Pumpkins, Apples and Halloween

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Tomorrow is Halloween. My friend Colleen posted on Facebook that the veil is very thin on Halloween. She added that it makes it easy for us to communicate with those loved ones who have passed away, and she thinks it’s a great time to make dreams come true because we may be in close proximity with our angels. I just love that thought. I know there’s all this creepy stuff out there about Halloween and what it means, but I’ve always thought it was just a fun holiday. It involves candy and dressing up in funny costumes. What’s so creepy about that?

Halloween is the evening before All Saints Day when the Catholic faith encourages believers to pray for those souls that have passed to transition from purgatory to heaven. So, essentially, Halloween would be the last day for lost souls to roam the earth. I think that’s kind of cool. I love new beginnings. Just think. If I had passed this year – and this belief is true – tomorrow would be my last day to walk around those people that I love and care about. If the veil is really thinner at this time of the year, it’s also a great time to feel close to those who have died this year. I can’t think of a better ritual for Halloween than to light a candle for someone I miss and wish them the best on their final journey.

In the little town where I grew up, we’d load up in the car, usually with my cousin Marilyn and Momma, and head down highway 16 and Hunstock Road. We didn’t have subdivisions back then, so we drove to all of the homes of my relatives and friends in Watson. There was one lady that always made popcorn balls on Halloween. We didn’t like them, and Momma and Marilyn would take us there so they could get the popcorn balls from us as we came back to the car. Yeah …you two are busted! And, in those days, candy wasn’t as readily accessible as it is now, so it really was a great treat to get a bag full of candy to eat for the next couple of weeks or so.

Momma usually made our costumes, and we had a costume contest at our school. I remember one year she made Susan and I these wonderful Polynesian costumes with colorful dresses and those baskets with fruit to put on our heads. I was so disappointed when we didn’t win. I’m sure some dumb witch won that year. Our costumes were definitely the best, and I want everyone to know that I know it was rigged. And, I haven’t forgotten about it either. When I was learning to do headstand in yoga class, my instructor gave me this amazing instruction telling me that I should imagine those Polynesian women carrying 40-50 pounds of fruit on their head. They don’t let the weight of it weigh down their neck, they actually push up into the weight to lift and strengthen their spine. It was a great instruction that enabled me to move into headstand for the first time, but I was totally depressed remembering that fruit basket that Momma worked so hard on, and the crooked judges that ripped us off. Not to mention the fact that I’m sure Mama was so depressed she probably gorged herself on those stolen popcorn balls that year. It was very traumatic for all of us – especially the children that she and Marilyn accosted to steal their Halloween treats. It was just awful.

Memphis celebrated Halloween in a big way especially in my neighborhood. I had a home in Central Gardens which was built in the early 1900s. It was a tradition in that neighborhood for the poorer families to bring their kids to our neighborhood to trick-or-treat. Our neighborhood would be filled – literally wall-to-wall kids – on Halloween night. The residents throw big parties to give out candy and serve food and beer to the adults while the trick-or-treating extravaganza commences. It’s a lot of fun. People build bonfires in their backyard, give out candy in elaborate costumes and eat and drink well into the night. I am going to miss that this year.

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My sister, Susan, her stepdaughter Allyson, and her husband, Gary at the Apple Barn one winter in the gazebo I love!

I’ve already attended my Halloween party this year. I dressed as an Indian Maiden complete with a long, black wig. I’ve never in my life had long hair, so I felt like Cher, getting to sweep my blackened plastic strand hair back over my shoulders. I felt quite sexy. The wig now sits in my closet in a tangled mess that will never be untangled. Next year, I’ll have to go as something with a dead animal on my head in order to get my money’s worth out of that tangled mess of plastic hair.

Halloween seems to be all mixed up with Christmas and Thanksgiving now. Christmas decorations are already out, and I’ve already made plans for Thanksgiving. Before you know it, it will have come and gone, and it’ll be January. Halloween is the start of the free-fall of holidays. I love the food in October. I’ve already been cooking pumpkin and sweet potatoes and baked apples. Yesterday, I made one of those sweet potato-pumpkin-almond milk smoothies with almond butter and banana that I paid $7 for at Whole Foods in Austin this weekend. It was quite yummy – full of cinnamon and the flavors of fall.

My favorite Halloween memories really don’t involve Halloween much at all. Fall is my favorite season, and my love affair with it started as soon as I left Louisiana in my early 20s. I got married for the first time in October 1984 in Pennsylvania. It was my first experience with fall since leaving the hot, humid south and the first time I ever truly saw the changing of the seasons. When I lived in Knoxville TN, I always traveled to the Apple Barn in Sevierville to get apples, apple cider, apple pie and apple fritters. I’d sit out in the gazebo by the Little Pigeon River and watch the fall leaves fill the stream. The cool temperatures were always welcome after the hot summers in Knoxville. In Michigan, my ritual was to go to Jollay Orchards in Coloma to buy pumpkins, cider and apple pie. They had the best apple pie I have ever eaten. They cook it in parchment paper, and the juicy, bubbly cinnamon-infused pulp bubbled out onto the paper and dried into a crunchy crispy crust that was divine. If I think about it real hard, I can still taste it. They had jams, apple butter and hot cider along with hayrides and games for the kids. I just loved it. In Memphis, my friends Sarah and William and I would head up to Tom’s Farm to a haunted corn maze and rent a spot to build a bonfire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows. We’d ride a hayride in the late afternoon, and we got to pick a pumpkin from the field to bring home. As it got dark, we’d drum and laugh and tell stories until late in the night. It is one of my fondest Memphis memories.

This year, it’s still in the 80s in Louisiana. I don’t like it. I like cooler temperatures. I don’t miss the winters up north. I started to hate fall there after awhile because it was the beginning of the free-fall into winter. The midwest winters are nothing like the gentle winters of Knoxville where snow intermittently falls and temps hover around 50 during the day. I dreaded the shortening days, the sub-zero temps, the scraping of snow and the mess that all of it brought. Yes, it is beautiful – for a minute. Eventually it turns black, and I learned to hate it by January. Often it didn’t end until May. Coats, sweaters, hats, mittens and scarves were the everyday norm for months and months. For this southern gal, I never loved it. And, I so wanted to love it. I was so glad when I moved back to Memphis and fall was beautiful and welcome again.

It was raining all afternoon in North Louisiana where I’m traveling on business. It’s also very warm. It could very well be a June day in a more northern climate. I kept joking with my travel mates that it was going to snow tonight. They told me I was crazy. “Yeah, right,” they said more than once. It is going to snow tonight. I just know it. It may not snow here… in Duck Dynasty land. But, it’s going to snow somewhere. Somewhere the leaves are turning vibrant red, gold and orange. There’s a place where an apple pie is bubbling with fresh-picked apples waiting for a Halloween party tomorrow night. Kids are getting their costumes ready in anticipation of trick-or-treating. Couples are carving pumpkins for porch decorations. My neighbors in Memphis are collecting wood for their bonfire. In Knoxville, they are frying up apple fritters and spreading apple butter on biscuits steaming from the oven. In Pennsylvania, they are probably raking leaves by now, already anticipating winter.

I hope wherever you are, you will take a moment to enjoy the season. Whether it’s warm or cold, it is autumn. It is Halloween. It is a time to enjoy fall crops, sweet things and those that have departed before us. If it was the last day for your soul to roam the earth, wouldn’t you want it to be a day of celebration? Think of it as a new beginning. I just love new beginnings. And, maybe Colleen is right. What if tomorrow were a day when I could touch my Angels, and they could make my dreams come true. Hmmmmmm…. that’s something to ponder in dreamland tonight. Happy Halloween, y’all!! And, Momma, don’t be stealing your grandkids’ popcorn balls! It just ain’t right.

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