Fight or Flight

Each Halloween when we were kids, my sister and I, along with millions of fellow gremlins, would stage our annual burn-and-pillage of the neighborhood candy-supply.  Most children seemed to return home with their bounty splitting the seams of a king size pillowcases, but not us.  She and I would barrel in the door with our loot swishing around at the halfway mark of a department store jack-o-lantern pail.  And those were the good years.  Don’t begin to let yourself feel sorry for our miniature plunder; it was more than enough to feed the fires of a benign preadolescent buzz. Like our juvenile counterparts around the country, the hit we got from those eyeball jawbreakers and rainbow Skittles was strong enough to sustain our excitement during the 162 days it would take to reach Easter. 


I know I shouldn’t be using up a Halloween tale in March, but this story is funny, and really – you only live once, right? 

Unlike some kids, my sister and I didn’t usually start the costume process until around the day of, at 3pm, and in general, our final products betrayed our lack of planning.   I think, because of where we grew up, we lacked the competition that would make us better trick-or-treaters. Our staples were the following:  
  1. Gymnast / Dancer – Both my sister and I had taken dance lessons for a while, and had moved on to gymnastics.  These costumes were the easiest and fastest to produce, thus the most frequent.
  2. Egyptian Princess – I’m not sure why, but for some reason, if we put on one of our mom’s silky nightshirts, a big belt, some necklaces, a scarf and a lot of eye shadow, we transformed from two awkward preteens into Cleopatra and Bathsheba. 
  3. Hobo – As socially and politically incorrect as it is, we did it, wearing flannel shirts and carrying stuffed bandanas on a stick.  I probably also ate a can of pinto beans before setting out, just to - you know - be in character.
  4. Japanese Princess – Mom had this gorgeous navy and white kimono that we would swaddle ourselves in.  It made you feel perfectly regal.  But you had to get pulled in a wagon, because walking was just not an option.
  5. African Princess – Mom also had a Liberian dress we’d steal.  This outfit as a costume seems particularly wrong to me in hindsight, but don’t throw stones until you’ve done it. 

Other costumes would make an appearance on occasion.  One year I was a cow.  Another, a ghost.  During college I was a German yodeler/Minnie Mouse.  But the highlight of my collective Halloween memory took place when I was probably 7 and my sister 9.  She had decided to wear my dad’s flight suit from his days in the Air Force.  Imagine a 50-inch fourth grader wearing a jumpsuit sized for an average male in his mid twenties, helmet and breathing hose included.  No tailor could have made this work.

But the results were awesome.

So on this particular holiday, she and I were wrapping up our 10 house circuit culminating with our godparents’ home, which traditionally came last, probably because they had been out earlier with their kids [filling actual pillowcases].  We didn’t live in an area where you could trick or treat by foot, unless you wanted to start early that morning and pack tuna salad sandwiches for lunch and dinner.  So we get to our friends’ door, ring the bell and recite our line in an enthusiastic off-key singsong.  They reward our efforts with caramel-apple lollipops (a longstanding personal favorite) and Sugardaddies (my sister’s golden goose), and we say our goodbyes.  We start off down their walkway toward the car.  I hopped in the seat behind my Dad and shut the door behind me, pawing in the darkness at my treasure, running my fingers through the crisp wrappers, lost in a gluttonous trance and paying no attention to my surroundings.  As we are rolling down the long driveway, I break concentration and suddenly realize that I’m alone in the backseat.  And I shouldn’t be.  The car door to my right is half open, and I can see the olive green of my father’s flight suit flickering as my sister’s arms flail at the car door.  What is she doing?!!

We probably made it halfway down the dirt driveway with my sister dragging beside the car, air hose and all.  It took me a second after seeing her for me to start howling for Dad to stop the car, that she wasn’t technically riding with us.  She must have had a hard time finding the seat with that visor over her eyes.  Regardless, she turned out fine, and even more disappointing at the time was the fact that she was indeed going to be alive to maintain ownership of her jack-o-lantern.  Maybe next year. 

What my sister should have worn.

via the Aerospace Museum of California
It was a dragging thing of beauty.

You might think I’m a monster for highlighting this story as the pinnacle of my entire Halloween repertoire.  But if it were you in my seat, with your hand in your bucket and your eyes on that helmet clanging on the car door, you’d be no different. 


  1. So that's why you didn't speak up sooner. It's been bugging me for 20 years. Thanks a lot. Good think those suits are rugged. That was a rocky dirt driveway.

  2. haha this is too funny! Did this really happen in our driveway? I can't believe I've never heard of this happening before!


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