Leaves are turning all shades of brown, bronze, gold and scarlet ---- and falling ---- falling ---wafting down into crunchy heaps---- and there’s a morning chill in the air. As the spooky time of Halloween nears and the weather grows less balmy, our daylight hours will shorten with the ceasing of DST next month. I moan and groan about this every year since, when the darkness closes in, my mind tells me it is time to cease labors and go to bed. Five o’clock is a bit early for that message. Thus, I struggle ---- and complain ----- and look forward to the Solstice.
Amazingly, Halloween has become the second most observed holiday in our country, and it isn’t even an official holiday. Halloween decorations have become artistic wonders ranging from funny to a bit gruesome, and insane prices reflect their popularity. I suppose this strange attraction is also what drives the ventures into the macabre and occult in TV series. I don’t really understand the lure, but………well, I won’t go there. On our porch, we mostly decorate with harvest-y things; pumpkins, broom corn, chrysanthemums, etc. Some of the available Halloween lawn decorations are fun --- like the circle of filmy dancing ghosts --- but I can’t bring myself to pay the prices of such ephemeral creatures. This isn’t to say that we’ve totally ignored Halloween. When the Main Street Café was thriving, we used to have dinner there on trick or treat night, so that we could watch the kids come in their costumes, for treats. We’ve also given a few Halloween parties. In Livingston Manor we had a wonderful Gothic, gabled attic, where we set up a spooky maze. And below, in the living room, we did skits, played games and consumed cookies and Halloween punch. I’ve sewed my share of Halloween costumes too, that could afterward be turned into pajamas, and in later years, princess outfits for granddaughters. A couple of times, Kerm was a hairy, scary “Wolfman” for the S-VE school party.
What I really like is All Saints’ Day --- the day following Halloween. I like thinking about not only the formally-canonized saints like Mother Theresa, St. Julian or St. Francis, but also the wonderful people in my life who are no longer with us. I have personally canonized a few people who have contributed to who I am. My great-uncle Fred was a man who was exceedingly kind to small children and very firm about ethics and his faith. Grandma Dusett was mostly immobile from Parkinson’s Disease, but she always held out a shaky hand to squeeze mine and her love was evident. Grandpa Dusett never said much, but very clearly enjoyed his granddaughter’s early piano-playing and singing. Grandpa lived with us for a time, and couldn’t really avoid the scales and etudes, so it is good that they pleased him. There was my Aunt Selenda, sophisticated and ready to laugh, with her fascinating collection of porcelain ladies and a large Maxfield Parrish painting that I loved. She always made me feel like a real person. And there are many others who have loved without ceasing. In fact, I was imagining a party and who I’d like to sit with around a table of saints who have gone on to another stage of life. It would take a very long table ---- I’d have to put in all the leaves and maybe get another table too. Besides family and dear friends who have gone on, I’d also invite Madeleine L’Engle, a fine writer and very good theologian, who cared enough to send me a couple of songs mentioned in her books, and, for years, her annual Christmas letter. I’d hope Gladys Taber would come and Pat Leimbach. They are two non-fiction writers who encouraged me; who made me feel I had something to say worth listening to. And there are several people we’ve known from our “Faith At Work” years. Maybe C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien would join us. We’d have a great time but, since I’m still earth-bound, I must be content with visualizing that gathering of the saints watching over us. I wonder if they ever wish they could intervene in our earthly lives, or if they’ve truly gained that serenity that trusts in all things.
Fortunately, it is possible to meditate on people and still accomplish other things. October is the season of “getting ready for winter”. Last year, I forgot to dig the dahlia bulbs, so of course, they froze; this year I must get them into the garage, for they have been lovely with big, frilly, wine-red blooms. Last year, I left weeds thinking I’d just pull them right away in the spring. How silly of me! Getting the weeds into the compost pile is our October goal. Fortunately, since I have no energy right now, Kerm is doing the pulling. We hope it also eliminates hiding places for the hordes of mosquitoes we’ve endured. In spite of this year’s indolence, I did, late in September, plant a row of sweet clover in one garden bed. There didn’t seem to be much of it along the roadsides this summer, so I have none for scenting sheets and pillow cases. The bird feeders will probably wait for repairs until after the bears wander through on their Oct./Nov. way to winter dens. Then we can put out the suet again; the woodpeckers check for it every few days. We can put garden tools back in storage and bring snow shovels to the front. The cat shelter had an accident this summer. While scorching the near-by weeds the flames reached the foam insulation, destroying it. So we need to cut new foam. We do want our cats to be cozy. Lots and lots to do!
We were delighted to have our granddaughters with us for a few days. They are maturing so fast; we are always glad to discover what they are thinking and doing. When I was in that 14-17 age span, my life was, perhaps, different than theirs, but it had similarities too. I went to a public school; they are home-schooling. Public school takes a lot of energy and is sometimes a bit dramatic or traumatic, depending on one’s fellow-students and teachers. All that interaction takes as much awareness and alertness as one’s studies. And even 65 years ago, there were annoyances with parental expectations versus my own expectations. That has probably been true since Adam and Eve. I was so upset with my father at one point that I wrote to “Dear Polly” --- a teen advice columnist in the Farm Journal magazine. Polly wrote back and basically told me (in more genteel language) to “suck it up”, listen to my father and get on with my life. Not a lot of sympathy there. I immediately wondered how old her children were. I’ll bet she had teenagers!
Life isn’t easy in those growing, maturing years, whether at home or at school. As the body changes and the mind expands during growth, all those bubbling hormones have an effect on thinking which then creates rocketing and nose-diving moods. They are difficult to endure for both parent and teen. Sometimes there are things that we just have to live through, doing our best to be civil and tolerant of the moment, and knowing that “this too shall pass”. And kid------ almost always----- emerge from the turmoil of emotional uncertainty as centered and fine adults. Meanwhile, we just keep praying for their safety and parental sanity.
Now that the weather is cooler, along with the tortoise of Alice In Wonderland*, we celebrate “Soup ---- beautiful soup!” (If you haven’t read “Alice….” in a while, you should do so. There’s humor there that is totally wasted on children.) Probably my favorite soup is a simple vegetable-beef concoction with savory broth and tender beef, perhaps given more substance with a sprinkling of bulghur or barley. That soup plus home-made rolls and a salad or fruit is a fine meal for a chilly day. A slightly more labor-intensive recipe is a potato soup that I make for special occasions. It requires dicing and pureeing and being careful nothing burns, but it is a potato-nectar. And, of course, there is always chicken soup to keep the sniffles away or provide comfort if one is already coughing and wheezing. Occasionally I will make a cream of broccoli or cream of asparagus soup, but they should be consumed at one sitting, not stored for later; they tend to curdle. Like many others who have prepared meals for decades, I am a bit tired of trying to figure out what to have for dinner ---and also quite tired of preparing whatever it is. So, soup and casseroles are good, for once made they can be served several times, or popped into freezer containers for another time.
October is moving right along. From my window, I can see our humungous rose bush still green against the deep red leaves of the “Wahoo” (euonymus)trees. The encroaching comfrey has survived my mid-summer shearing and stands tall and green ----and invasive! I should cut some leaves for healing winter poultices --- just in case. And it would be good to bring in some lemon balm leaves for tea or just smelling wonderful.
“Tonight is the night when dead leaves fly like witches on switches across the sky…..”** If you celebrate Halloween, have fun, but give some thought to All Saints’ Day too and think about who you’d like to picnic with in some Heavenly place. Try to regard our unstable world as having some of the same trouble as teens ----- growing pains. All growing pains require good listening skills and some “putting up with” until the storm passes by. And when life throws us a rainy day, don’t despair; instead, to quote Winnie the Pooh, “Play in the puddles!”
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He was a British writer, especially of children’s stories. 1832-1898.
**”Halloween” by Harry Behn --- American screenwriter and children’s author. 1898-1973