Monday, October 13, 2008

Remembrances of Halloweens Past

by Julia Buckley

Today I put up my Halloween decorations. I love Halloween–not because I throw parties or wear costumes or go trick-or-treating (although I do like to accompany my children when they go).
I just like to mark the changing of the seasons. I like the colors, the crisp air, the crunching leaves. I like lighting candles and buying pumpkins and watching the neighborhood lit up with orange fairy lights.

I’ve finally reached an age, though, that I start to feel nostalgic for all Halloweens past. I was thinking of some memorable ones today.

My first Halloween memory is not even my own, but one my father and mother passed down as a family legend. It involved my sister, Claudia, who is eight years my elder. My parents adopted her from a Hong Kong orphanage when she was four years old. She looked two because she was so malnourished. When they went to pick her up at the airport, she fought like a little tiger as she was handed to them–two strange white people who were taking her away from the only life she had ever known. My father feared they would be arrested for trying to abduct a child. But this fierce little girl was theirs now.

In the car my mother gave Claudia a little purse that she’d brought as a present. My sister took it, then surreptitiously stowed everything she could find into the purse. They took her home and tucked her into bed, but for many weeks afterward they would come back to find her sleeping on the hard wood floor–something she had grown used to at the orphanage.

By the time Halloween came around Claudia had started to adapt to American life. She played with her brother Bill, who was her age. She had never fully mastered Chinese, but she also had trouble learning English, so she spoke a babyish mixture of them both. My father explained to her, through words and pantomime, that he would take her and her brother from house to house and people would give her candy, which she could collect in a little bag.

This was something she liked. She marched up to each house, almost assertive in her little cat costume, saying something resembling trick-or-treat when she approached the doors. Suddenly, though, my father saw his tiny daughter come running back to him, knocking down children like bowling pins. The sight was so comical that he was laughing–until he saw her terror. “Luncava!” she said (or that was how my father remembered it).

“What? What do you mean?”

“Luncava! Luncava!” she screamed.

My father didn’t understand. And so tiny Claudia, in desperation, put out her hands to look like paws and began to pant like a dog.

“Dog?” my father asked, and then he spied an ancient shepherd padding down a driveway. He picked up his terrified daughter and her bag of candy and brought her home. At the time I’m sure he was too protective to laugh at her, but as the years passed it became a funny story, even to Claudia herself.

Another of my favorite Halloweens was from just a few years ago; my sister’s trick-or-treating days are over; she is a tennis pro in Virginia (not far from our own Sandra Parshall. This is one of her publicity shots).

It’s my own children who dress up now, and after they discovered Marx Brothers movies a few years ago they decided to be Groucho and Harpo. My littlest son was so committed to his costume that he refused to speak; Harpo never did, of course.

Some people recognized his dilemma right away. They said, “Oh, okay Harpo, I know you can’t talk.” But many of those who answered the doors had no idea who Harpo Marx was, and wondered why this little boy in the trench coat wouldn’t speak. That’s when my older son, Groucho, would step forward and say, “He can’t talk–he’s Harpo,” and manage to secure candy for them both.It was a display of brotherly love–something brought out by holidays and dress up occasions and seasonal rituals.

Halloween allows stories like these to stay in my memory when the stories of every day might fade away. The marking of the seasons means the marking of the years of our lives.

What’s your favorite autumn memory?


caryn said...

Good morning Julia and all of Poe's Deadly Daughters!
I was the lucky high bidder at Bouchercon for your silent auction basket!
First, let me say that your basket was one of the prettiest at the convention.
I just a couple of minutes ago opened the basket up to see what gooies I had won. I knew there were books, and obviously that was one of the main selling points. (One of the books, Elizabeth's to be exact, has already led to one of my most embarassing moments!)
Anyway, I was thrilled to get home and unpack the basket and find so many other gems from tea to teacozy to Lonnie's little booklet of "husband funnies" to a movie!

Between the books I bought at Bouchercon (way too many bags full), the books from your basket, the movie and a nice pot of tea, I think I'm all set for a long winter.
Thanks for the great basket,
Caryn St.Clair

caryn said...

Now to answer Julia's blog question.
I think my favorite fall memories are when the kids were little and we would go to the pumpkin patch to pick out the pumpkins, decide on the faces and then crave them with the kids scooping out the seeds for us to season and roast.
Also, we kept an ever growing boxful of costumes and accessories, so about now we'd get it out for the kids to go through and decide what they were going to be. That way if there was a prop or costume part that needed to be made or whatever, I had a couple of weeks lead time.
We still decorate the house, but it's not the same without little kids.
My favorite memory from my childhood is the smell of burning leaves. We live in a city now where of coarse burning leaves is a big no no. I don't know if it's still done in more rural areas, but when I was a kid, we'd rake the leaves into huge piles, play in them and then daddy would burn them. I love that smell reguardless of how environmentally unsound it is!

Julia Buckley said...

I'm so glad you won the basket! I hope you enjoy all of its contents.

I love the smell of burning leaves, too, although the next best thing is the campfire smell of outdoor fireplaces--lots of folks have them in our neighborhood, so it's pretty much a continual smell in fall. Not to mention the last cold-weather barbecues--that smell wafts through the air into yards for a mile around.

Sandra Parshall said...

Caryn, I'm delighted you bought our basket! Thank you for contributing to the two Bouchercon charities, the wonderful Pratt Library and Viva House, a Baltimore shelter (where Laura Lippman volunteers) that feeds and assists many of our fellow citizens who find themselves in need of a helping hand.

Darlene Ryan said...

One of my favorite fall memories is taking the munchkin's kindergarten class to gather leaves in the park. After an hour they had played themselves out and they sat underneath one of the huge elm trees to have a snack. They were so quiet, eating and sorting through their leaf treasures. One of the other moms took a picture that I still have. I don't think that group has ever been that quiet since!

Julia Buckley said...

Oh, yes, Darlene--what a lovely image! My children took an art class in which they flattened their colorful leaves and then decoupaged them onto mason jars and made candles. I light them each fall and see the colors reborn! And of course I love remembering their pudgy little hands making this art.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Aw, Caryn, please try to think of your embarrassing moment as a dream come true for a lifelong writer whose first novel has just come out and is thrilled to be asked to sign her book.

Halloween is scary! One of my favorite stories is about my son's first conscious Halloween at age 3.
He had a playmate whose mom was a psychiatrist. Their apartment building was fancier than ours, so the plan was for my son and hers to ring doorbells over there. My son was reluctant, but I wanted to go trick or treating, so I tried to persuade him, saying, "It's fun! You ring the doorbells and the people give you candy." My psychiatrist friend bent down, put her head close to his, and said, "No, you scare them with your costume, and that's why they give you the candy!" My son let out an almighty howl of terror--and we didn't go trick or treating that year.

Julia Buckley said...

I'm guessing she wasn't a CHILD psychiatrist. :)

How did our children ever survive those early years? They can be so scary. But I don't recall my children ever being very frightened of Halloween. Certain movies scared them, though.

Lonnie Cruse said...

I just love Halloween in general. Scary movies, candy, all that orange, kids dressing up, etc. It's all good! Great post, Julia. Caryn, congrats and thanks for your posts.