"Three little ghostesses,
Sitting on postesses,
Eating buttered toastesses,
Greasing their fistesses,
Up to their wristesses.
Oh, what beastesses to make such feastesses!"
(Three Little Ghostesses, Peggy Blakeley, 1977)
Growing up in a family with 5 children made for great holidays. Halloween was especially packed with vibrant enthusiasm. Some of my fondest memories find root in anything spooky or involving October 31st. It has always been a day of great joy for me. These are the times when my family embraced an atmosphere of haunting, horror and hospitality. Such seduction and being devilish makes for grand heirlooms in the vault of my memory. As I grew up, little changed. If anything, aging has brought out more regard for this celebration. In spite of its origin and history, All Hallow's Eve has always been a night of fun and frolic and adventure for me.
While my father would usually take the younger kids out on the town, pillowcases in hand, my mother often dressed up to give out candy at the door. She wore sparkly things or over the top outfits. When some of us changed from younger to older, she would don witches' apparel, all black and dangly and made up for the season. Her already long, curly brown locks would mingle with the mess of hag hair she secured with bobby pins, hairspray and spider webs.
In the early 1990s, Mom volunteered to read Halloween stories at the public school that her granddaughter Jessica attended. Jessica had lived with my parents for a few years and inspired my mother to get involved. Looking back can be difficult, knowing what was to come from this relationship but, nevertheless, back then it was purer, uncorrupted and brought most of us fond memories. Jessica was in grade 3 when her grandmother put on that old witches' outfit and headed down to
to participate in the reading program. The black dress she wore was accented by a long string of fake white pearls, a skull pendant and black eye mask, like the one Robin wears in the Batman comics. I remember the bliss she expressed over such antics. They brought her much gratification through being positive in her offspring's lives rather than negative like her childhood often was. Colborne Street Public School
After her performance, Mom and my sister Tracey headed homeward down
Metcalfe Street, a main thoroughfare for Strathroy traffic flow. Just before the turn onto York Street, Ross Calcutt, a long-time friend of the family, manoeuvred into the entrance of his home, signalling to my sister in the car behind him. Tracey slowed down, then braked appropriately, halted by the slow-turning car ahead. The car from behind hit sis's vehicle straight on, the jolt leaving her and Mom with whiplash and a Halloween story to last for ages. I can still hear my Mom laughing in spite of her aching neck.
My Mother always carried on, no matter. She was ferocious despite her health or circumstance. The chuckle she got every time she shared the tale of the Halloweenie who rear-ended her ride home filled a room with more glow than any Jack-O-Lantern. "It's a good thing I wasn't on my broom," she would say. The look on his face when she got out of the car was priceless, Mom told me so.
"Why don't witches ever have babies?"
(Warlocks have hollow weenies)
When Jessica became old enough for trick or treat, I tried as hard as I could to get home and join her on her Halloween travels. From princess to zombie, every costume for every year stands as a little capsule, catching the moment in time. Each mental picture, from each Halloween, but a reminder of the way things should have been. I can see her growing and changing, yet I cannot see what went wrong. I used to call her "golfball", a remnant from the day I met that tiny newborn baby for the first time, now I just see her as some facade, a mask worn beyond the day of masks. I guess, one day, she decided to just roll away. From what I can recall of her, that would not have been a problem.
I do not think of her often, yet as Halloween approaches, I cannot help but be possessed with visions. My mind is stimulated and reminisces all on its own. It is no wonder, since one of my strongest associations with Halloween are the trips made to walk alongside her, trying to be part of her life and her journey. When I think of her innocence and the way she seemed, it does little to clarify the actions she took so many years later. Actions which, in my opinion, were huge factors leading to my mother's decline in health and eventual death.
It's almost metaphoric, her climb into an unknown. As if, by shedding each costume, she took off more and more of who we thought she was until all that was left was a stranger in our midst. Her deliberate and continuing self-banishment is forever a testimony to the quality of her person and her character. Like the name she was given at birth, it is all now faded, abandoned with most of the memories of this little girl that once was and is no more. She has left no empty space or void in our lives, rather she has merely spared us the complication of having to deal with an enemy dwelling in our camp. I guess the trick is on her.
My sister Tracey's son also brought Halloween home for me. Wandering about the neighbourhood with him all those years always gave me such pleasure. Where Jessica's youth began to fade, Matthew's youth began to flourish. I knew early on that having my own children was out of the question, so spending time with Matt on Halloween was another conscious attempt to secure a relationship with the kids brought into my life. I did not just want to be some gay uncle, tossed about in the big city, who sent a card for Christmas with the wrong name on it. I wanted to be a part of his life.
No matter where I was, who I was with or what needed to be done, I managed to get home every time. Nothing was as important to me as being there, even if only in the background. I knew Matt would also change in snapshots. He was once a silly pirate or mauled businessman and now stands on the edge of adulthood, 18 years having just come from around the corner. Each Halloween costume he wore, then traded in for the next year's, and the next year's, until we come to the cusp of his childhood and his venture into growing up. An event as frightening as any goblin or ghoul.
It has always been a pleasure for me to watch my siblings' children move into the future. I suppose I was lucky that, in spite of my lack of affinity towards children of my own, I was able to bond so well with my nieces and nephews. Some who have gone, some who did remain and even a few who have returned to us. For those others, like my niece Jessica, or even my brother Phillip's son Nathan, it is apparent that the time we spent with them in the past was nothing but a waste of that time. A huge waste of time. While that may be simple for me to say given they are not my children, it is easier said than done for family members. They will never have closure with these long lost remnants of a time gone by.
When we are children, adults tell us not to believe in such things as demons, boogiemen and monsters, but life eventually reveals to us that these things truly exist. They may not come with the stereotypical costumes, adorned to appease and create fear, but they exist nonetheless. Unfortunately, such things are not so clear cut or visible, like the decorations that Halloween summons.
I suppose, in some way, it is sad what time, and our choices, can do to other people. When we act with self-interest only, we become the very monsters we run from as children. While reconciliation and forgiveness are always possible, I tend not to negotiate with terrorists or Halloweenies.
"If these old walls,
If these old walls could speak
Of things that they remember well,
Stories and faces dearly held,
A couple in love
Livin’ week to week,
Rooms full of laughter,
If these walls could speak."
(If These Walls Could Speak, Amy Grant, 1988)
When my Mom died in April of 2010, I thought the house where she passed away would be haunted by the sorrow of the event. I assumed that the heavy weight of grief and adjustment would linger and corrupt anything positive that might come from the years after her living. Even though it stands as a constant reminder, I was wrong.
The family home isn't large or distinguished, not like the half-million dollar castles that appeared across the street over the years. A humble bungalow stood for more than 20 years before my sister built an addition on back and moved her life into theirs. The expansive lot is a forest of pine, and spruce and maple. Lush gardens and koi ponds lavish the front and rear areas, all mingling together as if some planned jungle had sprouted from an almost concrete one. Located on the north end of Strathroy, what was once a secluded place of rest on the edge of town has been swallowed by development and progress. The stars shine a little less bright among the city lights.
The years my family spent in this house may not seem magical on first inspection, but they are a wonderful treasure to behold. That is what makes it our home. So many memories and so much love cradled in four walls made with hope and hard work. I cannot imagine it no longer a part of my life, but I am sure nothing can keep me from the impact this place has had on my living. It may not always rest in the hands of those dear to me but, no matter, it will always represent the very best part of my days in the sun.
On Halloween, my parents always dressed up the house. It wasn't until the suburbs arrived and stole all the children that they rested on their laurels and stuck with just giving out candy. Cemeteries, ghosts and witchcraft used to fill the front yard for all to see. My youngest brother Christopher, on occasion, would hide under the wheelchair ramp made just for him, and wearing some ghoulish outfit, would appear from below to frighten kids of all ages. There was candy and music and things that go bump in the night. All of it as much the makeup of this house as any paint, shingle or door may be.
We did not worship evil or celebrate some pagan feast, we simply took the time and partook of each other. Clichés aside, anything that pulls people together in love and spirit is a good thing, despite what fundamentalist Christians or anyone else may have to say about it. It's scary how people always manage to find what they are looking for.
Although every year at Halloween was always a little bit different, the essence of a family, brought together in fun, shone about the dwelling. You could almost feel the joy. You could always hear the laughter. I don’t think I would be the person I am without these memories, even if they are wrapped up in a calendar date. They comfort me, always. It doesn't matter whether, in reality, I can physically journey home, home is in my mind and in my heart.
Whether I ever enjoy another Halloween at our family home is up to fate, destiny and perhaps some luck. Tomorrow can bring change when you least expect it. People say you can't go home again, they're just dead wrong. You may not be able to actually touch the place, but it will always be with you. If people tell you differently, they're just being Halloweenies. See, that's the thing about having a home. The walls don't only speak, they scream.