Birth of a 4th-Grade Radical

Once upon a time, a petite, sloe-eyed little girl whose primary gift is the ability to melt adult hearts upon contact and whose nickname is “Princess” determined to take on her school district’s move from Halloween Party to Harvest Festival.

Like every child above the age of five, she emails and texts regularly. In the process of chatting with her cousins, she discovered each of them attends a school where Halloween parties are allowed. In their emails, her cousins told delicious stories of pre-Halloween activities: pumpkin carving, bat origami, spider-web draping and skeleton-making. All of this, of course, is simply a precursor to The School Party, a celebration of a day that on the Scale of Childhood Preferences may be second only to Christmas or Hanukkah.

For the Sloe-Eyed Princess’ cousins, there will be sugary cupcakes and candy, “Cauldron Punch”, “Grave Robber Gumdrops” and “Casket Cake”. One cousin is to narrate a class performance of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. Another is writing a poem that, while still under wraps, seems to involve a few body parts and a Brave Prince.

Best of all, each of the Little Sloe-Eyed Princess’ cousins will be given the freedom to dress in traditional Halloween costumes. At last year’s parties there were pirates, bed-sheeted ghosts and baby dolls, a Tinkerbell and a chain-gang prisoner. (The prisoner has parents who tend to watch a lot of early films. A lot.) There was the obligatory skeleton, a couple of vampires and an improvised ghoul. Everyone had fun, no one seemed to be traumatized, and everyone agreed the teacher dressed as a punk-rocker deserved her prize.

Reading her cousins’ emails, the Little Sloe-Eyed Princess became distraught. At her school, there would be no Halloween Party. Instead, a Harvest Festival had been declared. There would be uncarved pumpkins, corn shocks, apple bobbing and nature walks. Treats would include carrot sticks, granola bars and fruit juice. There would be no candy, no cupcakes, no spooky decorations or scary story-telling.

Most distressing of all, while the children are welcome to come in costume at the Little Sloe-Eyed Princess’ school, their costumes must represent a character from a favorite story-book. They aren’t allowed to come as “scary” characters, i.e., vampires, mass murderers, witches, ghouls, politicians or Lady Gaga in her meat dress. Once she understood the rules of the game, the little Princess began to ponder. Eventually, she drifted into the kitchen, plopped up onto a stool and said to her mother, “Snow White”. “Hummmm…?”, her mother said. “Snow White. I’m going to the school party as the Evil Queen in Snow White.”

“I don’t think you can do that,” her mother said. “You’re not supposed to dress as a scary character, and that Queen’s pretty scary.” “Yeh,” said the Princess. “She is scary. But they won’t let me come as a witch, so she’s as close as I can get. Besides, they said we could come as our favorite storybook character, and that’s one of my favorite stories.” At that point, her mother stopped and looked at her. “When did you turn twenty?” she asked. “Huh?” said the Princess.

With a little help from a slightly astonished maternal co-conspirator, the costume was constructed and the little Sloe-Eyed Princess will appear at her school’s Harvest Festival as a truly grotesque and scary-looking Evil Queen.

As her mother has pointed out to everyone within earshot, the scariest aspect of the entire experience is that her daughter already has figured out the concept “letter of the law”, and seems to have developed a spine that would put any Halloween skeleton to shame.

I’m eager for the post-party report. With luck, they’ll all live happily ever after.

UPDATE: 31 October 2010

Our Princess, so bold and so brave
had sworn that she never would cave
to the strength of old forces
on new PC horses –
she’d just give them a laugh and a wave.
So off to the party she flew
where she gathered her courage anew.
The teacher who asked,
“Who’s that wearing that mask?”
was left without even one clue.
They couldn’t find weapons or gore
or blood dripping onto the floor –
no rattle of bones
onto tipped-over stones –
The Princess was almost a bore!
She just isn’t scary, they said,
though she’s ugly as anything dead.
We’ll leave her alone
and then send her on home
and hope that she just goes to bed.
Comments are welcome.  To leave a comment or respond, please click below.


15 thoughts on “Birth of a 4th-Grade Radical

  1. Oh Linda, that was too good! Way to take back the night, Princess! :)


    Isn’t she something? That surely wasn’t me, in fourth grade. She has the look of one of your birds ready for release – like the Great Horned owl in your video. She doesn’t make a fuss, sitting there, but you can tell she’s thinking, “I’m ready to blow this joint…”

    That wouldn’t be a bad costume, either ;-)


  2. Linda,
    Tell Princess to keep fighting the good fight. No one should suffer the evils of carrot sticks and nature walks on Halloween.

    As for pumpkins…big ones should be carved into spooky jack o’lanterns and small ones should be made into pie. :)

    Happy Halloween.


    Your rule for pumpkins is exactly right – except you forgot the medium ones. There are people in the world who think medium pumpkins roll down hills very nicely. Sometimes the hills do happen to have streets on them, which leaves drivers in a bit of a mess, but hey! It’s Halloween. It’s easier to clean up than all that Midwestern toilet paper….

    Well, Texas is flat, so Princess won’t be tempted in that direction for a while.

    Happy Halloween to you and all!


  3. Good for her!

    Halloween was always one of the highlights of any kid’s year. To dress up in scary costumes was so delicious. Almost as good as the candy.

    One of the things I loved so much about living in New Orleans was Mardi Gras. Halloween all over again except adults are allowed to have the fun of “masking” too. And it hit me that up in tight-ass Orleans, Mass., to have so much fun dressing up like that you had to do it in the dark of night. Mardi Gras you got to do it in the broad daylight. Probably why I liked NEW Orleans more than plain old Orleans.


    I can’t remember which of the four volumes of Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet” has the description of masked balls – the excitement of the preparation, the tension of not knowing who lies behind the mask – but I suspect it’s “Justine”. In any event, it is quite an experience to adopt a new persona and roam the neighborhood. Who knows – maybe that’s part of the attraction for internet trolls, too. Assume a new identity, and then go out and create havoc ;-)

    Does Halloween have any significance there, or Dia de los Muertos? If I can get my weekend organized, I’m going down to Galveston for a walk through the decorated old cemetery. It looks much like New Orleans cemeteries, of course – above ground burial the practice on the Island, too.


  4. Go, Princess! And I will be rooting for her whether she becomes a lawyer (possible), a lobbyist (also possible), a magnificent writer (after all, the publishing industry is changing), a mother with several amazing children (they couldn’t be less than amazing given the Princess’s backbone) or, whatever comes under her clear-eyed scrutiny.

    I hope she also finds one of those luscious chocolates in the shape of a carrot – honestly, that granola, carrot, sprout thing is so good for us but is also so much work. And holidays are for fun, even the chewing of the holiday “food”!

    As for Princess, she has a wealth of scary literary characters ahead of her – onward!

    I am charmed by the writing of this true little tale – do offer us the denouement!


    Each of your suggestions for the Princess’ future career path is perfectly reasonable, although I might add “architect” to the list. She seems to have a penchant for that staple of the Houston real estate market – the tear-down/rebuild. ;-)

    Your mention of chocolate carrots set me thinking again about Halloween treats – do you suppose anyone in the world still hands out popcorn balls? They used to be a staple – my favorites were made with redhots, dissolved into the syrup. I suppose popcorn balls aren’t favored any more – they could be “contaminated”, like apples in the bobbing tub – or lollipops passed from kid to kid. It’s a wonder any of us survived – or perhaps all those germs toughened us. Vaccinated by life, we were…

    I haven’t heard the report from the party yet, but I’ll make a point to check it out tomorrow and leave a note. I’m rather interested in the outcome myself!


  5. Here’s to the Sloe-Eyed Princess! Long may she reign!! Boos and hisses to the school; they should–ahem–bone up on their Halloween lore. Then, perhaps, they might not demonize the holiday/festival. Though I agree that politicians and Lady Gaga (in any attire) are too, too scary. Clever you, to slip them in.

    Clever Princess to stand up for her principles! I am rooting for her. Loudly. Please do share the rest of the story. I hope it has a positive outcome.


    Welcome home! I can’t wait to hear your wonderful stories – congratulations to you for really cutting yourself free of the gadgets and gizmos for the trip.

    Your mention of boning up on Halloween lore makes me smile, because it suggests another irony. Many of the administrators and teachers so eagerly seeking to impose Harvest Festivals on their young charges haven’t a clue what a real harvest entails. Their view of things can be wildly sentimental.

    Writing in “Conservation is a Good Work”, Wendell Berry said,

    “No settled family or community has ever called its home place an “environment.” None has ever called its feeling for its home place “biocentric” or “anthropocentric.” None has ever thought of its connection to its home place as “ecological,” deep or shallow… The real names of the environment are the names of rivers and river valleys; creeks, ridges, and mountains; towns and cities; lakes, woodlands, lanes roads, creatures, and people.”

    That’s where the real harvest takes place, in the midst of dirt and sweat and exhaustion. Stirring a little of that into the educational mix might not be such a bad idea.

    Again, welcome home and thanks for stopping by.


    ADD: Update on the Princess up above in the blog…..

  6. Just found this story through blog surfer, and I love love love it! Can’t wait to see how this went over at the school!


    Glad you enjoyed the read – I enjoyed telling the tale. It will be interesting to see how things turn out. If we’re lucky, there won’t be much at all to report. Sometimes no news is good news!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and for taking the time to leave a comment. You’re welcome any time!


  7. Yes, Linda, Halloween is recognized here in Panama but isn’t as glorious as in the States. Costumes and masks are sold but “trick or treating” isn’t a part of it. Rather children gather at parties.

    Last night I saw a wonderful program about the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico, on the National Geographic Channel. The Day of the Dead is definitely a part of the fabric and soul of the Mexican people. Families often travel great distances to clean up the graves of their departed and spend the night with the spirits they believe come to visit with them during the night.

    For the first couple of years after I moved to Louisiana I worked in the Kerr-McGee oil production field in Breton Sound. My staging area was in Hopedale at the end of Louisiana route 46. That area had been settled by immigrants from the Canary Islands and All Saints Day, for which Halloween is the eve, was an important day for the descendants. Of course all the cemeteries there are above ground and I remember the first time I passed the cemetery in Alluvial City (isn’t that a great descriptive name for a Delta town?) on my way to work just before Halloween and saw families there washing the crypts in preparation for All Saints Day. I found it very touching.


    The first Halloween party I attended in South Texas was an enchanting mix of costume and customs. It was my first experience with a pinata – I suspect it’s just as well there aren’t any videos of blindfolded me trying to connect with that huge, hanging candy container! But there, too, trick-or-treating wasn’t a custom. The party was enough.

    My first experience of All Saints Day preparations actually occurred near Comfort, Texas, where I took my photos of the cypress trees. There’s a tiny Mexican cemetery on a county road outside the town. When it’s been shined and decorated and you come upon it unexpectedly, it’s quite an experience. Galveston, too, is a place where the celebrations are cherished. Do the dead come? Perhaps some do. But in the end, it may be enough that the living have gathered.


    ADD: And yes, Alluvial City is a terrific name!

  8. I remember in 6th grade starting a petition for an extension on a homework packet that had been assigned to us by our history teacher. I got every student in my class to sign it and the teacher granted the extension!

    I hope she’ll have as much luck with her costume. Have they given any reason why they got rid of the Halloween aspect? I understand celebrating generic winter holiday in lieu of favoring a specific religious holiday (although I can’t say I entirely agree) but I don’t even know what the arguments are against celebrating Halloween in a public school.

    Maman A Droit,

    I know various arguments have been used against Halloween – some say it’s too secular, some say it’s too religious, some say it’s too commercial and some content it’s just an unnecessary distraction in the classroom. I haven’t been able to chase down the reason for the change in this particular district. By the time I became really curious, the administrative offices were closed, and there’s nothing on their website. The Princess’ parents don’t know the original reason for the change, either. It took place a couple of years ago – or perhaps more. The truth is these things happen for no good reason at all – someone decides they want the change, and no one opposes it.

    She was allowed to wear the costume – see my little addendum at the end of the original post. I’m told she’s a very happy little girl, just as I’m sure you were in sixth grade. ;-)


  9. Ha, ha, ha! What a great ending to this tale. Political correctness is subverted, and our princess gets her way… at least in part.

    We didn’t have Halloween in Australia when I was young, but in this globalised world, it’s part of the scene since quite a while back, as it also is here in Chile.

    It wil be “truco o trato” (trick or treat) tonight in our neighbourhood, and this prompted one of the cable news channels to mention a conference somewhere in Latin America, dealing with the problem of hidden sugar and salt in sweets and drinks, etc. Treat turns into trick, then…


    Ahhhh… we have our own coterie of well-meaning “experts” dealing with the sugar-and-salt “problems” here. Myself, I haven’t noticed that sugar or salt are particularly hidden -I can find them quite easily.

    And bless her heart, our little heroine did just fine. I’ve added an update, above – she was allowed to stay. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to discover she had some supporters among the enforcers of the rule. It happens. ;-)


  10. I swear. Someone is losing sleep this very minute trying to figure out how to suck every ounce of fun out of childhood. Great story, Linda. Go for it, Princess!


    You can’t keep a good woman down – as you so obviously know! Besides, if a fourth-grader’s willing to take on the system, who am I to sit rocking on the front porch?

    You’re welcome to join my one-woman campaign to put a little “joie” back into “de vivre”. I’m becoming tired beyond all belief of these “old women of both sexes”, as Lawrence Durrell describes them. Wasn’t it St. Paul who said, “When I was a child I thought and spoke like a child, but when I became an adult I tossed the nannies down the back stairs…”? Well, maybe not exactly that, but close.

    It’s just wonderful to see you out and about. Thanks for taking the time to stop by!


  11. As I’m sure you know, the origin of modern Halloween was a three-day pagan festival designed to give people a chance to cut loose from their rigidly-structured lives. Granola bars are for the other 364 days. Please be sure to provide a follow-up report. And thanks for a wonderful story!


    You’re right about the joy of occasionally cutting loose – even the residents of the assisted living center across the road were out in full force today, sporting costumes and demanding chocolate. What’s not to like about an 85-year-old dressed like the Grim Reaper?

    The Princess wasn’t bumped from her party, and all is well. I put a little update at the end of the original post. Her story made this a terrific Halloween -I enjoyed sharing it.


  12. I thought that I was pretty clever being a washing machine. That kid is destined for a career in politics.


    Isn’t it just the truth? But here’s the funniest thing. I have a friend who teaches out in California. She posted some pics from their Halloween party – there was a girl there dressed as a refrigerator. You-all ought to get together and find a stove and a clothes dryer. Now, that would be a party!


  13. Evil Queen is totally the way to go!!!


    I’m with you. Love those evil Queens. Snow White’s nemesis actually seems pretty tame when compared with some who are running loose in the world today!


  14. Go, Princess Sloe! And Viva la Mere! The princess’ challenges like this are just beginning — but she has a good start, and a fine mentor to help her along the way!


    I had wonderful grade school years, no doubt. Still, I look at some of these kids and think, “We didn’t turn twenty until we were twenty, and some of us still were ten when we were twenty. How’d she turn so wise so soon?”

    But she did – to the delight of all of us.


  15. I missed you and your writing so much Linda and this one is by far most entertaining! I adore kids who have an advanced way of thinking, a mindset not normal for their age. Somehow, it assures me that the child can handle heartbreaks well.

    Of course, where else did Princess inherit the genes? (I am assuming Princess is your dearest daughter.)


    How nice to see you! I have peeked into your new blog world from time to time, just to keep up.

    No, the wonderful Princess isn’t my daughter. But trust me – everyone delights in her, blood relation or not! And we learn from her, too.

    Thanks so much for leaving a comment. I hope all is well for you.


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