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Writers' Club of Whittier

A Halloween Charade of Otherness

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By Fran Syverson

Like a king on his throne, there sat our son. He was regally draped in a velvety-looking burgundy lap

robe, and wore a handmade crown of cardboard covered with gold foil. Proudly he reigned, a scepter in

his hand.

He oversaw his vassals roaming the gymnasium floor in the community center. What a motley bunch

they were—their regalia ranging from tattered rags to fancy top hats. Ballerinas in pastel tutus

pirouetted to the music. A giant, hairy, brown ape had great fun huffing and grunting as he prowled the

room, bent over so his arms nearly dragged on the floor.

Supernatural creatures were there, too, as befit the season. One needed no more than a bedsheet to waft

airily about as a ghost. A tall, conical hat and a broomstick—and, abracadabra! a witch! In a corner,

other witches presided over a cauldron—remember Hamlet’s “double, double, toil and trouble, fire

burn and cauldron bubble”? And at the cauldron, brave kids shrieked or giggled as they handled the

slimy eyeballs—a.k.a. peeled grapes.

All through the town, other youngsters in costume were plying their annual “trick-or-treat” ploy, filling

their baskets to brimming. To the horror of their dentists, no doubt.

But these “youngsters,” from tiny ones to some well into their 20s, 30s, and even 40s were enjoying

their Halloween party with their peers in the city’s rec center. As I looked out into the crowd, I was

touched at the thought that, perhaps, for these folks the Halloween masquerade took on a special

importance. For the evening, they each had a persona beyond that of their daily lives.

Camouflaged though they were, many could be recognized from their classrooms I’d visited. The hairy

ape with his arms hanging low did so in part because his daily stride lists to one side. He has cerebral

palsy. The pirate wearing the patch over one eye was cleverly disguising his blindness. A Tiny Tim

hobbled about adeptly with his cane. Why not?—he hobbles adeptly with it every day.

This was the Halloween Costume Party for more than a hundred children and youths with physical and

mental handicaps. Or, as we say now, people with “special needs.” And I like to think that one of their

special needs was being met at this party. Here they were able to be someone other than themselves for

a few hours. Here they flew away from their limits and lived a charade of otherness for a brief time.

Yet, were they really so different from the trick-or-treaters trekking the streets? Doesn’t everyone like

to inhabit a fantasy world sometimes?

Our son did. For a couple of hours each Halloween, he was King of the Hill, reigning over his kingdom

from his decorated throne: his wheelchair.

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4 thoughts on “A Halloween Charade of Otherness

  1. very moving and very touching, Fran. Even after all these years, your son inspires you and continues to inspire us through his example. This carries special meaning for me because our youngest son Joey decided to change his teaching speciality two years ago from social studies to special needs kids. He earned that credential and how coordinates a room of severely autistic kids. His stories of “his kids” inspire us just as your son Mark’s story. Thanks for sharing.
    Janet D.

  2. Very touching. I bet there were a few tears among the laughter. Happy Hallowed Eve. Blessings, Kay

  3. A beautiful, inspirational read. Thank you, Fran
    Bill

  4. Such a thoughtful perspective of Halloween, of the need to be someone different once in a while. Thought your frame was great!

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