I love the celebration of Halloween: the decorations, the pumpkin-carving, the bonfires, the masks and costumes, the trick-or-treating and the ghost stories. If you visit Full Moon Cottage any time after Labor Day, you know it’s the home of someone almost crazed about Halloween. Luckily, my good-natured husband encourages, or at least welcomes this. Cats, pumpkins, witches and ghosts…they’re everywhere!
To understand, you need to know about the Halloween of 1963…
In those days, trick-or-treating was an after-dark celebration, walking door-to-door in the neighborhood, accompanied by friends and siblings and, usually, a parent who stood (thankfully) in the shadows, enjoying the spectacle, keeping an eye on us, chatting with friends, and making sure we said, “Thank you.” (The other parent was stationed at home to hand out candy to other eager trick-or-treaters.)
For weeks, high energy fueled the anticipatory excitement of fantasizing about our costumes, planning the trick-or-treat route, speculating about others’ costumes, choosing and addressing cards, and looking forward to the classroom parties. It all culminated on the glorious day of Halloween (not the weekend before or after, but on the very day, October 31st), a day of celebration at school followed by a night of donning our amazing (usually homemade) costumes and going “trick-or-treating,” slowly navigating our way around a few blocks of homes whose windows and porches glowed with lit pumpkins and whose yards featured cornstalks, fabricated ghosts, and goblins. It seemed all the world (circumscribed by those few blocks) agreed that life was enchanted, if only for one day and night every year.
We carried decorated bags handed out at area groceries, bumped into other costumed kids, enjoyed the neighborhood decorations and laughed at the adults who also wore costumes and “scared” us when we came to their doors… Everything about the evening was magical.
When we arrived back home, we dumped our treats on the floor and swapped candy, more cagily than Wall Street traders.
“I’ll give you two Butterfingers for six caramels…”
“No. Two Butterfingers and one Chunky…”
“…For six caramels and a Bun Bar!”
“How about six caramels and a popcorn ball?”
“Is it one of Mrs. Heidke’s popcorn balls?”
We were only allowed to have one treat a night thereafter, and tried to be the one whose candy lasted the longest, at least through the second week of Advent.
After trick-or-treating, the neighborhood public school invited everyone into the gym to watch cartoons and a Walt Disney movie, a rare treat in those days. The Halloween celebration was probably all over by 8:30 or 9:00 P.M., but it seemed to last forever. We drifted off to sleep on stardust.
But in 1963, that fateful year when I was eight, a tonsillectomy left me bedridden and unable to participate in all the fun.
The surgery itself was very like a horror movie, so there were Halloween-like elements to the experience. The Dayton Children’s Hospital was at that time an old converted mansion, and I clearly remember my parents exchanging looks that questioned the sanity behind this decision as we crossed the threshold very early on the morning of Friday, October 25th. They quickly rearranged their faces and smiled at me, telling me “what an adventure” this would be, but I was not mollified by their reassurances after glimpsing their initial expressions. Parental energy was never hard to read, and they were anxious and worried.
Within an hour, I was given a mini-hospital gown, even uglier than those offered now, and a shot of something that made me dopey. (Dopier, my brothers would have said.) I remember the smell of ether and some of the hallucination that followed. (It started with the twirling pinwheel from the beginning of every Twilight Zone episode.)
When I came out of the anesthetic, I was assaulted by more pain than I’d ever felt. Apparently, the surgical tool of choice for tonsillectomies in those days was a hacksaw. I also remember the drive home later that day, my mother and I sitting in the back seat so she could hold both me and a coffee can, in case the ether made me ill. I’m pretty sure it did. (I’ve often wondered: did the hospital staff suggest a coffee can? Did they supply it, from a stockroom full of empty coffee cans, hacksaws and ether?)
For the next few days, all was darkness.
Oh, there were bright spots. My grandparents sent me a huge box of books, toys, and candy. My best friend brought me not just my homework, but a present every day for the two weeks I was healing, and an extra-magnificent bag of candy on Halloween. My classmates sent me treats and cards, and my family tended me well…I made a bigger caloric haul than if I’d actually gone out trick-or-treating, and opened more gifts than if it were my birthday, but it didn’t assuage my disappointment in missing out on the fun. And I couldn’t eat the candy, anyway, till my throat healed.
I’d lost Halloween and nothing could replace it.
All that love held me, shone around me, showered upon me, but the disappointment of a child can overshadow everything around her.
My throat eventually healed, and I still had a few great Halloweens to enjoy, but missing my eighth was always recalled as something wicked that came my way.
Many years later, after many lovely blessings and a few and more deeply wicked twists visited my life, I met Phillip. And the fairy-tale I always knew would happen, did.
Once we were settled at Full Moon Cottage, we began shaping our own traditions and I started collecting decorations for the holidays that mark the seasons of the turning year. Frequently, when decorating and celebrating, my inner eight-year old comes out to play, and never more ecstatically than during the Halloween season. Every year, she regains the magic of the Halloween she lost, while the inner wise woman I hope I’m becoming stands back and recalls, in gratitude, all the love that surrounded that eight-year-old and her healing back in 1963.
This year, maybe we should swap candy and watch a Walt Disney movie. In costumes, of course. Good thing I found Mrs. Heidke’s popcorn ball recipe!
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