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?