Auntie Jo Gets Into Costume

Auntie Jo loves Halloween, especially Trick-or-Treating. Having been a rather timid child, believe it or not, she’d never had a chance to go Trick-or-Treating. In those days no one went out on Halloween except the big bad boys with bars of soap in their pockets, threatening to smear windows unless they were bribed with homemade doughnuts and popcorn balls.

Tales were told of outhouses being tipped over, and other rowdy tricks around the county but Auntie Jo, being a town girl, wasn’t sure how true any of that was. She only knew she’d felt cheated out of a lot of fun over the years.

Now an adult with her own home, she usually threw an old sheet over her head on Halloween, trying to act and sound ghostly while she handed out bowls of treats to the wee goblins who rang her doorbell.

If she hadn’t been so tall, she’d have joined them on their rounds, never really taking any treats for herself, of course. (Oh, no, she’d never do that.) She just wanted to get in on the excitement.

Now another October was here with its colorful leaves, cooler weather and Halloween plans, and Auntie Jo was almost ready. She’d draped gauzy webbing all around her front steps and lined up a row of Jack-O’Lanterns. They weren’t actually hand carved, just hand decorated. She’d given up carving pumpkins ever since she’d gone to trifocals and nearly severed her left thumb. Nowadays the triangular eyes and toothy grins were done with marking pens.

Bowls of wrapped sweets sat just inside the door, ready to be doled out to sugared-up little spooks. Auntie Jo was sure she’d thought of everything but somehow, something was missing. The idea of the same old ghostly sheet drape seemed tame. Auntie Jo decided she needed a costume of her own.

No sooner thought of than she was off to THE PARTY HEARTY SHOPPE. She was overwhelmed with the huge selection of costumes available there and she quickly found a 3-way mirror and began trying them on.

First she tried a fairy costume, then a ballerina, but NO! Neither fairies nor ballerinas have wrinkles and thick ankles. Next it was Wonder Woman. Nope, billowing hips and thunder thighs would never do. The clown costumes seemed much too scary for her little friends, and Minnie Mouse was just too cute. Besides, she’d trip over those crazy shoes.

She looked wistfully at “Halloween Barbie”, complete with a flowing blond wig; Auntie Jo had all the right curves, they just happened to be in all the wrong places. No Barbie.

How about a black cat, sleek and slithery? Auntie Jo hadn’t slithered since the last time she threw her back out and then tried to get into a chair without bending at the waist. She’d leave the black cat to someone younger and … well, slitherier.

Just then she spotted a stack of witches’ tall, peaked black hats. Perfect! She popped one on her head and whirled to look in the mirror. One appalled stare was enough! She let out a piercing shriek! Staring back at her was a real witch with beady mean eyes, teeth that suddenly looked like fangs and a long sharp nose. Even the wart on her chin looked wartier! How could this be? The image looked like her, it was her, but something was wrong.

Had the black hat brought out the real Auntie Jo? Impossible! She knew she wasn’t the least bit witchy. Maybe  a tad cranky once in awhile, but witchy? Never! She snatched the hat off her head, returned it to the stack and immediately felt better.

Now what? A puzzled Auntie Jo left THE PARTY HEARTY SHOPPE deep in thought. Suddenly she had the answer.  She’d greet her tiny guests as herself! Glasses on the end of her nose and a flowered apron were more her style anyway, and the children would love it.

Halloween night came at last and Auntie Jo was having a ball passing out treats as fast as she could, once in awhile sneaking a piece for herself (maybe every 3rd or 4th one if it looked like chocolate).

She decided to forget about wrinkles, billowing hips and thunder thighs. If the apron strings ever got too tight, she’d worry then.

She did shudder at the memory of herself in the witch’s hat, then a fiendish idea popped into her mind! She’d get one of the hats and use it to get even with anyone who annoyed her! Plop the hat on her head and PRESTO! her witch persona could cast a triple hex on any unlucky fool who crossed her!  Perfect!

Otherwise Auntie Jo likes herself just the way she is, although she slyly suggests that we each keep a witch’s hat on hand, just in case.

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Channeling Emily Post and Miss Manners

If you’re saying “Who?” right now, this article is for you.  Modern table manners seem to be flying out the window these days.  We’re turning into a culture of scarfing, slurping mealtime slobs.  Oh yes, in case you forgot, Emily Post and Miss Manners were the last word in etiquette as it used to be.

We grab a slice of pizza, microwaved of course, and stuff it in our faces while checking our email.  We balance a takeout meal on our knees, scattering chicken nuggets and fries, greasing up the remote as we catch up on TV.

We leave hasty notes around the kitchen so family members can #1 find, #2 heat, and most importantly, #3 clean up after whatever quick meal they might scrounge from the fridge or freezer. And yes, #3 is almost always ignored.

So who’s at fault here? Why have we become so lax, so careless?  Whatever happened to the dinner hour?  Sociologists give us any number of thoughtful, carefully researched, high flown reasons for the breakdown in family manners, all undoubtedly valid.

My thinking is, it all ties in with the rest of our declining standards. I must confess I’m just as bad, if not worse than anyone else.  I find myself taking the easy way out when it comes to preparing, serving and eating my meals.

We all agree that we love food, we crave food and we need food.  The problem seems to be in transferring food from one container, a plate, a bowl or a cooking pot, to another container, our mouths, using any means available.  How complicated is that?

Some foods just shouldn’t be eaten in public, or in front of anyone with a weak stomach.  However,once you get started on some of them, you don’t dare set them down. Homemade tacos, the only kind of tacos worth eating, are a prime example.  Manners are best forgotten if you want to enjoy them.

You need to prop both elbows firmly on the table edge, sleeves rolled up, as you lean forward, grasp the taco with one hand, steer with the other, and, if you’ve used enough of your homemade salsa, grab a big bite while the juice runs down your elbows. Keep poking it in, it’s sheer bliss.  Just don’t try this at Taco Bell.

Spaghetti, too.  I have a theory about spaghetti.  Each serving contains just one single long, very, very long strand of spaghetti per plate.  If you have enough suction you should be able to inhale the entire plateful in one pass.  Think of unraveling a knitted sweater.

I can’t do it and I never could twist and turn it neatly on a spoon the way dainty diners do.  I eat mine in wads, biting off what I can, leaving loose strands hanging down until I resemble a walrus after a trip to a really cheap orthodontist.  Olive Garden frowns on this.

I often wonder if spaghetti is still spaghetti if you make it with macaroni?  Just a passing thought…

My all time favorite is corn on the cob, I love that stuff. A true connoisseur will slather the entire cob with butter, pick it up and start gnawing. Let the kernels fly and the butter run down your chin.

Appalled tablemates can just look the other way while neatly slicing their kernels off their cobs and eating them with a fork.  That’s not for me!  And it’s such fun to smile at people for two hours afterwards while your teeth are still full of bright yellow kernels.

Some foods are O.K. to play with.  Bacon, fried chicken and other difficult-to-cut foods pass the test.  Ribs are a little iffy, depending on how goopy they are.

Lobster definitely is a finger food.  Why else do they give you a bib and a pile of moist towels?  You’re expected to pick the thing up and tear into it.   Crab too, no one can tackle a crab with a knife and fork, and why would you want to?

If all foods were consistently simple to prepare and eat, maybe we’d return to the niceties of Emily Post and Miss Manners.  However, I’m afraid most of us are losing our touch.  I just hope my days of being invited to formal dinners are a thing of the past.  Nowadays I’d embarrass myself to death.