Every Halloween at Jasper Elementary in New York I hoped my costume would win in the class costume parade. I really wanted the judges sitting on the sidelines of the gym to pick me. School Halloween parties in that rural area of upstate New York began after lunch. We wiggled and giggled our way through the morning classwork while thinking about the cupcakes, cookies and candy the room mothers would bring that afternoon. We whispered to each other about our costumes hidden in paper sacks in the cloakroom. Who had time to learn arithmetic? We had costumes and candy coming!
One year, I said, “Mom, I want to be an Indian this year. Can you make an Indian costume for me. I want to dress like Pocahantas.”
“I can try.” Mom agreed. She did not have soft pliable leather and no way could she afford that much money for a garment to be worn for an hour. Being resourceful and creative, Mom went out to the barn, picked up an empty burlap feed sack and washed it. It was brown and sheath-like. She studied it, marked off a hole for my head on the closed end and holes on the sides for my arms. She showed me the sack dress.
It needed to look like it had beadwork. She pulled out the iron-on patches in many colors which were popular at the time for covering holes in clothing. (I know, I know today people deliberately put holes in clothes, but at that time ripped, holey clothes reflected an impoverished life or a lazy mom who did not care if her child went to school with holes in the knees of their britches.) She cut out diamonds, squares and circles. She plugged in the iron and pressed the hot iron down on those patches to attach them one after another to the burlap.
It did look sort of like an Indian girl’s dress. I was happy until I tried it on. That thing was itchy! And I do mean with an exclamation point. Burlap for feed sacks is rough, minimally prepared threads made into disposable bags. Mom put it through the wash again with extra fabric softener. That helped a little bit.
Still I had asked for an Indian costume. Mom had made the outfit. We did not make or buy multiple outfits for Halloween. I packed up my burlap sack and planned to wear it over soft cotton clothes.
Somehow we made it through lunch. When the teacher asked, “Who needs to go to the restroom to change into their costume?” I raised my hand. In the girl’s room, I laid my bag on the ground with the others and began changing. Excitement and competitive hope filled the air.
Once all the students returned to the classroom, we lined up and marched eagerly to the gym. Each class took a turn walking around the gym so the judges could see us. I marched happily until I saw that girl. The one whose mother made her a crepe paper dress with ruffles, frills, bows and a matching hat. Or was that last year’s costume all over again? She always won with her mother’s sewing skills, and she won again that year.
My mom had tried. I went back to the room, ate my candy, cookies and cupcakes, Drank the punch and went home. As farm kids who lived way out in the country, trick or treat routes rarely went beyond our grandparents’ houses. The party was over. I did not have a blue ribbon costume, but I do have the memory of a mom who tried.