The Toppling of Tradition

Come on, SERIOUSLY? Very recently, I heard a radio discussion as I was driving along in my car, that just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I think it is because it is one of a string of long-time stock-piling incidents building into a fevery pitch; or in keeping with the theme, a bonfire! It was about Halloween and the Trick or Treating expectations. Children were at the very core of the controversy, which kind of got my witches’ brew boiling….

A phone caller into a local radio station was saying how very adamant he was that 17 year old kids had the audacity to still be going door to door in quest for candy amongst all the other kiddies. Now, let’s dissect this issue. First and foremost, one is still a child until 18. Thus, these are children. It’s the lawful stance. I’m of the opinion that if a youth still wants to seek out candy, so be it, unless his dentist has put the kibosh on that endeavor. I say this because it’s actually a good thing a seventeen year old would rather be downing Hershey Bars and Abba Zabbas than a plethora of other worrisome desirables being paraded in front of our offspring today.

I mean, these kids who granted, could easily become glutonous and bully-prone, typically just stand at your open door dressed in black with some funky make-up on. Sometimes they go as far as putting a fake ax in their skull or blood dripping from their eyes, but, nonetheless, they just stand there, peaceably. In black. Quite blank faced, usually. Then because one of the bunch, often is a big brother or cousin with a younger sibling, he or she will come right out with it: “Trick or Treat”. They usually have to because the little “spirits” are famous for ALSO just standing there in costume, gawking. That’s when I bring out the bowl and hint that one or two candies should be enough for each. In recent years I haven’t gotten as many of the scallawagging ghouls, so when they do come, I now say “Take as much as you wish”. Invariably, they are polite, and only take one or two pieces, but, I rather live for the pant and squeal of excitement from the child who just makes a sweeping grab and practically runs away as if in possession of gold. It kindles my own memory of the excitement I felt as a young candy scout on the loose. In all my grown-up years of being a Trick or Treaters’ host, I have only had one occasion where I regretted handing out sugary yummies.

Maybe my experience is an unusual and lucky one. But truly, what is the big deal? Adult life is hard as it is; why not allow the older children to hang on to their innocent existence just a tad longer? Eighteen years of childhood is a small amount in comparison to the 70 to 80 more years spent as an adult. Adulthood is saddled with rules that become laws and consequences that become fate. I say, let the insouciant behavior commence day in and day out until it is legally, afforded no more.

This is why I never scolded my kids when they went out on warm nights and “T.P.ed” their peers’ front yards. (This is another tradition of youth, that is not necessarily tied to any holiday, but it is in the same vein of fun as trick or treating.) Throwing a few rolls of toilet paper up into tree limbs and wrapping up shrubs, lawn furniture, standing flamingoes, mailboxes on posts and hanging porch swings never really hurt anyone. An inconvenient nightmare come morning? Of course. But, if the local kids do it to your yard, your kid was considered cool. When my big brother was voted ASB president of his high school, a battalion of seniors on the cusp of being 17 descended on our property one hot end of September night. They engineered a HUGE mess, and because we siblings saw it all going on, my folks heard about it, and came downstairs to survey the situation. I remember my dad calling the teenagers into the house and telling them that enough was enough, but he knew it was all in fun. My mother, resolved to turn on the oven, and got her homemade cookie batter out of the fridge. She baked cookies for all of them. As everyone gathered round to enjoy chocolate chip cookies and whole milk, my dad made the perpetrators promise to clean up the “T.P. masterpiece” as soon as possible. They did. The next morning, they all came back, erased any trace and then played basketball. Our parents gave those kids the gift of time. They allowed them to still be young and carefree. Now, if it happens today, the local police are promptly called, instead. Not much freedom left for being a kid.

This is what I believe Halloween is partially about. It’s about still celebrating being a child. Playing the traditional game of asking for candy, and disguising one’s looks is all about fun without regulation. It is why on October 31st a good number of grown adults in the USA still drive off to work dressed as baked potatoes, astronauts, Wonder Woman and Harry Potter. It’s why it’s still a prevalent holiday that anyone from any background can freely participate in and “escape” the tribulations of being oneself for just a day, or even part of a day. It helps us all forget a truckload of worries. At the office nobody actually tricks or treats, well maybe in some unique manner they do. Dressing-up in a costume is more about tapping into our “inner child” and unleashing one’s imagination. Plus, there is a breadth of freedom and safety when one takes on a new personna. It feels a little bit mischievous. Anonymity breeds the feeling of adventure and power. Definitely exciting. Additionally, all these adults get just a smidgen of attention more than usual. That’s the kid in them. It’s in all of us. Once a year, for a day, if we decide to play along, our typical self is dissolved. And– just think, its a tradition! Woe to the workplace that deems such frivolity unacceptable!

Just what do mature adults secretly wish they could escape from? Bills, gasoline prices, car repairs, proper childcare, taxes, mortgage payments, divorce settlements, cases in trial, health strategies, worries about illnesses, car accidents, politics, shootings, crime, illegal drugs and war. The long list of impending doom and erratic tragedy is real, unfortunately. It weighs on people’s hearts. Do we really want to rob a seventeen year old of a final year spent in semi-bliss, away from these woes? In truth, by that age they already know what is coming down the pike. Why not let them have one last year to cavalierly, skip down their path to adulthood?

That radio show caller might think back to his childhood and recall how he felt on the brink of college and life beyond graduation. Better still, why not reflect on all the happy memories of being a child. I know it is something valuable we all should do from time to time. There is so much to appreciate.  We ought to be willing to share those remembrances with today’s youngsters. Sharing can mean extending understanding and perhaps reviving some “lost” Halloween traditions. You see, so much today is already pre-planned, pre-prepared, even pre-fabricated, leaving not much wiggle room for unique approaches to celebrating this most festive holiday.

I’d like to start with me. Once upon a time I was a young girl. I was fueled on imagination! It all probably began one rainy day indoors when my little sister and I took our blankets and turned them into “princess capes” by pinning a costume jewelry brooch through the edge just under our chin. There we had it, a long trailing, “royal cape”. When Halloween rolled around each end of October, I had already created a mental picture of whom or what I wanted to be. I wore nothing store-bought except for maybe a cheap mask and those silly wax lips. Everything else that comprised my costumes came straight from the bedroom closet. So I want to be a gypsy? No problem…I’d put together scarves, a swishy skirt, a peasant blouse which was all the rage in the sixties, and dangly, costume jewelry. I would dig around in junk drawers, the attic or trade with my siblings. Half the fun was the challenge to design a costume that looked as authentic as possible. Not only did the planning keep me occupied, but it challenged my creative spirit. Many little girls were doing the same. My brothers put their costumes together, too. Sometimes they would ask for my help, or I, theirs. Maybe, our mother might sew something to contribute to the whole effect. It was a fun, family experience no matter what.

When my brothers and sisters and I went Trick or treating, we went in a group. A few times we broke into pairs, but mostly we went together. It was fabulous exercise. We walked as far as our little legs could go. Our parents stayed home and answered the doorbell, while we “scoped-out” the “good houses” with kind people giving generous treats. A few times we would recite a Halloween poem or perform a little dance, in keeping with the traditional way to trick or treat. Our mini performances were our “ticket” to earning the sought after confectionery, though, not every house demanded we show off. As our pillow-cases grew heavy with quite a trove of candy,  our masks would steam-up as we grew out of breath. One year, we literally were dog-tired, and came home dragging our stash behind us. It was an athletic feat to go trick or treating. But, well worth the effort!

My folks were pretty “cool” parents when I look back in perspective. We could keep our bounty in our secret hiding places. Usually, first thing we would do is dump it out onto the dining table under the chandelier light, and inspect what everyone had. This is where we learned to become barterers and traders, and even “philanthropists”. My parents might ask for one or two of our candies, but it was our stuff, and they knew it. I don’t know how it happened, but, eventually, the sweets would end up in our sack lunches as our dessert. For months we would have one piece of candy per day at school to polish off our homemade lunches. Nowadays, many elementary schools go so far as to ban candy of any kind. Oh, honestly!

There was more than one way to celebrate Halloween. One year, my brothers,  sisters and I were allowed to turn our garage into a neighborhood “haunted house.” We blind-folded our friends and put them through “scary” experiences. One of them was taking clean toilet paper, wetting it, into thin rolls that resembled worms, and laid the wet “creatures” on the arms of our haunted house “victims”, as they sat in the Haunted House “parlor”. The “frightening tricks” we did were as innocent as that, but, when you are blind-folded, and something wet and cold is put on your arms, your imagination runs wild, which can be quite frightening! Needless to say, each sibling had their own station in which to employ a “scary” experience, and of course our enterprise was a success!

Another way seventeen year olds can still appropriately participate in Halloween, is to carve pumpkins. It’s true some killjoys go around after midnight and destroy pumpkins perched on railings and porch steps. Maybe they never had the opportunity to spread newspaper out on their kitchen table or in the garage, and proceed to cut open a pumpkin, extract its pulp, carve a spooky expression, and enjoy placing that first candle in the jack-o-lantern they had made, to see it lit. What was the lingering treat after all this handiwork? The roasting, salting and eating of the pumpkin seeds- a nutritious, delicious treat!

If we just allow people to put their brains to work, they can easily come up with fun ways to make Halloween an enjoyable occasion. I remember one year, long past 17, tapping into my “creative self”. I was living in my first apartment, and had a melodeon pump organ in my living room right, by my front door. When the doorbell rang, I decided to open the door ever so slowly with a pull tie rope and with my other hand, playing chords on the instrument, while one foot pressed a pedal. I did my best to sound as musically terrifying as possible. I remember little ones would either run away, or bravely hold their ground on my doorstep, to which I rewarded them with candy bars. This is the creative spirit of Halloween, folks. A day to tap into the recesses of our imagination. Not store-bought. Not commercial. Not blood-curdling horrific. Just a modicum of mystery to add color to life.

I’m of the opinion that the American traditional way of celebrating Halloween has succumbed to the toppling down of some fundamental building blocks that are not only foundational, but, necessary. Children and adults surely need to be reminded at least one time a year, that they were once very, very young, and very, very unadulterated. Child’s thought was just that, his or her own thought. Original. Unique. Having Halloween in 2018 be diminished down to a mere, tolerable date at the end of October is really sad. Imposing a cut-off for what ages can don costumes and make believe who they are, while trick or treating is cynical, pathetic control. To shield one’s kids in only a church carnival where everyone is monitored to the max, is the antiseptic way to celebrate this holiday. I can see why parents feel forced to make this choice, but why not simply at least accompany your children door to door? How can there be a trustworthy society if we don’t utilize trust ourselves? I did with my kids. They knew we couldn’t visit “everyone”. But, they had fun checking out the different homes, their decorations and guessing who were their neighbors behind the masks passing by on the sidewalks. It was a social event to say the least!

Why pour over the internet or the department store flyers to find the best deal on pre-made disguises? They are probably being crafted in countries where the workers’ wages are far less than the “bargain price” they are being sold for. For heaven sakes, why purchase plastic tote bags when a decent old pillow will do? Does everything have to be a “cute contest” to keep up with the Joneses? But you know, even I can relent on this and say that if it makes it truly fun for the child to have a tote or bag to remember Halloween the rest of the year, then so be it.

It seems the point I wish to make is that if we tear down the traditions of Halloween, we are eradicating some simple joy we all still really need. A holiday that allows people young and old to play the same way, tap into their creativity, and share the experiences with others, is one worth not ruining. Let those 17 year olds beg for sweets, please. And do get that pirate hat out of the trunk in the garage. Go for it! Live childhood another day!

 

 

 

 

On the Cusp of Autumn

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Autumn in Southern California is an unpredictable thing. Not only is it hard to know when it will finally “feel like Fall”, but when it will actually occur is also an uncertainty. Of course it will happen! We will all rejoice and sigh relief from the oppressive, baking sun we endured the long-drawn our summer. But, when it does indeed make its presence known, everything will seem all the better.

We have already had some precursory signs which both tantalize and frustrate. Obviously, one cannot fight the laws of the celestial heavens. Our sun is seen at a different angle in the sky now, and we are beginning to have shorter days. Thusly, the marine layer is creeping in at night from the coast and its fingered fog is reaching far inland, up into the northern desert nether lands, and burrowing deep into the valleys and Orange County. Overnight, the thermometer in Southern Cal is dipping into the 59s and low 60s, and if you are hunkered down in a cabin up at Big Bear or Arrowhead, you are on the brink of 32 degrees, with a chance of snow. But, none of this noted drop in temps is lasting too long. During the day, there has been a 20-30 degree rise. By 4 pm, it is not quite hot enough to warrant the air conditioning, but it is such that seeking shade and liquids are still priorities. Therefore, tis the season of dangling the proverbial “autumn is approaching” carrot over our heads.

I for one cannot wait to open my front door one morning, and smell that fall has indeed come home. The air will feel wetter, heavier and have a fresh scent to it. Everything will be drenched in deeper colors and a portending mood of promise will linger all around. Even the cement may have a hint of scent of pre-sunrise precipitation, This immediately excites something within me. It is like a trigger. I will soon be reaching for an umbrella and scarf; and none too soon!

When on my walks I first spot that first leaf turned red, or orange, or yellow, I will know Autumn is upon us. So far, nothing. It is just past the first week in October. Patience is important, yet, I know it likely will arrive as late as the last week of the month. Typically, my children would have to wear sweaters or jackets to go “Trick or Treating” on Halloween. There are rare occasions though, when even by Halloween, Autumn is still in the wings. I can remember back to childhood having to tug along my pillowcase jammed with a candy trove, breathing steamy breath through my dime store mask. Eventually, I’d give up anonymity, and push it on top of my head in order to breathe freely and cool off a bit. Having this memory, I know full well that just because September 21st is the autumnal equinox, doesn’t mean immediate glory days.

And how glorious the months of Autumn can be! Once here, we revel in trees ablaze in reds, golds, tangerines, even deep purples. In California, the nurserymen are much to be credited for finding and planting species that do have showy fall color, and are able to withstand the extremes of blistering summer heat. In decades past, far underground have flowed waters that today’s trees if mature enough, can still tap into for resiliency. When Fall has finally stepped up to the stage, you can discover this plethora of different types of trees that will indeed display color galore. I am grateful to all the landscape architects who have designed with a rich palette in mind, for it brings a vibrancy to our environs that is nothing short of spirited. Having green and lush most of the year is definitely soothing, but, also having a demonstrative Fall botanical fanfare for all to enjoy is quite special, if not invigorating.

I love the Fall for the crisp in the air, the bite of an apple and in the brisk of the wind. Seeing that first swirl of autumn leaves evokes cozy thoughts and spurs on promise. It’s the same effect you get when you style a toddler’s lock of hair and as the brush pulls away, the hair bounces enthusiastically into an expressive curl. Even the first fireplaces put to the task, send out a plume of good things to come. Where there is wood burning there is a hearth, and where there is a hearth, there is a home and where there is a home, there is much to be appreciated.

Sitting near the fireplace, for the first time in Autumn, every sense is heightened and brilliantly noted. That smoky scent, the flush over face and hands awash in warmth, one cannot help but feel entranced by the sporadic snapping percussion of spark or the “hushed” glowing of ember. Immediately, this scenario calls for one of several engagements. There, before the hearth, the choice can be made. Either engage in quiet pondering, read an intriguing book or hum a heartfelt tune. Maybe knitting a secret present or whittling a small token from wood are past times of preference. Not everything must adhere to modernity. Perhaps, a sincere conversation or an impromptu tale to be told may fit the bill and savor the experience. Better still, is there a harmonica in your pocket? A dulcimer in the corner? A fiddle upon a hook? A recorder on a shelf? How about a banjo by the woodbox? Any of these instruments put to fine use on the brink of the moment is worthy of performance, remembrance and gratitude. All are fitting ways to rein-in long desired Autumn.

This is what the season of Autumn does, I believe. It brings us back to home, back to the fold. It focuses us near to the most meaningful part of our lives; our family. Even if your hearth is far away from loved ones, just coming in out of the cold, settling down by the fire, and kindling the thoughts of good things either gone by or good things yet to come, is invaluable. It could be this is why the seasons are the way they are. On the third of four seasons, we witness a final profusion of color. Its a last testament to what life can and maybe has been. The celebration and acceptance of change, the gusting of wind with coil and spin, and temperatures calling for shelter all hone us in like the shine on a sickle. We are honed in to home. To hearth. To heart. To Family. To dreamscape and imagination. To prayer and resolve. To praise and guidance. To warmth and peace. To safety.

Is it any wonder that so many of us residing in Southern California love the Fall time of year? It would seem Fall itself is magical. There may be an “Old Man Winter” waiting up in the canyons, ready to take over in a blanket of frost and white. But, in Autumn, we have “Wise Man Wizard”. with the sweep of his invisible wand, he summons moisture and rain. Then, he flicks it again to stir- up the winds. With that mysterious touch, he commands the temperatures to fall, and the leaves to grandstand their dramatic hues. Then, oh so subtly, he gently twirls his wand, capturing crisped leaves in his design to be noticed. Our eyebrows raise. Our footsteps pause, our heads turn to listen, and our heartbeats do a mini bellyflop from within. We know its here. Autumn has come!

There, at home, is the cinnamon in the applesauce on the stove, and the pumpkin bread cooling from the oven. A log just softly cracked in two in the fireplace, and the kitten opens one eye, spots it, shuts his lid again, and goes back to his undercurrent, slumbering purr. There’s the door, the latch is lifting….another pair of boots has come home.