Cambrian: Slice of Life

Christmas in October? Are we shopping for costumes or gifts?

As I write this, it’s 91 degrees in Cambria in October! Meanwhile, stores are filled with Christmas sales.

Really, people?

I get it, I guess, even if it does make me cringe. Yes, this year’s official Christmas-selling season (Black Friday to Christmas Eve) is six days shorter than it was last year. Six fewer days for retailers to legitimately entice us with discounts, BOLO two-for-one deals and rebates (after all, isn’t that really what a free-gift-card-with-purchase deal is?).

We’re in the mood for ghosts, witches and scary cartoon characters, and everywhere we look, we see Christmas trees, reindeer, Santa clones and “XMAS SALE!” signs.

But be honest. Christmas goodies have been in full view since before school started, just as Halloween and Thanksgiving were on prominent display around the July 4th holiday.

I’m sick of it! I’m endorsing the cartoon of a pumpkin and witch, pushing Santa away from the calendar and saying, “It’s not your turn yet, fatso!”

By the time we actually get to Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas, I’m so over the concept of the holiday, I’m ready for Chinese-food takeout, jammies, a crossword puzzle and early to bed.

And I’m not THAT old!

But back to the weather: By Halloween, of course, temperatures outside probably will do an about-face, maybe even twice ... weather-whiplashing down into the 70s or 60s, then back up to the 80s or 90s.

That’s not unusual in San Luis Obispo County at this time of year, but the swings seem more extreme these days. I’ll bet that in the nearly five decades I’ve lived in Cambria, about half the Halloween days have been hot. Some of them, scorchingly so.

Halloween 1981 at bakery.jpg
A vintage picture shows bakery owners Richard and Kathe Tanner handing out Halloween goodies for parading grammar school students in Cambria. Courtesy of The Upper Crust Bakery archives

Picking costumes for ourselves or our offspring is a meteorological crapshoot. Should we go toasty warm, because it’s going to be foggy and cold, or minimalist, because the thermometer will still be hovering around 70 by nightfall?

And costume-dressing in layers just doesn’t work.

It’s even harder for those of us who rely on our abilities to create effective, last-minute, el cheapo costumes out of regular clothing, hand-you-downs, the linen closet, the tool chest, Goodwill and panicked inspiration.

That’s always been my mode, two levels up from poking holes in a sheet and calling it a ghost costume, but way below spending megabucks to rent or buy a lavish costume.

For instance, the years when we still owned and ran Cambria’s bakery were prime time for last-minute costuming. We relied on throw-together regalia, because who has time to shop or sew when you’re at work from 2 a.m. to 6 p.m.?

One year, Husband Richard and I were in front, handing out free, freshly made Halloween doughnuts to grammar schoolers parading through the East Village downtown business district (a tradition that vanished due to insurance concerns).

He was dressed as a gambler, an ironic disguise for a man who spent 18 years as a Harrah’s Club pit boss, trying to foil and catch card sharks. His outfit included a slick black shirt and pants, an ugly white tie wide enough to masquerade as an ascot (which, come to think of it, may have been what it was to begin with), his black fedora, a heavily darkened Snidely Whiplash-style mustache and a suitably rakish expression.

My oh-so-hazardous princess outfit included a flowing royal blue gown with ballooning sleeves slit from shoulder to wrist (I’d made it to wear to a Renaissance Fair in the ’70s). There was a floor-length cape, gathered to my bra-line in front and draped over my shoulders. A tall witch’s cap had a wimple/couvrechef veil that went from the hat’s point down the left side of my head, under my chin and then draped over my right shoulder. (I’d faked it by hijacking one of my mom’s sheer royal blue curtains.)

Did I say hazardous? I tried to not melt the costume every time I reached into the bakery oven. Tried not to trip over the hem whenever I turned around quickly, especially when carrying bakery products like a wedding cake (who gets married on Halloween?). Tried to keep my witch’s cap on my head and out of the 20-quart bowl of buttercream. And escaped having to apply glaze, frosting and sprinkles to hundreds of give-away doughnuts because of my long, full sleeves.

And Christmas? It was still a long way off, in the stores and in our hearts.

That was so much better.

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Kathe Tanner has been writing about the people and places of SLO County’s North Coast since 1981, first as a columnist and then also as a reporter. Her career has included stints as a bakery owner, public relations director, radio host, trail guide and jewelry designer. She has been a resident of Cambria for more than four decades, and if it’s happening in town, Kathe knows about it.