1965 was the year I was going to win first place at the church Halloween party. I was a six-year-old secret agent complete with trench coat and briefcase. The plastic face mask was a blonde woman with a fedora and dark glasses. It’s quite possible that a cigarette was smoldering between her cherry red lips. I personified my heroine, Agent 99, of the iconic TV program Get Smart. She was the real brains of the show. Every week she and Maxwell Smart, the goofball, fought against an international organization of evil. Although she was a brunette (and I was blonde), as far as I was concerned, we were one and the same.
I was mysterious and brave at the Halloween party. I stuck my hands in bowls of cold spaghetti intestines and peeled grape eyeballs without flinching at the parish house party. Spies aren’t squeamish. I personified the perfect secret agent, with a real-life nemesis, Susan. Despite being a year younger than I, Susan had won first place two years in a row at the Halloween contest. Her mother made an elaborate Heidi of the Alps outfit the year I was a cow. As Little Bo Peep, she beat out my Casper the Friendly Ghost; I don’t know what the judges were thinking. That autumn night I confidently, stealthily, snuck around until Susan floated into the room in mounds of tulle. The child bride, fashionably late, with veil and corsage did it again! She walked off with my prize.
I was astounded and horrified. “How could a stupid old bride win?” I whined to Mom. “Don’t the judges know that a secret agent will help save the world? What’s a bride going to do?” I was disappointed and delirious with envy.
Mom patiently reminded me that the main purpose of Halloween wasn’t about how much candy we got or how many prizes we won. It was about collecting coins in our orange UNICEF boxes for poor African children. At six, I knew that was a lie. We went from house to house before the church party each year, shaking our boxes yelling, “Trick or Treat for UNICEF!” before grabbing a handful of Tootsie Rolls. Granted, the coins would allow some poor kid to get vaccinated, but shots hurt. I was slightly uncomfortable with my part in their pain, although the boxes were fun to put together.
Not long ago Mom reminded me of another tough Halloween, “Your father and I went to New York City for a weekend. We left you at Mrs. Hagarus’s house.” My brother, sister, and I loved staying there. She had a monkey swing inside her garage.
“We brought back an army outfit for your brother and for you, a nurse’s outfit complete with a cape, medical bag, and candy pills. You broke into tears. You were somewhat difficult to deal with,” she added, unnecessarily. Obviously I didn’t think nurses, like brides, were essential to saving the world.
Sometimes it’s hard to be happy for the winners, whether one is four or 64. Questions pop up like, “Why them, why not me?” Reasoning happens as well, “I’d be happy too if I were an only child, had curly hair, or won a darn Halloween contest.” Jealousy often leads us to unkind actions. For a four-year old it could be wrecking her brother’s Matchbox car garage with ramps and a battery-operated lift at Christmas because it was so much neater than the set of Colorforms she received. A 64-year-old may be envious of someone getting a blog published on a major platform and then proceed to tell anyone who’ll listen that the ignoramus wrote that acorns fell from maple trees.
It takes practice and awareness to realize that jealousy only hurts the one who is jealous.
Successful friends, acquaintances, and competitors aren’t just lucky. Nothing in life comes easy, no matter what we think. Everything takes practice, commitment, and hard work. Some work harder than others.
How many times did Susan get pricked while her mother sewed seed pearls on her gown? What does one give up in order to be successful or to be happy? What am I not giving up? I have no doubt that many brides and nurses have helped save the world much more than I. I’m more apt to rejoice in their happiness and success now when I’m not coming off of a candy corn high. Many of them have, in fact, saved my world.