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  • The Best Things Aren't Always the Finest Ones
    (A Very Special Halloween Costume)
    Italian Memories

    by Cookie Curci

    This Halloween, as my family lights the candles in our freshly carved jack-o'-lanterns, I'll be in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on my pumpkin pies. Baking the pies and handing out trick-or-treat candies to the neighborhood kids is something the grown-up me has learned to do; I guess it's the welcome right of passage to be the one to host the Halloween ritual; to bake the pies, carve the pumpkins and distribute the candy.

    The pungent aroma of spices and candlelit pumpkins inspire thoughts of my childhood and Halloweens past; rekindling in my memory a time when three generations of my family lived together under one roof and a special day when I learned from my grandpa that all that glitters isn't gold.

    It was 1950 and my family and I were sharing a roomy, two story home with my grandparents. Grandma's kitchen smelled sweet, just as it always did that time of year. Bottles of vanilla and bowls of brown sugar and spices, flour and butter were carefully arranged on the kitchen table; all the ingredients for pumpkin pies. Six of her biggest backyard pumpkins were lined up on the counter for carving.

    Grandpa had just finished shelling a big sack of walnuts and almonds for homemade Halloween candy. "We'll have plenty of glazed nuts for our little trick or treaters," chirped Grandpa. This was my favorite time of the year. A certain excitement seemed to run through the house. It marked the beginning of all the warm and wonderful winter celebrations that were to come. Like all our family holidays together, Halloween was a time of family sharing and enjoying. It was a time of kitchens warmed with fragrant spices and family smiles.

    Carving pumpkins and collecting candied treats was all part of the anticipated Halloween celebration, but for me and my friends in the third grade class at Lincoln Glen Elementary School, the most important part of Halloween was the School's annual costume contest.

    For me, winning this contest was the most anticipated part of the Fall season. I poured my heart and soul into making my elaborate costume the best it could be, and every year the grand prize eluded me.

    Just before Halloween, Grandpa had taken me to the local movie house to see two films, "Flash Gordon" and "Robby The Robot". Like most young girls my age, I was dazzled by the handsome and celestial Flash Gordon and his gossamer girlfriend, Dale Arden.

    The outer-space film fueled my imagination and inspired my Halloween costume for that year. I decided I'd go to the contest as the illustrious Dale Arden. I would dress all in pink satins and lace and sparkle like a golden jewel. I spent hours gathering remnants of silk, beaded satin, sequins and crinolines. I was determined to be the most beguiling, glittering contestant the judges had ever seen. Mom had even promised to let me wear some of her exotic "Red Taboo" lipstick for the big occasion.

    The night before the contest, I slipped into my costume and modeled it in front of my bedroom mirror. As I danced and twirled in my glittery gown, Papa's little dog, Tippy, attracted by the dangling beads and frilly crinolines tugged and nipped at my fancy costume with his sharp teeth. I shooed him away and before going to bed, I hung my spectacular gown on my bedroom chair.

    As I slept, peacefully dreaming of the next day's exciting contest, Tippy, unable to resist the temptation of my beaded costume, sneaked back into my room. By the next morning, my gossamer gown was in shreds.

    When I awoke the next day, I was horrified to discover what Tippy had done. Hearing my loud cries of anguish, the entire household came running.

    "I can't go to the contest now," I sobbed, clutching my tattered costume in my hands. But my Grandpa had other ideas. "We saw two movies that night at the picture show, remember?" asked Grandpa. "Those robots were pretty impressive. I can whip you up a robot costume in five minutes," he said, with complete conviction.

    "NO-WAY"! I cried. I wanted to be unique and glamorous. I wanted to glitter and shine like a heavenly star, not a dull, gray, robot.

    But Grandpa wasn't going to take no for an answer and he set to work making me a robot costume out of odds and ends from around the house. With a hunk of wire from his chicken coop, an old radio antenna, a cardboard box, some knobs off Grandma's cupboard doors, gismos and gadgets and a pair of kitchen egg beaters, somehow, remarkably, Grandpa had fashioned a robot costume of sorts.

    But still, I refused to put on the makeshift costume. I knew it wasn't glamorous or beautiful enough to win the contest, after all it had chicken wire springing from its chest and radio tubes resting on its shoulders. But, somehow, my grandpa in his wisdom convinced me to slip into the costume. A pair of Grandpa's black boots completed the ensemble. A set of TV rabbit ears were placed on my head and my robot costume was complete. When I caught sight of myself in the mirror, I began to cry bitter tears. I refused to leave the house in that lackluster get-up.

    Somehow, Grandpa, in his infinite wisdom, convinced me to go to school that day. Walking down the street, I struggled to keep my balance, one hand holding up my rabbit ears, and the other pulling up Grandpa's heavy work boots. Several times, I almost turned around and ran home.

    When I finally arrived at my school contest and surveyed my competition, I was astonished to discover that every girl in school was dressed in gossamer lace and frilly gowns- the image of space Queen Dale Arden. Each girl sparkled with jewels and frilly lace, and each wore her mother's reddest lipstick. All the boys wore carbon copies of Flash Gordon. Obviously, we'd all seen the same movie.

    But nowhere among the contestants was there a costume as unique as mine. My homemade get-up captivated the judges. And thanks to my Grandpa's simply made out-fit, I was awarded grand prize for the year's most unique and outstanding costume.

    All at once, as I stood there, looking at the other contestants in their glittering, elaborate wardrobes, I finally got it. I realized why I had never won first prize before. I'd been trying too hard. My winning costume didn't contain the most exotic materials or jewels, nor did it glitter and shine like a brilliant nova, it was, instead, like my Grandfather, uncomplicated and unpretentious.

    I left home that morning with tears in my eyes, but thanks to Grandpa, I returned home a winner wearing a smile as big as a jack-o'-lanterns grin.

    Today, as I work in my little kitchen putting the finishing touches on an old-fashioned pumpkin pie and prepare for Halloween visitors at my door, I remember my special Grandpa and his uncomplicated, yet beautiful, lifestyle and I'm reminded that the best things in life aren't always the finest


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