Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

mothers and daughters

The Halloween Costume Dilemma

When I was a kid, I coveted the presents that came on Christmas and birthdays, and I stuffed myself on Thanksgiving. I felt like a real sleuth searching for Easter eggs. I took a pyromaniac joy in the Fourth of July festivities.

But of all the holidays traditionally celebrated by American Protestants, my favorite was Halloween.

That’s a little surprising to me now, because when I try to come up with costumes to wear to Halloween parties, or just to answer the door to trick-or-treaters, I usually come up empty. I don’t have a lot of self-adornment skills or creativity. I also puzzle over how any given costume idea might interact with my various highly visible disability accouterments. During this campaign season, I have thought of trying to be a scary Sarah Palin, or a Democratic donkey, or a persistent pollster. But any such persona/anima would, I fear, clash with my wheelchair, ventilator, and other devices.

Of course, I could try to blend my equipment into a more technologically-themed costume. I could be Star Trek: Voyager‘s Seven of Nine (minus the spectacular physique), or Darth Vader (without the light saber — but my nephews would never let me get away with that).

I could emulate the appearance of a famous disabled person; I’m just not sure I have the panache to pull off Franklin D. Roosevelt. I know I don’t have the dashing masculine charm of Christopher Reeve. (Celebrity women in wheelchairs seem to be few and far between. Annette Funicello, Barbara Jordan, and most others departed the public eye after becoming disabled, so they lack the easy recognizability of a good costume.)

Things were much simpler when I was young. As a child, I never (that I can remember) worried about my disability’s effect on my costume. That’s probably because my Mom didn’t worry about it. She had a creative imagination, and the craft and sewing skills to carry out her ideas.

One Halloween I was Snoopy, with beagle ears and a black button nose. With a few pieces of painted cardboard, my wheelchair became a rough approximation of a dog house.

Another year I was a football player, with big shoulder pads, and a Denver Broncos helmet and jersey. I guess people just drew their own conclusions about how the wheelchair fit in with that.

My favorite, most memorable costume was part of a family ensemble: Playing on our last name, my mother used brown and white felt to transform my brother into a walking Hershey chocolate bar. And around my wheelchair, she sculpted chickenwire and a large quantity of tinfoil into a Hershey kiss costume.

Parents convey their attitudes toward their children through simple acts like these. (Okay, my mother would probably take issue with the term “simple” here. Some of those costumes probably took hours, and several false starts, to achieve the desired effect.) The point is, I had the same Halloween expectations as every other kid in my neighborhood: to dress up, to take on a new identity, and to present myself at each door demanding candy.

Now I’m on the other side of that transaction, getting ready to answer my own door to trick-or-treaters. I’m still not sure what I’ll be wearing when I do that.

I wonder if we have any foil around here?