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I’ll never defeat the shadow of that Peter Pan costume

I’ll never defeat the shadow of that Peter Pan costume
Daily Pilot columnist Jim Carnett. (Daily Pilot)

It was Thursday evening, Oct. 31, 1957: Halloween. I was 12 and in the eighth grade.

That night I attended my first — and I’m pretty sure last — costume party. A classmate at Everett A. Rea Junior High invited me to a soiree at her house on Costa Mesa’s Westside.

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I lived on the Eastside, so my mom had to drive me to the party and pick me up. Curfew was 9. Despite my protestations, Mom refused to drop me off a block away so I could appear to have arrived on foot … or, better yet, via my 10-speed Derailleur bike (which I never had).

There must have been 50 kids at that Halloween party, and we played games in the house and backyard. Some went trick-or-treating in the neighborhood.

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Jimmy Carnett stood all of 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed 85 pounds.

To make matters worse, I was dressed as Peter Pan. Uh-huh. What niggling criticism that costume elicited. I preferred to go as the Lone Ranger or Robby the Robot, but Mom insisted.

And Peter Pan it was.

Did we purchase the outfit at the Disney Store? Not in 1957. Mom was a wiz with sewing techniques — and she loved Peter Pan — so if I wanted a costume the die was cast.

Mother, bless her craft-oriented, make-do-at-minimal-cost philosophy, trimmed and dyed a pair of Dad’s white longjohns green and passed them off as “tights.” In fact, I think she dyed the “johns” twice to get them green enough to pass Neverland muster.

With fabric sheers she fashioned a pointy Peter Pan hat out of a half-yard of green felt. She affixed a fluffy red feather rakishly to one side.

The shoes? I don’t remember. I don’t want to remember.

I’ve done considerable second-guessing over the past 60 years. Why Pan? By the time I joined the United States Army seven years later I’d managed to purge all Peter Pan notations from my temporal lobe. When the gorgeous Hedy and I married in 1975, the “green shadow” was gone.

After Halloween night of 1957, I never attempted to resuscitate a single “Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” memory … with the exception of an event in 1963. I was 18, and in a stage production of “Peter Pan” at Orange Coast College. I didn’t play Peter; I was Wendy’s brother, John, the boy in the top hat. We “flew” all over that set, and it was cool.

Fast-forward to 2012.

Now 67 years of age, I was invited to sit on the committee organizing the 50-year reunion for Costa Mesa High School’s first graduating class.

I walked into the initial meeting 30 minutes late with my lifelong pal, Mike Parks, by my side. Mike and I had agreed to sit on the committee together. We weren’t insecure or anything.

When we entered, 15 people were seated around a living room doing high school reunion planning stuff. I glanced furtively about, not recognizing a soul.

I was a deer in the headlights.

Eyeballs from ages past scrutinized me, searching for some clue as to who I was. Then, a voice scarcely audible mumbled, “Jimmy Carnett?”

From another corner came a shriek and a female voice. What she said chilled me to the core.

“Hey, Jimmy, remember my eighth-grade Halloween party when you came as Peter Pan?”

My word! What?

“Um, no, I don’t remember any party,” I lied through my teeth. Memories flooded my consciousness, green pointy hats danced in a subliminal haze, and I felt a constriction of the throat muscles. The room began to spin.

“Aw, c’mon, Jim, you must recall that hideous lime green Pan outfit you wore,” she persisted. “Remember? Your mother made you wear it.”

Egads, who was this lady with the memory of a pachyderm? How could she possibly call out specifics of an eighth-grade costume party 60 years ago?

Suddenly I was 12.

Everyone was looking at me. I stood by the front window, staring out at the street. Where was Mom in our ’55 Chevy when I needed her?

Now 94, Mom has saved my bacon many times. I’ve chosen not to hold Peter Pan against her.

Jim Carnett, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.

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