Monday, 1 November 2010

Coolest Mom In Town

Yesterday, my daughter and I carved three pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. I bought three bags of mini candy bars, two bags of apples, and a mess of plastic skeletons. I spent the afternoon cleaning out the porch and stringing up the skeletons on orange netting. In the evening, I popped corn and put it in bowls. Then I fished out a couple of gorilla masks, some luridly-colored wigs, and my claw fingers. And finally, my daughter and I put candles in the jack-o-lanterns, which was no easy feat: we couldn't find the tea candles, so we improvised by chopping down some dusty old candles we found in the shed and putting them in glass jars. It took us ages to get the wicks lit, but when we went outside to look, the effect was eerie -- totally perfect. Our black cats raced in and out of the house, scattering dead leaves and adding beautifully to the whole tableau. We put the candy in a big wicker basket, put on our masks, and sat down to wait for our first trick-or-treaters.

Only one child showed up, a three-year-old from down the road whose mother I know. He was a very cute Batman, but he was afraid of our gorilla masks and he only wanted a handful of popcorn.

My daughter tried to cheer me up. "We've been gone for two years. Plus, tomorrow is a school day. And nobody my age trick-or-treats anymore."

It's a little sad. I'm the mother of grown-up teenagers now. All the kids who knew that our house was the place to go on Halloween are now in university or high school. What's sadder still is that I'm no longer the coolest Mom in town.

I won my coolest-mom-in-town status partly by default and partly by coincidence. Our first Halloween here, I made popcorn balls to use up some hardened brown sugar. They weren't very good -- I was in a rush and didn't manage to get the syrup past soft-ball stage -- but that didn't matter. To this day, my eldest daughter and her friends, big hulking college kids approaching their twenties, fondly remember the little bags of sweet popcorn I told them were popcorn balls.

Our next winter here, I somehow ended up with twelve bags of cranberries fast approaching their use-by date. Desperate not to waste them, I went on a mad cranberry-cooking rush. I made half a dozen jars of cranberry and apple sauce, three batches of cranberry and walnut cookies, and two large cranberry, almond and sour cream coffee cakes. That afternoon we had our first snowfall. We were running an inn at the time, and as the weather conditions worsened, guests began to call to cancel their reservations. When the last cancellation came through, I got worried. The cranberry sauce would keep, but there I was with three batches of cranberry cookies and enough coffee cake to feed half the town. When half a dozen of my daughters' classmates showed up, wanting permission to go sledding down our sloping driveway, I invited them in for coffee cake and tea. I got rid of a dozen cookies and an entire coffee cake, and my impromptu hospitality, in conjunction with the failed popcorn balls, pushed me over half the way to the coolest Mom title.

The following year, a friend of ours who was running a vending machine business decided that it was too much work and gave us all of his remaining stock. When kids showed up for Halloween, I had two jumbo-size bin bags full of plastic baubles with toys and candy inside, plus another stuffed with lolly pops. Word got around and in no time, our house was Kid Central. After that, my coolest Mom status was in the bag.

It embarrassed me: I knew I'd won the title because of a series of fortuitous coincidences, not because of my imagination or special effort. When I was a kid, there were houses in the neighborhood where the Moms got into costumes and gave out homemade cookies and candy. Their front doorsteps were lined with jack-o-lanterns, their shiny-clean windows were festooned with fake spiders' webs (mine had the real thing), and they would have scorned my pitiful attempts at popcorn balls. And yet here I was, effortlessly the coolest Mom in town. In fact, I was assured that no other contenders came close.

On my way into town this morning, I passed by a house with jack-o-lanterns on the stoop. The hedge was shrouded in cheesecloth with black plastic spiders attached, and a stream of orange crepe paper lay in the driveway. "They had a werewolf there last year," one of my daughters' friends told us last night.

Another Coolest Mom in Town is born. I hope she honors the title.


Charles Gramlich said...

WE live out in the country and never get any trick or treaters. We are both sad about that, both of us loving halloween. We didn't even decorate this year.

Dale said...

Ach, you're still the coolest Mom really.

Bish Denham said...

I agree with Dale. On top of which, I know for a fact (since my mother was one) that you can NEVER lose the title of Coolest Mom in Town once it has been bestowed upon you. It's like getting the Oscar. So put it up there on your mantel and display it proudly.

Anne M Leone said...

Hah! Love this story. At least you know once upon a time, you were coolest mom. Perhaps you could get a plaque? =)

Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- No! At the very least, grow some pumpkins, or sort out a couple of cut-out construction paper witches on broomsticks! (Says the woman who can't be bothered to roast turkeys on Thanksgiving...and who left her Christmas tree up until Easter one year.)

Dale -- Thank you!

My kids remind me of my past glory, but I've accepted that somebody else is going to wear the crown now. I'm honing my coolest grandma skills for the distant future.

Bish -- (Sniff) Thank you, too!

I don't have it up on my mantel, but by posting it here, I really might as well. Good for your Mom. I'll bet she felt as honored to have the title as I did.

Anne -- Well, I can't go out and buy one myself, but if the kids did, I'd allow them to show it off occasionally. What I'd REALLY like is to put it on my C.V. under 'Awards and Special Skills'.

Kit said...

I feel for you sitting there all geared up and only one trick or treater. I hope you treated yourself to the candy and apples!

We've never done halloween as a family - partly I suppose because we've always been in the country and in England when I was a child it was all Guy Fawkes and bonfires and toffee apples rather than halloween at that time of year.

My kids wistfully hear stories of trick or treating but the nearest they've got to it is the fancy dress competition at the school spring fair the last couple of years. How deprived we are this side of the Atlantic!

Kim Ayres said...

Photos, Mary. Where are the photos?

Sue Millard said...

We don't get trick or treaters either, living three miles from either of our nearest villages, On the other hand we do get lost people enquiring the way to Shap because the kids (and some who were kids long ago!) have been moving the arms on the local signposts...

I am envious of your effortless stream of blogging... mine is very patchy right now :)

anna said...

What a fabulous blog post :) I've never heard halloween described with such pathos! In years to come, I bet your 'coolest mom' title will veer into mythology, as the kids who ate your popcorn balls wistfully tell their own kids, 'Well back in my day halloween was really something. In fact, there was this one lady who made it actually SNOW popcorn balls....' etc etc

Mary Witzl said...

Kit -- Bonfires are really wonderful, and so are toffee apples. Next year, maybe we'll make a bonfire here. And I'm definitely going to make toffee apples!

Wish your kids could have come over for Halloween -- it really would have been a win-win situation.

Kim -- Ah, but I am trying to paint with words here! Plus, I couldn't find the camera.

The jack-o-lanterns are still there, though one of them has had an emergency craniectomy so we could have pumpkin soup last night. If I find the camera, I'll see what I can do...

Sue -- I've always thought that 'Shap' was a great name for a town.

But you are doing serious writing and concentrating on producing award-winning poetry. I'd say you were way ahead.

Anna -- Thank you. Pathetic is just how I felt, sitting there with all that candy, surrounded by plastic skeletons.

I'd love to be recalled in local legend, and if I have no better claim to fame, it's still something to be remembered as the lady who made the fall-apart popcorn balls and gave everybody great fistfuls of lolly pops.

Postman said...

Seriously? You wound up with the run-off from an abandoned vending-machine business? And I thought I was doing okay with pumpkin punch-bowls!

Seriously, it doesn't matter how you got to the top. The point is you were there, and had the grace and hospitality to sustain your tenure.

Vijaya said...

My post disappeared ... but I loved that you had real spiderwebs. Me too. Once cool, always cool. I hold the title of most frightening ... and I don't even try. Giggle.

angryparsnip said...

As I live way out in the foothill no trick or treaters come way out here.

I did have a Wildcat (or Bobcat) and a Harris Hawk stop by and each got a little four legged treat (gopher) for Halloween. Glad I didn't have to pass them out, yikes !

You still sound like a Cool Mom ! stories will be told and embellished !

cheers, parsnip

KLM said...

Nothing conveys "coolest mom" status quicker than snacks. Truly, therein lies the key: bribe their bellies.

Our Halloween traffic has picked up over the years. We used to take it personally that we got so few trick or treaters but I think it's just a matter of how big a crop of kids between ages 3-10 you happen to have nearby.

Anyway, I say, 'once a coolest mom, always a coolest mom.'


Robert the Skeptic said...

There comes a time when the baton must be surrendered to the up and coming victors. I believe that title of "Coolest Mom" deserves to be passed on.

Mary Witzl said...

Postman -- You had to see it to believe it. We were giving it away hand over fist. I wasn't sure how many kids would show up, so the first ones who showed up could have stopped trick-or-treating after visiting us and still gone home with bulging candy bags. Pumpkin punch bowls? Who had to hollow them out?

Vijaya -- Every year I consider getting rid of my spiderwebs, then I remember Halloween -- and walk away from them. Some people scrub them off, then put up fake spiderwebs. I cut out the middleman and go for the authentic touch. Win-win.

Our first year, I also won Scariest Mom quite by accident. We'll have to compare notes on that some time!

AP -- Arguably, those gopher treats were providing a touch of effortless Halloween authenticity, just like my black cats. And it must be great to be able to see bobcats and hawks from where you live -- though I can imagine it's tough on people's pets.

KLM -- I know! It was embarrassingly to win my Coolest Mom title and I can't help wondering why I didn't have more competition. Amazing that more mothers weren't keen to spend all Halloween hanging around their front doors, waiting for kids to show up and take their candy.

The trick would be to be Coolest Mom AND have a life.

Robert -- You're right -- I feel a little wistful, but the more I think about it, it's been a huge responsibility: I'd never be able to compete with someone prepared to put on a werewolf costume and drape their trees and bushes with cheesecloth shrouds.

debra said...

The first year we lived in our house, I decorated like a proper cool mom. No one came. Not. One. Kid. That's because we live where you'd need to drive from house to house. I called 2 neighbors to see if my daughter could come there to trick or treat.They, and my mother-in-law, obliged with a proper festivities. I guess I earned my cool mom status in other ways, because, kids tell me I am one.

It's a good thing to share, I think. I wonder if, one day, we will all be Cool Mom Emeriti.

Bish Denham said...

Hey cool Mom, there's something cool for you over on my blog...has to do with a certain question you asked me....

Anne Spollen said...

Nah, the coolest mom lives on in memory. She's just the current coolest mom, sort of like a president. It never goes away, that title.

Robin said...

You can't lose the Coolest Mom title. It's like being the president of the US. You're Madame Cool unless you choose to go incognito.

I did what sneaky moms with teenage kids who don't want to trick or treat do - went over to a friend's house who has young kids. We ate jalapeno pizza and drank beer between doorbell buzzes.

Mary Witzl said...

Debra -- We could have a secret handshake and our own sweatshirts or something! Every time I rewrite my C.V., I wish I could list my Coolest Mom status somewhere, but it would look terribly self-aggrandizing, wouldn't it?

Bish -- Yay -- somehow I must have known you'd have a great answer to that question! Thank you!

Anne -- Thank you for saying that. It was so effortless to be a cool Mom -- and so impossible to be a cool teenager. It's comforting to think I can hang on to the title.

Robin -- That sounds pretty good, actually. My biggest fantasy is going to visit one of my kids on Halloween some day in the future and watching her make popcorn balls and run to the door every five minutes to greet trick-or-treaters. If I ever get to do that, I may even put on my gorilla mask and have a couple of margaritas.

Carole said...

Well, I have a new status for you if you want it. Coolest blogger in the world. Your stories are so well put together and I never ever come away disappointed. Very good indeed Mary.