Books & writing

Book reviews and more


Advance movie reviews and behind-the-scenes discussions with filmmakers

Q & A

Nerd chats with writers and actors

Random Nerdy Stuff

Ramblings that defy categorization


Recaps and reactions to some of your favorite TV shows

Home » Random Nerdy Stuff

My First Halloween

Submitted by on October 28, 2010 – 11:29 pm 31 Comments

My nephew Max on his first Halloween

Among the kids who come trick or treating at my door every year, I always see a handful of adorable babies in dog or lion costumes experiencing their first Halloween, something they’ll have no memory of years from now. But I remember my first Halloween because I was eight years old when I was introduced to this interesting American tradition.

My family and I had been in this country for about five months when one day in late October, one of our sponsors, Mrs. Morrison, came over to tell us about this fun thing we kids were going to do on the last day of the month. The way I understood it, we had to pretend to be a scary character, dress up in costumes and walk around asking strangers for candy.  I liked free candy just fine but didn’t know begging for food was encouraged here in America. I thought we had left Vietnam so we wouldn’t have to do things like that.

Mrs. Morrison finished her briefing and asked if we had any questions.

“Can we ask for rice?” I asked.

“Ah, no.”

“Meat?” my brother asked.

“Candy only,” Mrs. Morrison said.

I had one more. “You do trick for candy?” Though I wasn’t sure what it meant, I’d heard it was bad to “turn tricks,” especially on the street.

Mrs. Morrison laughed. “Don’t worry. No one ever has to do any tricks.  People will just give you candy because that’s the point.”

I still felt uncertain about this weird thing we were being talked into but next thing I knew, we were all hustled into Mrs. Morrison’s car to go shopping for costumes at K-Mart. Once there, we just stood and stared, overwhelmed by all the crazy-looking choices.

Mrs. Morrison started making suggestions to my brother. “How about a pirate?”

“No. They bad to boat people,” he said.

“Oh, okay,” Mrs. Morrison said.  “Then let’s pick out something else for you.” She led him over to a different area.  “How about a skeleton?” She held out a black outfit with the white outline of a skeleton on it.

“No skeleton,” my brother said.

“Too scary?”

“No.  My uncle in Viet Nam skinny like that.”

“Oh.” Poor Mrs. Morrison. She had no idea selecting Halloween costumes could be such a landmine. Next to the skeleton outfit was a set of fatigues labeled as a G.I. Joe costume.  “You probably wouldn’t want that one, either. Let’s move on.”

“Wait.” My brother hesitated, his eyes on the camouflage. He pulled out the costume, considered it for a moment. Then, “I want this.”

“Are you sure? You want to be a soldier?”

“Yes. They help my family,” my brother said.  End of discussion.

“All right, then.  I’m glad you’ve found something you like,” Mrs. Morrison says.  She turned to my sister.  “Are you all set?”

My sister was holding up a pink gown and tiara. “I’m a princess.” Of course she was.

I was the only one left. I looked around at the options, not really sparking to anything. I didn’t want to be a cat; the costume looked scratchy. A witch? The mask had a giant nose bigger than my face. An angel? I wasn’t.

And then I saw it. A fake plastic face with blond hair attached, peeking out at me from behind giant mouse ears.

“I want to be Miss America.”

The previous month, I’d seen the pageant for the first time. The singing announcer man said the women were the most beautiful in the country. Many of them were blond and blue-eyed, had big hair and bigger teeth, long arms and legs. I could never be Miss America, even if I drank lots of milk. Except here was my chance.

The costume came with a royal blue gown, sash, and a full mask depicting a pretty blond woman flashing dazzling Chiclet teeth. I slipped it over my face and my entire Asian-ness disappeared. I sighed. For one night, I could be a beauty queen.

“This one, please,” I said. I wanted to keep the pretty face on as we left the store.

But the next evening, as I walked down the street in my polyester gown and plastic mask, I found it hard to breathe. The mask kept fogging up and I couldn’t see properly through the eye holes. Worse, every time someone opened the door and said, “Oh, look how pretty you are!” I felt like a fake. How do you say thank you for a compliment you didn’t really earn?

So, I took off the mask and shook out my sweaty flat mask hair. I stood for a moment on the sidewalk, just breathing in the night air. I looked down at the gown. It was too long and the hem was dragging on the ground. I slipped out of that, too. (Luckily, I had on a tee and pajama pants underneath.) Then I said to my brother and sister, “OK, I’m ready to move on.”

At the next house, when the door opened, I gave the lady the biggest smile I had. She asked, “Who are you supposed to be?” Just me, I answered. As Mrs. Morrison said, I didn’t have to worry about tricking anyone.

Happy Halloween, everyone. What’s one of your favorite Halloween memories?



  • le0pard13 says:

    You know I love these remembrances of yours, Elyse. I can see how not being exposed to this holiday from birth how weird those festivities and traditions must have come off to you and your family members. Great memory. I think my favorite memories of Halloween are those of my kids. I believe the one where both of my kids first trick or treated together is mine. She was a princess, and he Tigger (and me with my flashlight walking behind them). Thanks for this.

  • Lainie says:

    You make me laugh and cry at the same time. Thank you for sharing.
    I LOVE YOU!!

  • Christine says:

    I’m with Michael. I love your stories! Thanks so much for sharing another precious memory.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Thank YOU for reading, Christine.

      • Christine says:

        The only thing I remember about our Halloween costumes was that it was a balance of finding the right costume that could keep us warm enough without having to be covered with a coat. With all the different states we lived in, that’s the only thing that comes to mind. These days, a costume for me is usually some Halloween tshirt and a headband with antenna that have colorful bouncing spiders on the end. The headband usually entertains the little ones…and my cats. 🙂

        Once home, my sisters and I would dump out our haul and the candy trading/trashing would begin. We gave Mom the healthier treats, like the little boxes of raisins. 😉 Further trading would happen in school.

        We don’t get any trick-or-treaters at our current house – no sidewalks and at a very busy intersection. I miss seeing the kids in their costumes, especially the little ones. I usually just present the bowl of candy and let the kids take whatever they want. If it looks like they’re trying to be polite and just pick one, I tell them they take as much as they want. I get such a kick out of the little glance some of them give to the parental units over their shoulder to see if they really have permission. 😉

        • Paulette says:

          Oh, yes! I had forgotten about the Great Candy Exchange!

        • Christine says:

          As you faithful readers of PCN are from all over, I was wondering if Trick-or-Treating is referred to as anything other than that where you live? I’d never heard it called anything else until I moved to Dayton, Ohio where they called it Beggars Night. That was also the first place where ToT was “scheduled” on different nights in different school districts as opposed to October 31st. I’m sure there was some safety rationale in doing so, I don’t remember.

          Anyway, Happy Halloween to all!

          • Grr, don’t get me started, Christine. I deleted a rant that I was all ready to post to my blog, about the stupid reasoning behind Beggar’s Night here in Ohio. Mainly that putting the kids’ version of Halloween – costumes and trick-or-treating – on any weeknight except Friday, is cited for safety reasons, when I’m pretty damned sure it’s so that adults can have their costume & drinking parties on Fridays & Saturdays, and so the fundamentalists don’t get bent out of shape by having the kids getting all pagan on a Sunday. Adults don’t want to have to show up at work after a wild night of partying, but by all means let’s force the kids to pound the pavement on school nights. Sure it’s about safety after all. Having the kids out on the streets while the grown-ups are driving drunk IS a safety hazard. And it’s just public policy (ask Andrew Vachss) that when kids’ interests conflict with adult interests, the kids will lose almost every time. [sigh] End of rant.

            • Christine says:

              Rant understood, Naomi. Andrew Vachss wasn’t a name I was familiar with, so I went and checked him out. (No surprise that Brian had and has read some of his books.) In addition to his fiction, I’d be interested in checking out the bookHEART TRANSPLANT that he cowrote about bullying.

            • Pop Culture Nerd says:

              Wow, I’ve never heard of scheduled ToT. I’ve always lived in places where kids only do it on the actual Halloween night. If they show up at my house on the 29th, I may not even have candy for them.

              Your rant is understandable, Naomi. The no-trick-or-treating-on-Fridays rule is stupid. If adults want to protect their kids, don’t drive drunk on Halloween. Or EVER.

  • Poncho says:

    Wow… that story is amazing, PCN. And the way you and your brother chose your final costumes is very inspiring (not that I’m thinking less of the sis, but almost every little girl IS a princess one moment or another).

    Anyway. I don’t quite recall my first Halloween, though I do remember some of them. What comes to my mind is the first time I donned a costume (I’m not counting school festivals). My brother and I were invited to a friend’s party -you know, the mom tells your mom about it-, but somehow my mom forgot it was a costume party. I found out about the “rules” one day before at school and I panicked! I had no costume and a few days til the end of the month so no money for one -according to the afforementioned rule-forgetter. So my mom dressed us in our best jeans and tennis shoes, and our “fancy” jackets and took us crying -and panicking- to a party where everyone would be in costume.

    When we last arrived there, my bro and I resigned and ask mother: “So, mom. If they ask us, what are we dressed as?”. And mom -very wisely- answered: “Just show some confidence and you can be a wealthy doctor, or a mogul. In fact… you can be whatever you wish to be”.

    I might say. Nobody minded I wasn’t in costume.

  • EIREGO says:

    Cool and coffee-coming-out-of-my-nose funny.

    I was always a bad kid during Halloween, so I don’t remember much. I do remember my brothers being really optimistic and always bringing a pillowcase to hold all the candy we thought we would get. Never was able to fill it more than an inch or two. Never had a bad time though. Happy Halloween, PCN!

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Thank you, EIREGO. I remember carrying pillow cases, too, and only getting about a sandwich bag’s worth of candy. (I threw out all the candy corn. Bleccchh!)

      How exactly were you bad?

      • EIREGO says:

        Well, maybe bad was too harsh a word. I was a normal kid who enjoyed tossing freshly stolen pumpkins high into the air to explode onto the small streets of my neighborhood and firing eggs at the houses of people I thought were a*@holes. I never terrorized other kids and stole their candy nor did I try and scare little kids for kicks. As far as I know, I never made Santa’s Naughty list.

  • Paulette says:

    What a delightful, funny, sad story! Hear me saying “aww” out loud while reading….

    I remember the excitement of Halloween and actually plotting the routes we would take through the neighborhood to ensure the most efficient method for the collecting of candy—my little sister and I trying desperately to keep up with my older brother who always DID manage to fill a pillowcase!
    With little money, costumes were always creative inventions, but one year (I think I was seven) I had a genuine, store-purchased costume. A fairy princess with wings! Of course, it was cold on the festive night and my mother required me to wear a sweater. A sweater! A fairy princess does NOT wear a sweater! My mother did not seem to be familiar with fairy princess fashion and laid down the law: no sweater, no trick-or-treating. I tried to maneuver the sweater under the wings, but no go. With tears streaming I bravely approached the first house in my hunchback princess of Notre Dame attire, then (with my father carefully not looking) I hid the sweater in a neighbor’s bush and went merrily on my way, willing to risk any punishment. I am not sure if my dad ever told my mom, but I received no punishment. My sister and I collected a lot of candy that year and yes, I was freezing cold!

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Haha! I love your determination. I probably would’ve done the exact same thing at that age. A sweater does NOT go with wings!

      Love that your father was your accomplice. I hope the neighbor brought back your sweater.

  • Reader#9 says:

    What I really want to know is what they rubbed on the foam bar of your nephew Max’s stroller to make him think it was edible.

  • Halloween wasn’t anything big here at all when I was growing up, so I have no stories of my own. But I always find inspiration in your childhood stories, PCN. This was no exception. Happy Halloween to you!

  • sus says:

    AWWW…Elyse…I never heard that story before… Perfect!!!Now forgive but I am going to say it again…Write your BOOK!!!!! xoxox

  • I don’t remember Halloween being that much fun for me as a child. I never had a really good costume and it always seemed to be cold and rainy. Then I’d get home and have a paper bag with nothing in it but popcorn balls — hated’em then and now.

    So my favorite Halloween was seeing my two then-young nephews going out trick-or-treating one year in costumes their mother, my too-talented sister, had made for them. One costume was no biggie, a simple ninja outfit. But the four-year-old went as Gizmo, the cute furball from The Gremlins. People who opened their doors gave him extra candy and some were so floored they felt the need to get out their wallets. Seriously. That boy came home with about 8 pounds of candy and roughly $10 in his satchel.
    Here’s the URL
    to our only photo of the costume if you want to see what he looked like.

  • Pop Culture Nerd says:

    Whoa—your sister’s got skills! That Gizmo costume looks like it came straight from the movie!

    You just gave me an idea. I’m gonna whip up something awesome to go T-or-T tonight and then wear a sign around my neck that says, “Cash only, please.”

Leave a comment

Add your comment below. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> 

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar

Theme Tweaker by Unreal