Costumes to Keep by
(354 Stories)

Prompted By Halloween

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Choir Halloween party, 1969

Growing up in a neighborhood in Detroit full of kids, Halloween was a big deal. My dad would carve the pumpkin in the scrub sink in the basement. We also lived a few blocks from two large cemeteries, so it really was spooky. We ran in packs from house to house, holding our breath. Houses were decorated to the max. We collected money for UNICEF, sorted our candy and brought what we didn’t want to eat to school the next day, to be given away to hospitals.

Detroit was somewhat notorious for unlawful doings on the night before Halloween called Devil’s Night. Unruly miscreants would come by and throw eggs, toilet paper or worse on your property. So we tried to behave and not incur anyone’s wrath throughout the year.

An aunt brought me a kimono from a visit to Japan when I was 8 or 9 and that was my favorite costume for years. I even wore it in an Intermediate camp production of Mikado when I was 12 and it was my cover-up for years of modeling for life-drawing classes. I still have it.

The feature photo was taken my senior year in high school at a choir Halloween party that I hosted at my house. The costume was one of my mother’s dance costumes from her days as a dancer. She danced a “nautch” dance in it when she was 12. I’m 16 in that photo and went on to wear it on other Halloweens throughout the years. I still have the costume, though it is now about 90 years old and very fragile.

The children are grown and gone from my neighborhood now. Last year we had one trick-or-treater. Even the Boston College students can’t be bothered to come around. I haven’t carved a pumpkin in years, don’t even bother to buy little ones for my stoop anymore. The joy seems to have gone out of it all.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: pumpkin, costumes, Devil's Night, spooky
Characterizations: been there


  1. Suzy says:

    As always, you have the perfect picture for your story. You look beautiful in that very sexy costume! Sounds like you have some great memories of Halloweens past.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Halloween will be during choir practice this Monday, as it was once before. The last time we were encouraged to come in costume and many of us did. This time is was mentioned as a throw-away and I doubt many will. I think I’ll wear my dime-store tiara. Dress-up was always a fun part of my (theater) world.

      • Suzy says:

        I’m sure you’ll look great in your tiara, but don’t you want to contact other choir members in advance so you can all agree to dress up? That’s what I would do, but my choir rehearses on Wednesdays.

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          They announced last week that we could come in costume if we desired, but didn’t make a big deal about it, so I thought the tiara would be easy to stash away if no one else is, in fact, wearing anything.

  2. Great costume you have, Betsy! It seems as if your sartorial archiving past and present has paid off. Also loved the vivid imagery of the tub sink pumpkin carve and the graveyards. I once garroted myself on an ancient chain surrounding a civil war grave in my hometown. I was scrambling on my hands and knees in pitch black to get away from the cops. We had been t.p.-ing the trees in front of the school… what else? Also caught your wistful note on the trick or treat fall-off. Nobody comes by here anymore.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Poor you…trying to escape the cops after a t.p.-ing episode! Yes, Halloween isn’t what it used to be. But I have a funny new story for you, talk about archiving costumes. In this case it was clothing. I was at a dinner last night in honor of Brandeis’ acquisition of Lenny Bruce’s archives, made possible by a grant from the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation. Christie Hefner is a classmate and dear friend of mine, so I sat next to her. Lewis Black was the speaker and was amazing. When I got home, I realized that I wore the same dress that I wore to Christie’s surprise 40th birthday party, 24 years ago. This morning, I dug out a photo from that event and texted it to her. She was quite amused. It pays to keep stuff, and stay in shape!

  3. John Zussman says:

    I had to look up “nautch” dance, but I bet your mom (and you) were both seductive in it. It’s not every boomer who still has—and can fit into—their old costumes!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Funny about fitting into old costumes (or clothing). As I mentioned to Charles in the previous comment, I was at a dinner with Christie Hefner at Brandeis last Thursday night (who you know is a friend of many years). It was cold and rainy out, so I pulled a long-sleeved wool dress out of the back of my closet. Having been working hard for 4 years now on weight and exercise, lots of old clothing fits. This particular item, tight and short, looked quite becoming. When I got home, I realized that I had worn it to her 40th birthday party, almost exactly 24 years earlier!

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