★ I WAS TO BE A HAM ★
Waverly’s Costume Rank: ★★★★★
Dad’s Costume Rank: ∞
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the movie adaptation of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird.” We did not know this fact until we were well down the road in our annual Halloween process. This was just one of many fortuitous omens that gave us great joy this year—the year of introducing Waverly to Scout, Atticus, the “ham” and a famous book.
After our exhaustive Halloween production event of 2011 we decamped to our Halloween design and food lodge (Rotier’s Restaurant) the first weekend after “the big night” for our bi-monthly Halloween confab. It was there that we began to unveil the idea of a ham costume to Waverly, explaining the history of the concept—about the fact that this was a scene from a famous book and how a movie was made from the book and how important the story was to her parents and others.
Many years earlier, perhaps during our Giraffe year, two separate neighbors on our route mentioned the ham from “To Kill a Mockingbird” to me during our outing. I think one person thought the giraffe was the ham from a distance and the other was reminded of it by our use of papier-mâché. I immediately fell in love with the idea but I also knew I had to save it for later when Waverly could grasp some of the themes of the book. Now with Waverly’s possible costume years winding down and her reading skills increasing it was time to act. Waverly was hesitant at first which I have come to expect. She will say “no” as a first response and I will not react, knowing I only need to wait her out and let the idea sink in. We rented the movie and showed it to her. I warned her that I cry every time I see the scene where Atticus exits the courtroom after losing Tom Robin’s case and everyone in the upper gallery stands in respect. My being affected by the scene really piqued Waverly’s interest. I think Waverly’s favorite part of the movie was the excellent hand and eye acting during the big ham attack.
In spring, with time running out, I explained it this way: “Waverly, if you roll with me on this, I can just about guarantee you that someone will pour all of their candy bowl into your bag and make you wait while they drive to the store to get more for you.” That almost worked but then I bargained with her and promised she could be anything she wanted next year. That sealed the deal! Don’t get me wrong; Waverly loved “being” the ham this year. She truly got into character and there was no hesitation after spring, but she enjoys the leverage she now has. Around August, she starting imitating the movie scene of Atticus running out the front door to find his daughter after Jem is hurt. Waverly would just shout out “Scout!” in her best Gregory Peck voice at random times walking through the house. She even had me doing it unconsciously whenever I needed to call to her.
While we nailed down the concept early on, it took a long time until we finally got around to construction. I would estimate we started sometime in mid-October and only spent a few days on it. This was perhaps the least amount of time actually spent working on one of our costumes—an oddly welcome change from last year. I spent a day making the armature and my mother spent about two days covering it in papier-mâché, including drying time (excellent weather). Sometimes I feel as if we make Waverly’s almost 92-year-old grandmother work too hard on our projects but whenever I visit her while she is working, she is as happy as can be. She gets to make something for her granddaughter and she gets to make something with papier-mâché—her specialty. I visited my mother without warning while she was working outside and emerged at the top of her patio steps only to see her bending over, nearly touching fingers to the ground, applying a piece of newsprint to the bottom of the ham. While I flipped the carcass over I admonished her that she was going to get dizzy and fall over but she said, no, she was just having such a good time she lost track of what she was doing. Not a bad way to go I guess.
I made the armature out of cardboard, two hula hoops, and poultry netting, otherwise known as chicken wire for those of us over a certain age. I was trying to make everything symmetrical but once I had finished tying everything together, a definite JLo figure seemed to have emerged, and possibly proto-breasts. Waverly reprised her hit comment from the horse year: “Does this make my butt look big?” Yes, it did, but not in a bad way.
We did make several concessions in our effort to make a somewhat faithful recreation of the movie version of the ham. After our DumDum/Easter Island head costume we have learned to let Waverly’s shinning face peek through for full effect. To that end, we made the top part of the ham into a hat attached by super-strong neodymium magnets arrayed around the collar (or neck). Once a door was opened to Waverly and the full effect was displayed, Waverly could take her “hat” off and converse properly and unencumbered. Only a few people did not recognize her instantly with the hat on. Most of our neighbors knew immediately that if there was a giant papier-mâche ham on their front stoop that it had to be Waverly. Our only other concession to the movie ham was armholes. Scout never had to hold a candy bag! I did not want to see any face-plants and I also did not want to hold her candy bag during collection stops, so we added the holes.
I must say I was tempted to make a completely faithful movie reproduction ham as I recognized from my childhood the materials used in the movie ham—Celastic. Celastic is a plastic impregnated fabric that can be molded when heated or partially dissolved in acetone. At this point in time we recognize that many of those materials are now considered carcinogenic and I really did not want Waverly to pass out after being encased in an acetone laced shell on Halloween night.
Oddly enough, the color of he ham was one of our only stumbling blocks with this costume. I had an idea of the color brown I wanted to use but always defer to Natasha’s color sense. She would go on an on about how much red was needed in the brown and would bring out selections of ham from the fridge to back up her arguments. It was little like “Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House.” Through my ears I was hearing “I would like a hue like a finely cured Westphalian ham only a shade lighter.” In my head, I was hearing “You got that Charlie? Right, brown.” Things almost came to blows but when it came to buying paint (my mother’s 30+ year old paint selections were as hard as petrified stone), it turns out we were on the same page, just talking about it differently. It only took four trips to our local paint store for re-tinting until we arrived at the perfect color. Thanks to our friends at the local Porter Paints! Their paint has touched just about all of our projects.
It all goes back to Minnie Pearl
While adding a layer of brown paper to the ham I asked if my mother needed any more paper. Always the recycler, mother states, “No, I have enough. There was a drawing I did of Minnie for a cut-out I made for her on that last piece.” I am pleased that Minnie Pearl was out first Halloween costume and now her image is entombed in our latest.
the big night
Another amusing and gratifying Halloween is in the books. Waverly and I had a great time but I must say that there was an odd vibe on the streets tonight. Older kids seemed to be hunting in packs more this year. There were fewer teams of two and the ones that were out were much younger children. I was shocked that parts of Sneed road, our usual feeding ground, were deserted by eight o’clock. At one point we stopped and had to listen very hard just to hear any movement in the neighborhood. I do not know whether to attribute this to the temperature (cold), the mid-week/school night date Halloween fell on this year, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, or the political season with the election days away.
Waverly picks and chooses her target carefully. At one point she had the choice between two houses, one with easier access and more lights versus a slightly riskier house with less lights on. By risky, I only mean the chance that no one would be home. She selected the “Obama” house over the “Romney” house. I won’t say which was which. I admonished her not to politicize Halloween. Candy gain over political gain.
We established our routine once again based on costume, not unlike the year of the Strongman when Waverly would make her selection of dumbbell size. I carried her “ham hat” between houses, as it was difficult to see out of. When we got past any major pathway steps or obstacles, she would say, “Hat and bag, please” and I went to work placing it carefully on her head, trying not to knock her glasses off. Only once did I neglect my duties and only once did she forget to ask. I am so pleased with our magnet-attached hat design. It also seemed to impress my mother. The magnets held the top hat on with enough force to lift the costume off the ground by the hat but when Waverly was in the costume the hat was easy to remove. In the movie, Scout’s brother Jem guides Scout through the woods by holding his hand on the head of the ham costume. I found myself doing the same to Waverly in the darkest stretches of our route.
My contribution the evening’s excursion? I did don seersucker pants, suspenders and a bow tie in order to channel my best lawyer/Atticus impersonation. I just do not possess Gregory Pecks’s acting chops. I really need to invest in a three-piece seersucker suit.
I think I will call it a 50/50 night with relation to who caught on to our book/movie reference, not unlike the closeness of our current political polls. When someone would say, “Oh, you’re a ham” in a bewildered tone, I knew we needed to do more work to tease out a response. Others would open their doors with extreme glee and some would welcome us by saying, “Where’s Boo?” Those who got the “To Kill a Mockingbird” reference immediately were greeted with huge howls of excitement by Waverly and myself. After several early misfires, we arrived at a house at the end of our block where a teenage girl immediately yelled “Mockingbird! To Kill a Mockingbird!” as if she were on a game show and needed to hit the buzzer first. I have to add that I am almost certain this teenager attends University School of Nashville (shout out to USN). Another observation we made was that when we landed at a house whose inhabitants immediately got the reference, the next house would also be a success and then there would be a lull in recognition. As I predicted to Waverly early in the process, there was one woman who gave Waverly her whole (large) bowl of candy as this was her favorite book and she reads it every year. While some of our audience was a little baffled by the ham, the ones who were not confused were absolutely delighted. Their response delighted us.
We really crack the whip! Mom inspects her work—both genetically and sculpturally.
Waverly stands on toes. Does this make my butt look big?
We did design the ham outfit to fit through doors. First color test. A tad too light.
More tinting! Last step: add typography. And scene! We are ready to go. The Ham stays in the picture! This may be here for a while. My mother’s idea. She’s still got it! The ham costume is resuscitated by friends in 2014 for another Halloween party.
Waverly kept her costume a secret from her best friends at school until Halloween. I was proud of her for her discretion in this matter. The day after Halloween Waverly revealed her secret. She and I both expected she would get blank stares, my assumption being that the ham would be recognized by adults but less so by kids. Waverly started her lunch confab by asking, “Do you guys know about To Kill a Mockingbird?” to which they responded, “You mean the best book/movie, ever?!” I was so pleased with Waverly’s friends from school.
Every year I carry a different flashlight and most years something happens to it. Tonight’s flashlight destruction was the one let down of the evening. I had just acquired a fancy LED flashlight of excellent ergonomic design. It had a forward facing light and one on its side, allowing one to shine light forward and towards the ground at our feet. Sadly, we were at one of our last houses when I fumbled Waverly’s insistent calls for “hat please, dad!” The flashlight was dropped and it exploded into a dozen pieces, batteries and all, most of which may never be seen again. I asked our Halloween hostess for a flashlight so I could find the missing pieces and she told us to keep it for the rest of our night. A lovely gesture! She also told us that as she was driving home late this night she was hoping she had not missed us this year.
I am pleased to report that Waverly did not fall once during our trick or treat circuit. I was expecting more pratfalls given the difficulty of walking and seeing in this costume. The only injuries this year were mine. Days before Halloween I was adjusting the magnets in the head and accidentally swiped a gob of hot glue, searing off a one inch strip of pinky skin. The good news is that it healed before Halloween. I wonder if my fingerprint will ever come back?
- Most repeated comment of the night (by those who grasped our concept: “I hope no one knocks you down tonight, Scout!”
- If someone recognized us, they would often mention the horse and the giraffe as costumes that stick in their mind. I think this has something to do with my mother’s ability to animate the faces of her creations.
- I just love the sound the leaves make when we trespass through our neighbors’ yards. That and the smell of candles burning in carved pumpkins combine to form a sublime experience.
- In early September, Waverly was working on her Language Arts studies when she came across a question about treatment of proper titles. The question used “To Kill a Mockingbird” as an example. Waverly came home so excited to have understood the reference.
- Waverly attended a wedding in early October and started “crushing” on a family friend who is an esteemed doctor at John Hopkins. Eager to ply her newly acquired junior cotillion skills and wanting to strike up a conversation, Waverly sidles up to him at the buffet and asks, “Have your read the book How to Kill a Mockingbird?” Laughs all around.
- Individually wrapped Twizzlers are the most diabolical idea in packaging. Ever.
Waverly gets to be in charge for 2013. Current forecast looks like a return to the animal kingdom—just not salt-cured.
The culmination of this year’s Halloween event was a somewhat emotional event for me. For some time many people, especially my mother, would tell me that this will be Waverly’s last year of dressing up. I have no problem parting with this event as I never force Waverly to do this. Bribe maybe, but not force. Being from the South, the themes in this book were very meaningful in my life. Not only do parts of the movie make me ferklempt but the father/daughter dynamic of the book was also on my mind as it related to Waverly and me. The line “Thus began our longest journey together” would make me pause and draw my breath every time I came across it. The words mean something else in the book, but when isolated, they have a special meaning to me as it relates to my journey with Waverly in our Halloween costume adventures of the last 11 years. If this is the end of this journey, at least I feel we went out on a high note. What better gift to share with Waverly than this entire Halloween experience. It’s been a grand ride. It will always be my greatest pleasure to play Waverly’s Atticus to her Scout.
If you missed this year’s “reveal”, click below to see the “teaser” for our 2012 Halloween costume!