My earlier Halloween costumes, in the years when both of my parents were drinking, were crafted of oddities my mother found around the house – silk scarves, old purses, leather gloves, costume jewelry from Avon, and Revlon red lipstick. Because the hemlines were short around 1970, as a bonus my costume sometimes included a dress my grandmother didn’t wear any more that could be held up with a belt, along with some luxurious fake fur hat.
I was a looker alright.
Each year my town had a Thanksgiving Rag-A-Muffin parade the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Everyone wore their Halloween costumes from that year and paraded through the main intersection down to the firehouse where Santa would greet all the kids and you would get some cheesy gift.
Then they gave out the award for the best costume.
I was never the winner.
Why? Because there were plenty of gypsies, old ladies, vagabonds, and rag-a-muffins. We looked like the ensemble cast of homeless orphans from Annie.
In October of 1973 my father quit drinking. My mother was furious that she lost her drinking partner and I’m sure went on strike. This most likely included things like not cleaning the house or making dinner, not getting my costume together, and inflicting the silent treatment on both of us. The costume thing was a problem.
As an alcoholic my dad was a bit like the pilot light in a gas stove just waiting for the right flame to ignite it. His pre-sobriety activities were more like drag racing down the highway, blowing through red lights, and setting the living room rug on fire when my mother announced that she didn’t like the carpet anymore. He was going to have to find some healthier activities to occupy his time.
“Take up a hobby. Find a creative outlet,” I imagine his sponsor might have advised him.
“I know! I’ll make my kid a turkey costume from scratch,” my dad must have thought. “It will be fun.”
At age 7, I was not that concerned about my costume since it was always the same and I didn’t really have a say anyway. I just figured my father was going to do his best to pull together a bag of old lady accessories and send me out into the crowd of Santa parade cult followers.
But for my father, this meant the chance to create a unique costume like no one else’s. As a rule he was a rebel, a rule-breaker and a nonconformist. His kid was going to stand out from the God awful, unoriginal crowd of rag-a-muffins.
They say there’s a feeling of rebirth in the early weeks of sobriety, the type that could inspire a man to bring home a considerable amount of chicken wire, copious amounts of autumn colored paper mache’, and various other arts and crafts supplies and scurry them down into the basement.
I would guess that my dad was most likely on his way out of the newly sober honeymoon phase when he made this costume, and moving into the reality phase, where you learn that your life still sucks a little because you screwed it up when you were drunk, but now you were going to have to put your life back together stone-cold sober.
So I know there was some cursing, throwing things and ripping stuff apart to start over again during the late nights and days off he spent down in his new makeshift costume-creating workshop in the cellar.
A few weeks later I was beckoned for. “Beth! Come down here.”
I did what I was told. Also, I was curious about what the heck was going on down there.
(Side note: I was not allowed to go down there by myself, as of my mother’s declaration, because I might hurt myself, eat poison, get stabbed by a hidden intruder, etc. My mother was a huge believer in being abducted by the creepy white van, and the secret child serial killers who put razor blades in apples at Halloween. But I digress.)
There was a lot of interesting stuff on the floor all around him – tools, plastic wrappers, store receipts. And a really big round brown, yellow and orange thing.
He was a little wild eyed, but seemed euphoric so I went along with it.
“Try this on for me,” he said, holding it up by what looked like two of his belts.
“Put your arms through these straps.”
I couldn’t see it once it was on my back, but I could feel that it was big and clunky, and that if I turned around really fast I could potentially knock out any intruders hiding in the basement. I would be sure, when I was not in her reach for smacking, to tell my mother we were safe now.
“Okay, now the sleeves.”
He helped me put on these poster board paper wings colored in Crayola brown with elastic bands stapled on the under side to keep them up on my skinny arms.
“And one more thing,” he said, coming towards me. He placed a red head covering on me that closed under my chin.
He was swaying back and forth from one foot to the other, and rubbing his hands together like all the famous delusional artists.
“What do you think?”
There was no mirror which was probably a good thing, and it felt like a good wind could knock me and my turkey butt over. But I loved it!
I loved all of it – that my dad who probably had withdrawal sweats while he created it didn’t succumb to the basic costume options, that my mother thought it was hideous and I’m sure secretly envied my father’s determination and costume originality, and that I would not look like everyone else.
This, I knew in my heart of hearts, was a kick ass turkey costume.
I still did not win best costume. But I was proud and excited, and gobbled as loud and as best I could.
For years, each time I wore that costume my dad handled the annual maintenance. I wore the turkey until it could no longer be salvaged by repairs.
I was always the only turkey. I did not blend in, nor did I want to.
So this Thanksgiving, while we are challenged by the different things happening around us, and adjusting to protocols and new ways of getting through the day, let the others put on the same costumes and blend into the crowd. Take the opportunity to show the true colors in your unique tail feathers and anything else that makes you stand out. Embrace your inner turkey.