Growing up on a farm in rural Nebraska, my brother, Jeff and I never really knew all the details surrounding the Halloween holiday. We knew that costumes appeared in the stores around this time of year but we were oblivious to the fact that you could get gluttonous amounts of candy by going door to door. Our mom failed to mention that to us. She didn’t do this because of some religious view that made her morally opposed to celebrating a holiday of ghosts and goblins. Rather the thought of being trapped on a farm with two already wild boys who had access to an unlimited supply of candy must have sounded like a nightmare in itself. She did allow us to buy costumes but we didn’t know why we were wearing them…

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 When I think of Halloween, a certain memory from my childhood always comes to the surface. It’s not an event that happened on the actual holiday but rather a few days prior. The year was 1984 and our family had recently moved off the farm and into town. Jeff and I were inundated with the Halloween spirit and it showed in the numerous carved pumpkins on our porch, the cardboard Frankenstein hanging on our front door and most importantly, the gigantic bowl of candy that greeted guests that entered our home. It’s amazing what exists when you finally get off the farm!

Several days before Halloween, Jeff pulled a slip out of his backpack and gave it to Mom. I imagine every parent experiences this moment at some point of child rearing. It’s that moment when your kid unearths an important note from a teacher, leaving you little (if any) time to prepare or properly execute the demands of the note.

“You have to be a ghost tomorrow?”, mom said as she looked at Jeff with utter bewilderment.

Keep in mind, my Mom is not a crafty lady. She possesses hundreds of outstanding qualities but anything that involves a glue gun or glitter is totally outside her comfort zone. This is why I always wondered if I was adopted. 

Knowing that she had a few hours to make this happen, she looked over the note and realized Jeff and his 4th Grade class was putting on a program in which they were performing a song from the recent hit movie, “Ghostbusters.” The note informed parents to simply utilize a white sheet to turn their youngster into a ghost. Easy enough for most parents; nerve-wracking for my Mom who didn’t have time or resources on her side.

I remember Mom went to the linen closet and after rooting through piles of bedding she belted out, “Who even HAS a plain white sheet these days?!”

After coming to the conclusion that every sheet in our home had a print or pattern, Mom took to the phone and started calling friends and relatives. Apparently, no one else had a plain white sheet or one that they wouldn’t mind a few holes cut out of the center. So Mom loaded Jeff and me in the car and we went in search of ghost gear. In 1984, our small town of Holdrege had far more shopping options than we do now. However, that didn’t seem to help Mom’s cause. After popping into every store in town that offered bedding, we ended up at JC Penny on the town square. It was dark out at this point and nearing closing time. It was her last hope. The sales woman took us to the bedding department and it was another bust. It was official; NO plain white sheets existed in the town of Holdrege on that autumn night.

As Mom stood there under the impatient eye of the employee that was ready to clock out, she held in her hands two options: a Laura Ashley small floral print sheet or the only solid color sheet in the store, which happened to be chocolate brown. She made the decision and Jeff didn’t have a choice.

The next morning, my 2nd Grade class was one of several groups of kids ushered into the gym to watch the “Ghostbusters” program. Sitting crisscross applesauce on the cold tile floor I realized my palms were sweating. Jeff was never a fan of school or spending time with his peers and I worried about him standing out because of his last minute ghost costume. I didn’t want people to make fun of my big brother but then I remembered what Mom said and I too wondered how many people actually have a plain white sheet at home.

Apparently, many do.

The lights dimmed and the area reserved for the program took center stage. Ray Parker Jr’s theme song for the movie began playing from Mr. Sandfort’s record player usually reserved for our P.E. four-square tutorial. Four kids from my brother’s class crept into the gym looking like makeshift “Ghostbusters”, with backpacks and vacuum cleaners resembling the outfits worn by the main characters in the film. Suddenly, the gym was filled with 4th Grade ghosts and they ran around waving their arms and making scary sounds. In a sea of white sheets, I didn’t see Jeff. Did he back out last minute? Was he hiding in the bathroom?

I stood up to get a better look at the front of the gym and there was Jeff, floating around with arms wide spread, looking better than any other ghost in the bunch.

He was as brown as chocolate as he weaved in and out of the other “white” kids. 

I turned to the back where the parents were sitting and made eye contact with Mom. Even though she was slouched in her folding chair partially covering her face, I pointed to Jeff with glee and wanted to make sure she saw him. As if she could miss him.

After school that day, Mom sat Jeff and I down and chalked up the experience to being a good “life lesson”. She reminded us of the hallmarks of responsibility and the importance of accountability. Cleaning out our backpacks and getting important notes to her rested upon our little shoulders. And Mom put a spin on the situation that only she could and highlighted the fact that the world needs more diversity. She made it very clear to us that ghosts aren’t always the same color. She also reminded us that when Jeff was under his brown sheet, he didn’t know he was any different than any other kid in that gym. From his point of view everyone was the same and she told us to never forget that.

I’m glad Holdrege was out of plain white sheets that night. A good lesson was learned.

Happy Halloween.

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Scott Rager

Robert Scott Rager is a Nebraska native who returned home to start a boutique business called "County Seat Living". His personal goal for "County Seat" is to translate the lifestyle design he was creating in Los Angeles for the past twelve years and apply it to the sensibility of the Great Plains. Whether he's writing about decorating, homemade ice cream, floral creations, event planning or product design, he wants the personality and style of Nebraska to shine bright.