Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Past and Present

Photo: Michelle's house all ready for trick-or-treaters, the sunset shining in the windows; getting ready to brave the night, with Philip the Transformer, Kyle the soldier, Chase a pumpkin for his first Halloween, and monster Josh. And off they go!

Last year at this time I was teaching members of the Starobelsk English Club about Halloween, its history and traditions, trick-or-treating, making masks. We had a great English language lesson and fun, too. Ukrainians love dressing up in costumes and the idea of masking, but I don’t think that the Halloween tradition as we know it will ever transfer to Ukraine.

This year I am watching the popular holiday unfold in my own family. It’s a wonderful Fall ritual with ancient roots, a time for trekking through fallen leaves, carving pumpkins, looking for witches, ghosts and goblins. It’s an occasion for dressing in wild and wacky costumes and, for the kids, going door to door in their neighborhoods asking for treats of candy, and more candy, or threatening, gently, tricks. Tricks? What tricks? Well, I remember covering trees in rolls of toilet paper, writing on windows with wax crayons, blowing car horns, or starting bonfires with piles of leaves.

There's another side to Halloween, too. According to a study by the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween costumes, decorations and candy this year. Wow! It’s not only fun, it’s a commercial success, too, like Christmas almost. Ukrainians would never do this kind of spending.

My family certainly makes a contribution to this retailers’ dream.

For me it is also a bittersweet time, because my Dad started sliding into a coma during the World Series (he was always an avid fun until this time), and died on the night before his 63rd birthday, the night before Halloween. The family, from Ohio and Florida, gathered in grief in Rochester, New York. We agreed that the show must go on, however, that we would honor the tradition for the sake of the kids. My children, Elissa and Michelle (12 and 9 at the time), and my sister’s children, Kaaren and Allyson (11 and 8 years old), carved pumpkins, dressed up in my mom’s clothes, put on lots of her makeup, and went trick-or-treating with my brother Loren, always a good sport and beloved by his nieces. I’ll always remember that Halloween with mixed emotions.

Now, in 2011, I am watching the tradition pass on from generation to generation, my grandkids as excited as their parents once were when they were young children, getting into their costumes, anticipating the spooky night.

Then off they went, a fearful monster, a brave soldier, a magical "transformer," and a plump little pumpkin, off into the cool night as the setting sun cast a golden glow on the performers. It brought a smile to my face to see their anticipation and pure joy.

As it did to my mom when she went trick-or-treating with her son, my brother Loren, he a soldier, as Kyle was this night, and she a flapper. Mom recorded the moment in a poem. Last year we read mom’s poem together at the English Club, to great applause and admiration. This year I share it with friends and family. How lovely the memories, how precious the time, how connected the past to the present.

Armed and Unarmed
By Roselynn Curro

It’s dark and crispy cold,
a silence fills the trees.
Soft sounds, faint lights
and smell of burning leaves.
Suddenly, war hoop cries,
and bands of ghosts appear.
Howl. Howl.
Tricks or Treats.
They charge, attack and disappear…
Hurry, hurry, time to go.
The conqueror's battle won.
Tired flapper, weary soldier,
the ghosts all had their fun.
Deep the night, frosty cold
My soldier leaves his gun.
Welcome sleep, contented smile.
I’m his mother, he’s my son.
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