It was after lunch on Halloween in Mrs. Schweda’s second grade class. Everyone was at their desk in costume, everyone except my best friend, Andrea, she had gotten hives from her powdered wig. I was The Cat in the Hat. My Mom had made my costume, she bought a black sweatshirt and added a tail, ears, and a red and white stove pipe hat. I wore black pants and white gloves. With black greasepaint, my Mom had drawn whiskers and a button nose on my face. I loved my costume until I saw Andrea. Andrea was Marie Antoinette, her wig and face were powdered, she had the tiniest touch of red lipstick on her mouth and rouge high on her cheekbones. Her dress was a pastel blue with a bustle, lace neckline, and puffy, lace sleeves. She wore dainty black shoes in her feet. Andrea was a vision, I felt very cartoonish walking next to her to school. Andrea stopped abruptly a block from her house, she was breathing hard and had huge red splotches on her face and neck. We quickly turned around and ran back to her house. At the front door, her mother tore off Andrea’s wig and dragged her into the bathroom to wash the powder off. I was sent to school on my own.
Mrs. Schweda pretended not to know who we all were. Somehow, we had became mysterious strangers after going home for lunch, it was so exciting. Mrs. Schweda noticed that “someone” was absent, I raised my hand to tell of Andrea’s plight and in doing so, I revealed my true self to Mrs. Schweda. I was embarrassed and mad at myself for making such a dumb mistake. The costume parade buoyed my spirits, I was the only Cat in the Hat in the whole school.
My mother had sewn all our of Halloween costumes for us every year. My sister was in sixth grade, she was an artist’s interpretation of Cinderella. Half of her dress was dirty and torn, the other half was a beautiful white gown, with sequined trim. She carried a broom in one hand and a glass slipper in the other. My older brother was Paul Revere. His costume consisted of a white shirt, a waist coat, a suit coat, and breeches. The gold buttons on the suit coat lapels were my from my Dad’s Navy jacket. My younger brother was a New York Yankees baseball player.
My second grade class was obsessed with books, especially; The Cat in the Hat. We each wrote a fan letter to Dr. Seuss using our best penmanship, describing our favorite passage in the book. Mrs. Schweda put our letters in a Manila envelope and mailed them to Dr. Seuss. One morning, just before Halloween, Mrs. Schweda stood in front of the class with an envelope in her hand. We had received a handwritten reply from Dr. Suess. Dr. Suess thanked everyone for their letters and went on to compliment our handwriting and letter content. There were tiny colored drawings in the margins of the letter of Horton and The Cat in the Hat. Dr. Suess wrote that it was in second grade that he discovered his love of drawing. Mrs. Schweda framed the letter, it held a prominent place on the wall in the front of our classroom. Wherever that letter is today, I’m sure that it’s worth a fortune.
In May 1954, Life Magazine published an article about illiteracy in children in America. The report concluded that children weren’t learning to read because books were boring and outdated. William Spaulding, chairman of the education division of Houghton Mifflin compiled a list of 348 words that he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He asked Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to “bring back a book that children can’t put down.” Nine months later, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat, using 236 of the words given to him. It retained all of the imaginative power of his earlier works but, because of its simplified vocabulary, it could be read by beginning readers.
The Cat in the Hat was one of the first books that I bought for my eldest child. He loved the book from a very young age, I quickly began to dread reading it. My youngest became obsessed with Marc Brown’s, Arthur books in second grade. She happily sent in her membership application and fee to Arthur’s book club. She waited months for the letter confirming her membership but it never arrived. Unlike, my story about Dr. Suess’s letter, Marc Brown disappointed my seven year old. She never read another Arthur book after that.
My Mom loved Halloween and continued the tradition of hand made costumes with my children. Princesses, Little Orphan Annie, clowns, Roger Rabbit, a gypsy, and witches, were a few that she carefully sewed. Not one of my children asked to be The Cat in the Hat.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. —Dr. Suess
Kate Emery General is a retired chef/restaurant owner that was born and raised in Casper, Wyoming. Kate loves her grandchildren, knitting and watercolor painting. Kate and her husband , Matt are longtime residents of Cambridge’s West End where they enjoy swimming and bicycling.