Saturday, October 25, 2008

Backward, Turn Backward

In the halcyon land that is my childhood memory, Halloween stands proudly alongside the most celebrated holidays as a time of unparalleled flights of fancy and fun. Before the likes of Jason and Freddy or any of their chainsaw wielding compadres, Halloween season meant the innocently spooky charm of black cats, grinning pumpkins, green witches on broomsticks, and all of the windy, dark, giddy, laughing, orange mystery that was October. Crimson leaves blew across grey neighborhood streets made strangely ominous by the curiously dressed small people, masked and cloaked as they were, who made their way past familiar houses that seemed more than willing to put aside their normally dignified facades to play along, sporting ghosts in their trees and jack-o-lanterns on their porches. How well I remember gathering my courage to knock on the front doors of unknown neighbors, grateful for the anonymity provided by my plastic mask - often a mask whose eye holes never quite matched up to my own, rendering me a bit wobbly on occasion. How I loved those weeks of agonized thought as I tried to decide “who to be” for the night. Halloween gave me the glorious opportunity to dress for one lone evening in a style I wished I could don every day of the year, so I had to choose most carefully.

And then of course there was The Halloween Carnival. The Carnival was produced by my grade school a few nights before the 31st, and it was a true highlight of the school year. Red-brick and tree-shaded, our school was quintessential Americana, and quite honestly, so were we. It felt so odd to enter the school building at night, something we students never did; it was a spooky prospect in and of itself. The father of one of my close friends was in charge, every year, of the haunted classroom where, in total darkness and giggling nervously, we would line up to place our hands into bowls of wet grapes masquerading as eyeballs, while slimy cabbages and cold spaghetti were enlisted to represent other various and sundry body parts best forgotten. Each year, one of the more exotic mothers had the honor of playing the role of the gypsy fortune teller. Sitting in her brightly coloured booth, bejeweled and heavily made-up, she looked quite the part. However, she seemed to annually foretell the most optimistic fortunes imaginable which, to my mind, diminished her authenticity and made her just a bit suspect. But I was a questioning child. There were cake walks and kissing booths, along with blue ribbons presented to the most frightful and terrifying of costumes. Of course, nothing could have compared to the sheer horror of witnessing one’s parents and one’s teachers socializing. Together. None of us could ever manage to wrap our minds around that one.

Those days are past and I am grateful for the priceless memories which help me now to re-create a similar Halloween here in our own little cottage. We are fortunate to have lots of those strangely dressed little people who roam our streets on this spookiest of nights; little people who are brave enough to march past the ghosts and goblins hiding behind our tall trees, lift the latch to our squeaky gate and climb the stairs to knock on our door. When they do, they find a celebration not unlike the one that made my own childhood Halloween a holiday to fondly remember.
And they also find a large white dog who is completely convinced that they are all arriving just to say hello to him!

“Backward, turn backward,
O Time, in your flight
make me a child again
just for to-night!”

Elizabeth Akers Allen

Painting by August Malmstrom