Obsessive Nostalgia Halloween Disorder: Elementary School Halloween

RIP School Halloween

There will be no parties this year, no costume parade. Instead, the kids will gather for an assembly about being drug-free, and are encouraged to wear red that day. Part of me isn't surprised, given the number of kids who would come to school dressed in very scary costumes, despite the "no scary costumes" rule, or the very short skirts on little girls in their store-bought costumes.  (What the heck is wrong with costume manufacturers? Do none of them have children of their own?) There are, of course, a number of families who do not celebrate Halloween for various reasons, which is why parties were called "Fall Parties," and actual Halloween-themed items and crafts were discouraged. I tend to be pretty politically correct at school, and said, "Okay." Our costumes are seldom scary, and last year, we did a very mild version of our zombie costumes for school. But now, even that is over.

Which makes me think of Halloween when I was a kid.

I didn't even know there were people who didn't celebrate Halloween. I never heard of it being an issue at my school. We always wore our costumes (witch, cat, Nancy Drew book, "punk rocker" - twice) and had a party that day. During the week leading up to Halloween, in music class, we always sang Halloween songs. 

For most of my grade school career, I attended the neighborhood school in my tiny little suburb. [I was bussed in fifth grade, to the school my girls attend now, before it became a magnet school. I went back to my old school for sixth grade.] Our music teacher was an older woman named Mrs. Longstaff. It was the 1980s, but Mrs. Longstaff looked like she stepped out of the pages of an old black-and-white yearbook.  Her short brown hair was curled in such a way that it resembled a beehive, and she wore old-fashioned glasses, the kind hip vintage-loving girls would kill to get a hold of now. If she became mad, she would reveal a slight stammer. When we had school assemblies or music concerts, we would all sit in the gym bleachers, and she would wheel her upright piano from grade to grade in front of us. There were usually a couple of older kids there to help with that. If you were lucky, you might be picked to accompany her on bells, tone block, maracas, sand blocks, or rhythm sticks...

Mrs. Longstaff used our elementary school music books, of course. She would also pass out paper printouts about composers or musical artists. Sometimes she veered away from our school books. She had big easel notepads, like giant reporters' notepads, hanging from the chalkboard at the front of the room.  There, she had written songs that were not in our books. Some were popular songs, some were old folk songs, some were songs she must have written the words to herself.

"At Chisholm Trail, we love our school (CLAP 4 X) / Blazing a trail through learning..."
Those were the first two lines to our school song, sung to the tune of "Deep in the Heart of Texas."

There were three Halloween songs I remember best, and I think all three were printed on those big flip pads. Two were old folk songs, sung by elementary kids all over the US, and the last one was set to the melody of a famous piece of spooky classical music. My sister and I would sing them to my little brother in the '90s, and I sing them to my daughters now.

 Have you seen the ghost of John? / Long white bones with the skin all gone / Ooooo-oooo / Wouldn't it be chilly with no skin on?

This one makes an appearance in In a Dark, Dark Room.

There was an old woman all skin and bones / Ooo oooo ooooo / She lived down by the old graveyard / Ooo ooo oooo / One night she thought she'd take a walk / Ooo ooo oooo / She saw the bones all laying around / Ooo ooo oooo / She went to the closet to get a broom / Ooo ooo oooo / She opened the door and BOO!

The louder the "Boo!" the better, of course.  Raffi recorded this one. Also, see
Oh have you heard the merry tune / That skeletons play on their fiddles brown? / Their bones are tapping to keep time / On All Hallows' Eve as they dance around / Oh, owls and skeletons swoop and bound / While witches go flying from sky to ground / The jack o' lanterns grin at you / And wait 'til you turn and they cry out BOO!

We sang this one to the tune of the solo violin part of Danse Macabre. We repeated the melody
for the second verse, and as with "Skin and Bones," the louder the "Boo!" the better.

I don't know that I appreciated Mrs. Longstaff at the time, but now, her old-fashioned style makes me smile. It's been a number of years since a friend told me she'd passed away.

So this Friday, on Halloween Day, my girls will wear red. I'll still get to bring pumpkin cupcakes to Little Sis's classroom that afternoon, since her actual birthday is the next day (Saturday). Then we'll rush home and transform them from Big Sis and Little Sis to Little Red Riding Hood: Wolf Hunter and Amelia Earhart. It will be okay. The girls just shrugged, a little disappointed perhaps, but willing to roll with the punches. I'm just feeling a bit nostalgic for my own childhood, and my own ignorant bliss.

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  1. When I was a kid, I didn't even know Halloween existed. Now I wish we had it too! What a cool teacher she must have been. Great to see some lyrics to Danse Macabre, I love it!

    1. She was a character. :) I do love Halloween. I love dressing up, and creepy things, and everything fall.

  2. I don't remember Halloween being a big deal at school...other than doing crafty stuff maybe..but there was no dressing up. My kids on the other hand always dress up on the last day before the Halloween school break - scary costumes are allowed and more or less all that is worn. I did see a little boy in a My Little Pony outfit which was pretty cool (and original!) but he was one of the few without fake blood on his face. Scythes are not encouraged though.

    1. No scythes??? What's the fun in that??? ;)

      Sounds like our experiences are reversed!

  3. I know! No sharp weapons in school tomorrow boys! I mean it!


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