October 27th…“TELL A STORY ABOUT A TIME WHEN YOU DRESSED UP IN A COSTUME.”
Fall, in her frigid personality, had flung her mantle of frost over the farmlands of southern Minnesota once again. Not only was there a silver frost on the pumpkins in our garden, but the hoarfrost on the cornstalks out in our fields almost had a tinkling sound effect with the gentle, arctic breezes that blew by.
Like many a youngster, of the early 1960’s, I was happily addicted to Saturday morning cartoons. One of my favorite animation classics, on our black and white television set, was “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show”. Like another very popular animation series, (“The Flintstones”) “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” had great writers that incorporated cultural and current political themes of that day, coupled with great “one liners” of humor, that kept the whole family interested and smiling. “Bullwinkle” was my favorite of the cartoon characters, in that series, because of his good-natured, yet doofus comebacks to his energetic flying squirrel compatriot, “Rocky”.
The season of Fall was progressing now towards October 31st and the ubiquitous practice of Halloween and “Trick Or Treating”. Like any sugar-loving kid, I envisioned buckets full of Halloween candy that would be so heavy, I’d need to hire a truck to get them all back home to our farm. Hmmm, o.k., if we’re gonna go “Trick Or Treating”, that means we’d need a costume to wear. Of COURSE, of course, I’d temporarily become my cartoon hero, “Bullwinkle” the moose!! And, my cute little sister, Candice, would become, if I recall, a princess. Our dearest mother, Clarice, somehow horns-waggled some precious dollars to secure those costumes for us and we were now set to try to get some treats, hopefully without having to carry out a trick against a neighbor.
Like magic, the day came when Mom placed a box into each of our hands that held our temporary persona for that upcoming Halloween evening. There lay “Bullwinkle”, staring up at me from below the cellophane window of his shipping box. Snipping away the little pieces of shipping tape, I gently lifted the cover off of the box and lifted my “Bullwinkle” up into the air. The costume, in its simplicity, was a yellow poncho with the image of “Bullwinkle” and “Rocky” on the front of it with a moose mask at the top. I pulled the costume up and over my body as I, simultaneously, pulled back on the elastic band that would slip over and to the back of my head to hold the mask to my face. What a childhood thrill it was to walk over to the mirror and only recognize my eyes as they peered back at me in the mirror surrounded by this moose face.
To wear our new costumes around the house in playtime was one thing. But, to go out in public, on Halloween Night, AND, to actually knock on the door of an adult home owner and holler “TRICK OR TREATS, MONEY OR EATS!!”………THAT was totally foreign to me! The farm fields of our area were now cloaked in the blackness of the chilled Halloween night as Mother loaded us two kiddos into the back of our family car and made our way towards our precious hometown of Kiester, Minnesota. Being the amazing mother that she was, she MUST’VE sensed our trepidation and shyness taking over as we sat quietly in the back seat. I, for one, contracted an immediate case of “Shy-Guy-Itis”!!! To my recollection, this was to be my first (and likely LAST) time to formally do the “Trick or Treat” thing. Sure, I wanted a ton of candy to eat, but it was against what I was taught during the rest of the calendar year as far as “yelling” at an adult to give me something……or else. Like, what was I gonna do to THEM, ya? Kick’em in the shins if they didn’t give me any candy? NOT!!!!
As we arrived into our village of Kiester, the Fall leaves swirled in front of our headlights as we made our way to the north side of town. Mom, in her godly wisdom, sensed the need to take us to at least one or two homes that she knew would treat us with kindness and understanding. And, truly for a fact, MANY of our sweet town’s citizens fell into this gentle-hearted category! Dixie Ballweber, in a way, was a triple blessing to our family. #1, not only was she the organist at our Grace Evangelical United Brethren Church, but, #2, she ran a business out of her home called, “Dixie’s Beauty Shop”. Our mother had frequented her beauty shop on a number of occasions over the years. Being a few months younger than our own mother, Dixie was of that generation whose compassion was of a gentler nature, especially when it came time for children. Here comes #3 blessing…..Dixie was to become our “victim” as our family car rolled up in front of their beautiful, brick ranch house. We costumed kids climbed out of the car as Mom almost had to herd us up the driveway, on to their sidewalk and ring the doorbell of the Ballweber home.
Dixie’s porch light popped on, over your costumed heads, revealing two very shy farm kids who then managed a forced, quiet utterance of “trick or treats, money or eats”. Sure enough, Mom was right, Dixie began to compliment us on our costumes and how cute we both looked as she allowed us to pick from her goodies to add some sugary treats to our little paper bags. Time’s lapsing over the years has completely erased what those sugar treats were, but I’m indelibly imprinted with the generous spirit of our fellow church member and beauty shop operator that allowed two little ones to “invade” her evening with our childish ways of Halloween traditions. It’s very likely that Mom taxied us to other gentle family and neighbors in our classic hometown who also showed kindness to two timid, treat entreating tikes trying to tag tooth-decaying temptations.
I find it tenderly fascinating how a cartoon character, a plastic costume and some candy can interweave within the framework of memories that last for a lifetime in a small farm boy (and his little sister) who was touched by the deeper things like………a mother’s love to provide for her children, sacrificing dollars to meet and see their little dreams come true, and a loving lady of our small town who added to the joy of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.