Sunday, October 29, 2006
In 1968 Vietnam was still going strong, Lyndon Johnson was president, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, the first heart transplant was performed, Elvis made his comeback on national television, Lisa Marie Presley was born, the musical Hair opened on Broadway, Helen Keller died in her sleep, Robert Kennedy was assassinated while campaigning for president, riots erupted at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Jackie Kennedy married Greek millionaire Aristotle Onassis, Nixon was elected president, Apollo 8 orbited the moon on Christmas Eve and I turned 10 years old.
It was an eventful year.
On a more disturbing note, Vanilla Ice was born on Halloween day in 1967. And we all know how scary he was. Fortunately none of us knew who or what Vanilla Ice was. And as Halloween approached, my best friends -- Robert Tullis, Dave Little and Jim Lonnevick -- and I were more concerned about what costumes to wear than the body count in Vietnam. We had decided to go Trick or Treating as a group and I convinced them that we should all go as characters of one of our favorite television shows at the time -- Dark Shadows.
Dark Shadows was a schlocky Dan Curtis soap opera with twist that appealed to my 10-year old psyche -- it was about witches, vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures. My friends and I watched it every chance we could after school. I put dibs on being the main character: Barnabas Collins. He was a classy British vampire who wore a tweed overcoat with a short cape and carried a cane with a silver wolf's head. In my 10-year-old opinion, he was pretty darned cool.
Dave was going as Quentin, a character played by actor David Selby. Quentin had these porkchop sideburns and turned into a werewolf at the full moon. Jim was a bigger kid and made a natural Count Petofi. Count Petofi was an evil count whose hand had been cut off and reattached. It had special powers. Jim recreated the green hand with a rubber dish washing glove.
Robert ended up being Aristede, Count Petofi's foppish sidekick. It was the only male role of any distinction left after I snagged Barnabas, Dave took Quentin and Jim played Count Petofi. I convinced Robert to be Aristede by letting him wear a cape that belonged to my grandmother. She also helped sew together the tweed overcoat with short cape for me. I fashioned my own cane using my grandfather's walking stick and some aluminum foil shaped kind of like a wolf head. I forget what Dave made his sideburns out of, but it looked a bit like roadkill stuck to his face. Jim also recreated Count Petofi's beard with a portion of an old dust mop.
Looking back at the photo, we looked more like Mormon missionaries than the characters from Dark Shadows, but at the time we felt pretty cool. It was only after the seventh or eighth time we were asked by puzzled adults handing out candy what we were supposed be that we began to feel a bit self conscious.
I tried not to let it get to me. Because that night I was Barnabas Collins, creature of the night and sophisticated British gentleman who could drink your blood. It was only after I lost one of my fangs on a tootsie roll that I slunk home dejected to count my candy.
But looking back, that was a significant Halloween for me. I was in 5th grade and it was really the last time we could Trick or Treat and be kids. And it was the first time we were allowed to go Trick or Treating without our parents tagging along.
The next year, we were 6th graders and began feeling the pressures of leaving behind childish pursuits. I don't even remember whether I went Trick or Treating after that. So the Halloween of 1968 will always be the one I remember. Though my group of childhood friends have long since gone their separate ways (Dave sadly passed on last year), that night will live on in my memory.
And this Halloween, as I pass out candy to Harry Potter's, Pirates of the Caribbean and Ballerina's, I will think fondly of those four characters from Dark Shadows laughing and jostling each other to get their fair share of the bounty in their pillowcases before time shut the door on childhood forever.