Friday, October 26, 2007
Giving the gift of Halloween
Halloween can be a heavy responsibility. Last year, I sent my three-year-old grandnephew Luke one of my favorite Halloween books, Jan Brett's Scary, Scary Halloween. It was the first Jan Brett work my children and I ever came across and the colorful, slightly spooky illustrations bewitched us into becoming lifelong fans. I wanted to pass this Halloween experience along to Luke. Well, did I ever. Luke not only loved the book, making his parents and grandparent read it to him countless times, but he insisted on being one of the book characters — a cavorting skeleton - for Halloween. Not only that, but shortly after the holiday, a persistent imaginary friend showed up — "Skeleton," (which he pronounces as "Skelton," making me think for a while he was channeling the comedian).
I wasn't particularly surprised at this procession of events, given the fact that his mother was one of the most peculiar children I ever met, and therefore one of the most fun to be with. Laura lived in her own happy world, talking to telephone poles and seeing clowns in hotel wallpaper. This last wouldn't be that odd except that she insisted on inviting them into our hotel room, held the door open and then sulked when they declined to come in. She expected to see alligators in elevators (a semantics issue) and once, when told I was coming to babysit her, she smiled and commented, "Oh good, it's the wall for me." Don't ask; I never did figure that one out; just suffice it to say she is one of my dearest relatives.
So now that she has passed along her unusual genes to Luke, I want him to love Halloween as much as I do. But how do I top last year's gift? A trip to iParty proved to be of little help. As I wandered up and down the crowded aisles, past the motion-activated ghouls and the screaming rocks, a voice boomed over the loudspeaker: "Price check on body parts — we need a price for severed hands, the two-pack." I decided to look elsewhere.
A recent visit with my oldest and best friend provided some inspiration. We went to lunch with my daughter and started reminiscing about Halloweens of old, particularly the sights and sounds of the night itself. "The swish of the leaves as we made our way down the sidewalk," she replied promptly when I asked her what she remembered best. "They always sounded special because we were either decked out in a long costume or dragging a full bag of candy. You could hear that sound all up and down the street. And remember how the leaves still on the trees glowed in the streetlights?" As she said it, I was back on a chilly, slightly chilling Halloween sidewalk, recalling the unique autumn-leaf color of Halloween. Though Luke lives near San Francisco, I would show him that special color — I stopped in Concord and bought him gel leaves in reds and oranges that can stick to his window. He can arrange them how he pleases and watch the light filter through them, and get a hint of what Halloween looked like where his mother and great-aunt grew up.
My daughter added the last piece to the puzzle. In that same nostalgic conversation, Sarah listed things she always found particularly special about the holiday. Her list ended with reference to a poem I always recited to the kids as we drove home from trick-or-treating. It began "It's late and we are sleepy; the air is cold and still; our Jack-o-lantern grins at us upon the window sill." Oh, how had I forgotten that book? The poet Jack Prelutsky wrote It's Halloween about a family of three children getting ready for and celebrating Halloween. The poems were funny and sometimes a very little bit scary, the way kids like to be scared. Marilyn Hafner illustrated it with such charming and whimsical pictures that even the mildly scary became harmless. My children and I read that book every day for the month of October, getting ready for the big day. It became such a staple in our Halloween repertoire that, to this day, my kids request that I call them at the end of All Hallows' Eve and read that last poem into their answering machines so they can save it. If any one thing encapsulates our Halloween celebrations, it is that book, so I hunted and searched and found it at a small bookstore in New Hampshire. The book and the leaves are now winging toward California, to yet another generation of Halloween revelers.
As I carried the package to the post office, I thought about the diverse ways in which we impart tradition. Just as much as the family heirloom necklace I sent to Laura for her wedding, the same necklace I wore at my wedding, so too did that small envelope contain a legacy of family. It thrills me to think that next Wednesday, in another time zone miles away, another mother will read to her child, "It's late and we are sleepy"
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito