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Boo bags, and other American excesses

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: October 29, 2020

Last year at this time, I was most likely grumbling under my breath about America’s culture of excess. I’ll admit it — I’m one of those annoying people who waxes poetic about simpler times. I often stress about society’s insatiable desire for more, More, MORE.

Nowhere is America’s unquenchable gluttony more evident than during Halloween, when kids’ baseline expectations have come to include corn mazes, pet parades, school parties, hay rides, pumpkin carving contests requiring a fine arts degree, yard decorating contests requiring expensive special effects and 23 hired extras, weeklong horror movie marathons, venti no-whip pumpkin spice lattes, brand-name-only candy in tamper-proof packaging, costumes costing at least $49.95, little kid non-scary haunted houses, regular kid kinda-scary haunted houses, and big kid Horrifically Haunting Mega Mansions of Bloody Terror (post-traumatic stress therapy not included).

Back in the seventies, when I was a kid — brace yourself for an “uphill to school both ways” rant — our parents were too busy sipping vodka gimlets and tapping their Salems into pedestal ashtrays while watching “Laugh In” to spend countless hours and dollars to provide my brother and me with a better-than-ever Halloween.

But we weren’t complaining.

We were excited to carve one pumpkin for the whole family, using dangerously sharp knives because kid-safe pumpkin carving kits hadn’t been invented yet. We were ecstatic about dressing in $4.99 Woolworth’s highly flammable nylon Casper the Friendly Ghost costumes with brittle plastic masks secured with hair-tangling elastic bands. We were beside ourselves that ABC was airing “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” for one night on our fuzzy console televisions. We were over the moon about going door to door with our pillow cases, gladly accepting whatever we were given because it was free — popcorn balls, apples, coins, Necco Wafers and Mallo Cups.

For the most part, we appreciated what we got, and didn’t expect our parents to up the ante every year.

As a military spouse parent, I got sucked into the vortex. When the kids were little, I ran our neighborhood’s annual Halloween parade and spent hours turning felt and sweatshirts into elaborate costumes for our three kids. When they got older, I burned out, adopting a less taxing approach involving store-bought costumes for the kids and wine for me on Halloween night.

A few years ago, one of my base neighbors suggested that the military families on our street give each other something called “Boo Bags.”  In my work-weary mind, the whole thing seemed like a huge hassle, but the concept was actually quite simple: Neighbors create Halloween-themed bags full of thoughtfully assembled items and secretly drop them on other neighbors’ doorsteps with notes instructing them to do the same for someone else.

Despite my base neighbor’s good intentions, I thought, “Terrific. Now I have to add Boo Bags to the list of annual Halloween must haves? Just when my wallet and energy have been sucked out like pumpkin guts, I have to spend time and money on creating a cutesy bag-o-crap just because someone decided Halloween still isn’t good enough? Sure, votive candles and candy corn are great and all, but how much of this stuff is just re-gift fodder?”

Reluctantly, I participated in the neighborhood’s secret Boo Bag swap, praying that the trend was only temporary.

But then, COVID-19 happened. In online news reports, I read of event cancellations:  Hayrides, parades, parties, festivals, haunted houses, and for some, trick-or-treating. Instead, military and municipal leaders recommended safer alternatives, such as — you guessed it — Boo Bags.

It’s amazing how doing without can change one’s perspective. After months of quarantines, shutdowns and social distancing, I find myself wanting loads of excess: Halloween candy, plastic skeletons, dry-ice cauldrons, pumpkin ravioli, eerie green lights, elaborate costumes, synthetic spider webs, and Boo Bags stuffed to the gills.

Quite suddenly, I want more, More, MORE of everything that connects us as human beings.

Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@gmail.com