Sunday, October 26, 2014

TONIGHT IS NOT HALLOWEEN

Halloween had been celebrated on Oct. 31 for most of my entire life, but last year a Connecticut State representative floated an ill-conceived idea to change the holiday to always fall on a weekend.

"Halloween is fun night for the whole family, but not so much when you have to race home from work, get the kids ready for trick or treating, welcome the neighborhood children, and then try to get everyone to bed for an early school and work morning.”

Both Democrats and Republicans lambasted his suggestion, which included trick or treating in daylight for safety's sake.

I also disagreed, but this year New Yorkers have been sporting Halloween costumes for over a week.

Call me old-fashioned, but I considered celebrating Halloween on any day other than October 31st as a sacrilege and yesterday a friend phoned that he was holding the autumn fest a night early. We argued about the date, until Shannon explained Halloween's Celtic origin as Samhain, which marked the division of the year into halves of light and dark when the otherworld was nearest reality.

“It was a night of fire to cleanse the world.” I knew my Irish heritage. My mother’s family came from the West of Ireland.

"And it was turnips that were carved, not pumpkins," Shannon stated with authority. His fiancee Charlotta was smart. He had been busy mining Google's vast abyss of useless knowledge to impress the German artist.

"So the band should have been Smashing Turnips." The Chicago alternative band had been big in the 90s.

"No, once us Micks came here, we opted for pumpkins instead of turnips. They were bigger."

"Plus it’s hard to carve the Jack 'O Lanterns with eyes and mouth on a turnip.”

"You got that right." I had narrowly missed slicing off my thumb splitting a turnip the other evening.

“And hollow pumpkins smash easier.”

“Not if you carve smaller eyes and mouths on a pumpkin.”

“Why?”

“Because the pumpkin will rot within a day, if the holes are too big." I had been researching 'pumpkin soup' on the Internet. Getting smart didn't take much of an effort these days. "What are you going as this year?"

"Some kind of monster." Charlotta was hosting a Halloween party on the right night at Chez Oskar on De Kalb Avenue. She believed in tradition and so did Shannon. "The first Halloween in America was mentioned in 1911. Someplace in hockey-puck land."

"Canada?"

"Yep."

"Then Happy Hallowmas." I wasn't contesting his learning, but my Halloweens dated back to 1958 to Falmouth Foresides, Maine, when my mother warned that I couldn't go out 'trick or treating' unless I finished my beets.

Canned beats paved the path to chocolate paradise and I poured a glass of milk to wash down the purple vegetables. My older brother in his pirate outfit watched my struggle. I wore a skeleton costume. My younger sister was dressed as a ghoul. Gina and Frunk had finished their beets. They actually liked them.

"What are you waiting for?" asked my brother. "We're missing out on all the good chocolate."

"Nothing."

I put the first sliced beet in my mouth. My tongue skated around the jellied vegetable. The bittersweet chunk tasted twenty years old and I swallowed it whole. My throat constricted on the unchewed beet's passage, but I got it down.

Only two more to go.

"No more milk." My older brother pulled away the half-filled glass. He had a date with Sandy the girl next door. The five year-old was dressed in white up as a good witch.

My best friend Chaney was going as a clown. His sweetheart's costume was that of a ballerina. I had asked Kathy Burns to walk the rounds with me. She had decided to go with Jimmy Fox. They were going as Tarzan and Jane. I didn’t have a date, but I would have chocolate, if I ate the beets.

I stuck the fork in the second beet slice and stuffed it deep into my mouth. Maybe too deep, because I gagged on it. My father's clap on my back slaps hotted the beet back onto my plate.

My mother was not amused by my upchuck.

"Stop playing with your food."

"I'm not playing."

"You better not be. There are starving people in China."

Her family had gone through the Depression. Food on the plate was meant for your stomach. This was 1958. Eisenhower was President. America was a Land of Plenty. The beets belonged in the trash, but not in our house. Two slices took two minutes to stuff down my throat.

"That wasn't so bad." My mother grabbed my plate from the table.

"No." They came from a can and I vowed to never to eat beets again.

That evening our neighborhood was rich with candy and chocolate. My bag bulged with treats. My friends and older brother had done no tricks. Chaney had kissed Sandy on the cheek.

Reaching my house I went upstairs to get rid the taste of beets by stuffing four Baby Ruths in my mouth. I chewed them into mush and they sluiced down my esophagus into my stomach. The combination of chocolate and beets played havoc with a six year-old's constitution and I ran into the bathroom to empty my belly into the toilet.

The color of my upchuck was purple.

I drank a glass of water and returned to my bedroom. My brother was separating his candy into groups. I picked up a Baby Ruth and chewed it a little more slowly than the first four. It was not a beet or a turnip or a pumpkin or a kiss from Kathy Burns.

It was sweet chocolate.

And there was plenty of it.

As there will be forever as long as Halloween is celebrated on October 31.

No comments: