Of Woods And Words: Snowsuit Halloween

Autumn Leaves
Autumn Leaves

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 I have Halloween memories prior to the Halloween Blizzard of 1991, but they are hazy, half memories. I know my mother dressed my brother and me up as hobos the Halloween before I started school. I know my mom sewed me a homemade dairy cow costume for kindergarten. But when I really think about Halloween, it seems all my memories start with the Halloween Blizzard of 1991. I was in first grade and dressed up as a puppy dog. My little brother got to be the dairy cow that year.

 
In the early evening of Halloween 1991, my brother and I pulled on our costumes in our dimly lit living room. Outside the large picture windows, the snow howled and swirled outside the windows. A foot of snow had already accumulated outside in the teeny tiny town on the edge of the Minnesota tundra where we lived at the time. By some fluky coincidence, the café across the street caught fire, an electrical fire I think, completely gutting the building. As ash mixed with the snow falling past our windows, my father announced we would not be going trick-or-treating. Amazingly, despite the odd occurrences of Halloween 1991, I don’t associate Halloween with disaster. But I do associate it with snow.
 
Still, the omnipresent snow of my childhood Halloweens always lent a mildly disastrous quality to the holiday for me. To understand what I’m saying, let me explain that in my early childhood, I believe that little girls could be two things when they grew up: an elementary schoolteacher or a ballerina. I was sold on the whole teaching gig, but I did desperately want to be a ballerina. In the years before realizing my bone structure would conspire against my ballet aspirations or that the only dance I could really pull off was called “frog in the blender,” I’d use my library card to check out books on Maria Tallchief and the Nutcracker Suite, hoping that through some sort of literary osmosis, I too would become graceful and coordinated.   
 
Since Halloween was meant to be the one day of the year when you got to be whatever you wanted to be, once I was old enough to decide on my own costumes without fail, I chose to be a ballerina for Halloween. I thought it was a great idea. I got to run around in a leotard, tights, and tutu at the school Halloween party, back in the days when they had school Halloween parties. But when it came to the actual trick-or-treating portion of the holiday, I started realized why my parents had urged me to think of a more ‘snowsuit’-appropriate costume when I announced my ballerina plans. 
 
In Grand Marais, where we had moved by the time my true ballerina aspirations took hold, the average high temperature on Oct. 31 is 39 degrees. And even when you’re little and start your trick-or-treating right at sundown, it’s down to the low 30s if not upper 20s by the time you’re out masquerading. Wanting only to deal with cranky, sugar-high children that were not frostbitten, my parents insisted we bundle up for the event.
 
But when you’re dressed as a ballerina, you can’t really pull your tights over your snow pants. And if you’re wearing snow pants, you’re also going to need a bulky jacket, which effectively covers up your leotard and pretty much disguises the frilly tutu you’ve managed to squeeze up and over your snow pants. By the time I was dressed for trick-or-treating, I looked like the kid who couldn’t bother to get a costume together but just goes out looking for free candy.
 
“What are you?” people would ask when they answered the door with a bowl of candy after the troop of kids my brother and I trick-or-treated with rang the doorbell.
 
“I’m a ballerina,” I’d tell them.
 
“Oh really,” they’d say, a look of bemused disbelief on their faces. There’s foreshadowing, if I ever saw it.
 
After all, I’m not a ballerina. That dream faded away long ago. But from those chilly, snowy Halloweens come some of my warmest childhood memories. Even as I carve pumpkins this Halloween and pull out the holiday decorations for the cabin, I can still feel the weight of my UNICEF box growing heavier as we collected change along with treats, I can feel the cold nip of the breeze against our cheeks as we trooped up and down the streets of west Grand Marais, and I can remember the excitement of dumping out our bags of fun-sized candy on the living room floor. And every once in a while, I still find my mind wandering to the topic of snowsuit-appropriate costumes. 

Airdate: October 30. 2010

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