by Matthew Bromwich from Ottawa, ON
Oct 26, 13
My family is originally from the UK. When I was just nine months old we moved to Kenya where I spent my early childhood.
On completion of my father’s work contract in Kenya it was time for us to move again. It was a toss up between Australia, Canada and the UK. Canada won out. And we moved to Calgary, Alberta.
We arrived in Calgary on September 12, 1978. I was four. The leaves had already changed and it was getting cold. Indeed, very cold compared to the warmth of Nairobi, Kenya. Our first night in chilly Calgary was spent at the Capri Motel, whose street sign ironically displayed a swaying palm tree.
You have to realize that we were about as fresh-off-the-boat as it is possible to be. We did not fit in at all. My older brother and I both had squeaky English accents and had never seen snow.
And then, on the last day of October a knock came at our door. I can’t remember who opened the door but, to their surprise, they were met with shouts of “Trick or Treat!”.
The parent accompanying the children at the door had to awkwardly explain the ritual of Halloween. It was not, in those days, celebrated in the UK.
My mother recalls frantically rummaging in the kitchen for some crackers and Kit Kat bars to give the kids. And then they were left with the dilemma of what to do with us . We, of course, had observed the entire exchange with the shouting of “Trick or Treat!” and the receiving of candy. It seemed like jolly good fun. Yet we had no costumes. My father raced to Pinder’s Drugstore around the corner and returned with what was evidently the last two costumes in the store, the rejects if you will. They were plastic clown facemasks, one with yellow and one with pink curly hair. For anyone who has worn one you’ll know the kind of cheap plastic they would be made of: the kind that will crack if bent once too often, the kind that doesn’t breathe at all and leaves your cheeks sweaty, the kind where you can’t actually see through both eyes at the same time. We didn’t mind though. We hurried to put them on and our mother buttoned up our coats.
Not knowing what size of bag to equip us with, my mother, who didn’t want us to appear greedy, gave us each a small paper bag. The kind of bag you might get when you purchase the smallest possible item at a convenience store. The kind they put a package of chewing gum into.
With our clown masks impairing our vision, our heavy wool overcoats buttoned to the top, and equipped with our tiny paper bags, we set out into the night.
Our immediate next-door neighbor was our first stop. Upon opening the door she laughed at the sight of us. She grabbed a handful of candy and attempted to find a place to put it.
With one single stop our bags were already half full. She chuckled again and told us to get a pillowcase. We returned home with our bags and explained the situation to our mother who absolutely refused to give us a pillowcase.
No responsible parent would want their children to have that much candy. We settled on a grocery bag and set out again.
It is the unique experiences in life, the firsts, that stand out and define the subsequent ones. That first Halloween night was unforgettable for me. I think back to it with amusement every year at this time.