I’m re-posting this blog I wrote a few years ago:
When I was a girl, our costumes were solid. We were ghosts, vampires, Mickey or Minnie Mouse. We were firemen, doctors, and hobos. Our costumes were made from salvaged cardboard and other found materials, or sewed with a bit of help from our moms. We went trick-or-treating without parental supervision, and arrived home at the agreed time with huge sacks of candy, which we poured out and bartered with our siblings. It was a simpler time. Life was good.
Let me take you back. Waaaaaay back. The year: 1973. The place: a small town in northern Illinois. I’m nine years old. Close your eyes . . . can you hear Don McClean singing American Pie on the radio? Can you smell the burning leaves on the cool October breeze? Can you taste the warm apple cider pressed from apples grown at the farm just down the road?
“Daddy, Daddy, do you think I’m big enough to wear the Fat Soldier costume THIS year? I’ve been waiting FOREVER!”
That’s me. I’d grown up hearing stories from my father and my aunts about wearing Grandpa’s WW II uniform on Halloween when they were children. It was legendary, and pretty much regarded within the family as the most excellent Halloween costume ever. But first you had to be big enough to fit into it! When I asked my Aunt Linda about it a few years ago, she said, “it was warm, and the people loved to see it.”
My Grandpa Koppen was in WWII and served with the military police in Europe. He was away at war when my father (his first born) was born in May, 1944. I wish I had more details about what he saw during the war, but he never wanted to talk about it. I feel proud of his service, since nobody else in my family has ever been in the military. After Grandpa and Grandma passed away, I was given several small yellow-jacketed photo books which held blurry black-and-white photos of Grandpa with guns, tanks, and other smiling soldiers.
I will never know what happened to Grandpa during WW II, but I do know he loved his family deeply . . . and he always made us laugh. He passed away the year my first son, Patrick, was born and honestly, I have never stopped missing Grandpa during these past 24 years. He was one of my very favorite people. He was smart, loving, and most of all, hilarious. He had a “bawdy” side to him of which my cousin Bridget and I are often accused of inheriting (thanks, Grandpa!). There’s no better compliment than when one of my aunts says, “Okay Bernie,” after I say something a bit risque. I am a legacy.
Back to the costume: We called it the Fat Soldier costume because even though my Grandpa was tall and thin when he wore it during the War, we were children. To make it fit, we had to stuff a pillow into the front and roll up the pant legs. I remember it being a dark greenish brown, made of scratchy wool, with a jaunty cap. I wore it two years in a row before we moved to hot Arizona where you could suffer heatstroke in such a get-up!
I wonder where Grandpa’s uniform went. The houses in the Midwest have huge spaces for storage and I’m sure, one of these days, someone will come across the uniform in one of the many attics and smile while thinking of all the stories it could tell.