore this piece--the misunderstandings your parents had about Halloween, your inflated childhood expectations, and the letdown over the 5 and dime purchases.

    And yeah, I'm old enough to remember those masks. CREEPY.

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    1. WIll you do a post???

      I love to see pictures from before safety guidelines days.

      xo

      Delete
  4. How painfully awful for all of you.

    I do remember all of those things. Mostly I remember that we had the homemade costumes while all of our friends had store-bought. Around here, homemade meant poor. Only one or 2 of us got a plastic mask.

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  5. This is so fantastic, I sent the link to all of my coworkers. The bag of pennies kills me.

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    1. Welcome to my life.

      My kids love these stories.

      Why I began writing them down here.

      Sweet thing, you, THANK YOU.

      Delete
  6. I really love this post. My best girlfriend is Colombian and I have to send this to her.

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  7. Do I remember that mask? Oh, heck yea, do I remember it. I remember the coolest costume I ever had was a witch (my choice) and my mom painted my face. I thought I was the shizz. That was after all the other humiliating costumes I won't dare mention here. I will say my brother was a pumpkin one year long after it was adorable to be a pumpkin and it's a moment he's still trying to live down.

    I laughed hard when I saw this picture. Thank you for the Columbianism :)

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    1. A post, and pictures.

      I LOVE TO SEE commiseration.

      xo

      Delete
  8. Oh, yes, I totally remember those plastic masks. I wore glasses from first grade on and it was always a dilemma: do I wear them under the mask or over it? They rarely fit over so I'd go with under, but then they'd fog up in a hot second. Blind either way.

    So well told, Alexandra. I was right there with you, an awkward, blind Barney Rubble to your Fred. xo

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    1. Isn't it funny to remember together? Such a feeling of being understood.

      THOSE awful masks with no space for a classic profile nose.

      xo

      Delete
  9. I think everyone has had to suffer through those hideous plastic masks at some point. On the plus side, back in those days Halloween seemed so much safer and we didn't think much about anyone trying to poison us, or do serious damage with sharp objects inserted into our candy!

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  10. I so adore childhood Halloween tales for I had none. Not to weep a bit, but our ranch was 85 acres on the side of a mountain and we didn't even have a television. *sigh* Top that with some uber religious parental units that were certain a reese's cup would drag us to hell on a bike made of candy corn....

    I made up for it in my twenties....went trick-or-treating with a shot glass while visiting a college bud. You had to drink whatever they put in it. Shazam. And I rocked that Elvira do.

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  11. hahaha...oh my...at least we did not have to give out pennies to get our candy...i do remember those plastic masks....i was a commando a could years....easy, camo clothes from the goodwill and one of my uncles cigars....orange spray paint on the tip....but real....

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  12. My costumes were always handmade, but I still have some regrets like: third grade and some sort of dark brown velourish dog. I was a witch in kindergarten and GOT to wear a plastic mask with my handsewn garb (I think I wore it without the year before, and that was my big change up)...I have never been as cool as that again!

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  13. Your parents tried hard. How about being grateful for that? You don't know what they went through to come here and you just don't appreciatge what they did.

    Ungrateful and doubt if you even know what sacrifice means.

    Big deal, hard life, no nice costume. At least you had food and a housoe and parents that cared. Not all children have that.

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    1. Ummm...if you're gonna say rotton things, please man-up enough to own them.

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    2. Anonymous:

      I do appreciate what my parents did. I have even gone on a national stage alongside Molly Ringwald, singing their praises and speaking of how humbled I am that they would give everything up, their life as they knew it, to give us equal opportunity in America.

      I do recognize that, and am grateful, daily.

      I laugh, because in humor we find love. We find love, hope, and strength: humor connects us, and helps us see through teary joy, all that makes us unique and wonderful.

      I hope your heart heals, anonymous, and someday, you find a way to laugh and celebrate that which makes you bring something special to others' lives.

      Peace.

      And love.

      xo

      Delete
    3. You, sweet Empress, convict me. Does your heart know no limits?

      Delete
  14. My mom is strictly anti-halloween. Because it's celebration of evil, she says.

    SO I've only ever been trick-or-treating twice. Once as a preschooler, when I dressed as a bunny rabbit with ears, a tail, and my white baby blanket wrapped around my winter jacktet (I insisted on having it be part of my costume. The second time was as a teenager, without a costume, going around with friend singing Christmas Carols in exchange for people's leftover candy. Yep.

    This year, I'll be taking my younger siblings trick-or-treating so they won't have to suffer the same fate. =P

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  15. 1)Yes I remember those masks and almost hyperventilate now thinking about the hot breath and wet plastic.
    2)I have no doubt that you could rock Fred after seeing you last weekend ;)
    3)Being different is so complex and layered. Bringing that to light has nothing to do with being ungrateful. Like you said, "Oh well let's just do this." And you did.
    4)Cheers to those of us who march out of step for whatever reason! Love ya.

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  16. Oh yes...those masks! Whenever I think of them I can still feel that "dewy" plastic plastered to my face like some kind of low rent spa treatment. Fred can be cool too. I'll bet you went up and down the street shouting "Wiiilllmaaa!!!" I love that now when I read your writing I can hear your voice.

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  17. Hilarious! And more hilarious (well, to me anyway) is that I also went as Fred Flinstone! But. Here's the kicker. I wanted to be Fred Flinstone. Why? Who knows. I did watch the show and loved it. But, a year later I wanted to be something other than that awful plastic something draped over me.
    My parents immigrated from Paraguay, so we definitely had the language and cultural barriers and misunderstandings. I badly wanted a homemade fairy costume like my friend had, but I had to put on whatever plastic nightmare they picked up from the drugstore. But, they were into it. We knew some other church-going families that wouldn't allow their kids to participate and my parents, as traditional and conservative as they were, always, always let us go. They encouraged it.
    I absolutely loved this post. And thanks again for your oh-so-lovely comment on my post the other day. I was FREAKING out about that post. So, thank you.

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    1. WHAAT??

      I'm dying.

      You WANTED to be Fred?

      Me, and what I didn't DIDN'T tell you in this post is that I had a cousin whose mother sewed her halloween outfits and then took pictures and mailed them to me, to visually torture me, with the cone shaped damsel tulle draped headpiece, and icy blue satiny gown.

      THE PAIN.

      And so I wished for home-made costumes, of princesses in sky blue.

      And when I saw I had to be a bulbous nosed and 5 o'clock shadowed grown man, it was, well .... THERE IS YOUR DAGGER.

      How I love talking to you.

      Delete
  18. I SO remember those masks. I was Barbie (yes, my immigrant parents did get that part right, lol!) but I couldn't ever breathe through that mask. And I think I was Barbie for several years b/c they didn't get that I needed a new costume every year.

    I'd love to see your Fred Flintstone costume. And the pennies cracked me up. Thanks for the smile today. :)

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    1. I remember that dead shark eyed mask! of Barbie!!

      I remember.

      I didn't want to be Barbie, but a Disney girl.

      Any Disney girl.

      xo

      Delete
  19. I remember those costumes...and I did get Cinderella (insert sheepish face here)...but, seriously, they were all hideous. I remember thinking, this is Cinderella? I look possessed.

    Loved this story of what it's like to feel so un-American. We desperately just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else, didn't we? I know and felt the poignancy in your post.

    I hope you have a happy Halloween this year!

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    1. Of all the people I know. I know that you know, Ceci.

      xo

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  20. Best story ever. I can totally relate, and my parents weren't even Columbian.

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    1. You're so sweet to me, Marianne. I admire your writing so much and you've really lifted me today.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Delete
  21. I remember when Ben Franklin was a five-and-dime - I used to spend all my meager allowance there. And we'd get our Halloween costumes from there in those cellophane peep hole boxes, too. Though at least I was able to dress gender-correct...sorry about that. I bet you made a killer Fred Flinstone, though. ;)


    Dressing Up for Halloween

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    1. You remember the cellophane!! It's so much fun when you find someone that can remember with you.

      Now they come on hangers, and cost 40 dollars!!!

      My parents never would have been able to afford that. NEVER.

      Delete
  22. As long as you don;'t try to do a slutty Fred Flintstone. I mean, you're lovely, but there's a line, you know?

    BTW, Halloweenas Beunas!

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  23. Lol. Love it. I have my fair share of non-english speaking parent stories too, though in my neighborhood you wanted the store bought costume not the one your mom made!

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  24. I, too, remember the masks, and how my brother would pull on the string to snap it against the back of my head.
    I love the part about the pennies!
    Thanks so much for sharing your stories with us!

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  25. Oh my gosh! You win. I longed for the store-bought costumes, but my mother insisted on making them herself. It was horrible.

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    1. I wanted those hand made ones and not the cardboard boxed up prisoner ones we had.

      We just want what the others seem to have.

      xo

      Delete
  26. Loved this!!! My off the boat Italian mother allowed me to tric-a-tree to exactly 5 houses......

    Also European noses in an American mask? Soooooooooo true!!

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  27. OMG! Ben Franklin! Little plastic masks! You took me right back there. Loved this post.

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  28. You've so beautifully captured the horror and embarrassment of every child who's ever wanted her parents to JUST GET IT already. Whether from cultural misunderstanding or willful obliviousness (in my parents' case). xo.

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  29. You should put that picture up.

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  30. Was I Casper, or is your writing making me think I was? My eyelashes feel all scrapey and my hair is tangled in the elastic and I'm saying Trick or Treat but it sounds all muffled.

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  31. Ow. The funny burns.

    I'm trying so hard not to laugh, because I believe schadenfreude is cruel.

    But can't help it. The pennies are so touching. The parents who just don't get it are so adorable. And the Fred flintstone is just too funny to let go...

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  32. I laughed SO HARD.

    Seriously. I'm still grinning and my cheeks hurt.

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