I’m not really into candy corn.

But I do love Halloween. I have vivid memories of bolting off the school bus and into the house to find my mother scurrying about gathering old clothes, handkerchiefs, costume jewelry and work boots. We’d be giddy with the anticipation of stuffing our shirts with pillowcases and dirtying up our cheeks with black eye liner. We would point and laugh at one another as we fastened our suspenders in place to hold up our father’s old work shirts and made every effort to turn our own clothes into those of our character for the evening. We could never afford the shiny new costumes on the Ames store shelves, but somehow we didn’t miss them. Dressing as a hobo for Halloween was the one night where everything in our closets became magical and turned brand new as we never saw them before. My mother had a passionate way about her that made anything we did as a family joyful.

I’ve always wanted to recreate that delightful memory for my own children, one of glossed over perfection. As if growing up on a meager income in rural Maine had nothing to do with the magic of recycled costumes, instead maybe it had something to do with being somebody else for the evening. Rich or poor, you could hide behind store-bought face paint or Dad’s old shirt for the night…but everybody still got a bag of candy.

My two older children settled on Harry Potter and Hermione Granger as their assumed characters one year. I thought I had this one in the bag. I could do this; I could recreate all those warm feelings of hand-made costumes. And do you know why? Because you couldn’t find the magic on a store shelf! The magic obviously came from a blurry feel-good memory of old clothing and pillow cases with two holes cut out for eyes.

I felt gently smug as I found two second-hand black capes, two home-made stick wands, two $3 plastic brooms and a pair of old turtle neck shirts. In my mind, these two cherubs would easily equal an incredibly convincing wizard and an enthusiastic witch. Their capes needed hemming and both turtlenecks required the customary Hogwarts “H” to be sewn on the upper left chest. We picked our fabrics and I proudly promised to sew the “H’s” on. I told them not to fret over the adult-sized capes because I’d hem them shorten them with scissors. Drawing the Harry Potter scar with brown eyeliner was a breeze and I worked wonders with the Hermione hairdo. I am, after all, a teen from the early 90’s and if there’s one thing I gleaned from that decade, other than an unhealthy obsession with Kurt Cobain, it’s how to work a curling iron. Two hours before our trick-or-treating adventure began, I managed to shorten the two capes to a more acceptable, albeit miserably lopsided length and I snipped two perfectly straight H’s yet somehow succeeded in sewing them on with the flair of a four year old. The H’s were so crooked they were actually N’s, or if you squinted just right, K’s.

Despite the obvious “home-madeness” of their costumes, my grateful kids squealed with rampant gratitude and took flight on their brooms. They ran their fingers over their official school uniforms, wrapped themselves in their uneven black cloaks and pointed their wands at each other with solemn gazes.

Expecto Patronum!


Did my mother look at me the same way those 25 years ago? Did her heart break because it was the best costume she could make with what little means she had? Or did I look at my children with a broken heart because even with the means to buy shiny new ones, my home-made costumes still didn’t measure up to hers? Did it really matter? My goal was to recreate my mother’s love and for all I know, my hobo pants were as ill-fitting as those poorly hemmed cut capes.

Of course they’re teenagers now and costumes are stupid. Candy, however, is still perfectly acceptable.

Renée Chalou

About Renée Chalou

Renée Chalou lives and raises her family in Presque Isle, where she owns a fitness center, LiveWell United. Her oldest son is in his second year at UMO, her daughter plans to attend UMPI in the spring and her youngest son is an active, happy 11 year old in 6th grade. From her life experiences as a homeschooling parent, blending a family, and transforming herself from an overweight, side-line mother to a competitive athlete mother and fitness leader in her community, she writes about what she knows: living life well even when it's not perfect. She writes about finding and clinging to the good even when it would be easy to focus on the bad, no matter what challenges life brings. Life in Northern Maine is wonderful, full of adventures and sub-zero temperatures. It's not for everybody and nobody claims it's easy. But it's a good life, it's hers and she'd like to share some of it with you.