Days of the Dead

Halloween has come and gone. Today is the Day of the Dead, and I am thinking more about the dead than usual, for obvious reasons. I’m wondering if Halloween will be the last of the fall and winter holidays I really enjoy this year since the closer we get to winter, the more I feel my grief for my father returning. My mom and I were talking about this on Saturday. I told her how I feel it approaching, a presentiment of sorrow.

She’d come to visit for the weekend. When she arrived on Saturday afternoon, Beth, Noah and June were at a potluck for the two fourth-grade gifted classes at his school so Mom and I went to Capital Cheesecake ( where she had lunch and I had iced tea and a mini pumpkin cheesecake. We got to have a more leisurely conversation than is usually possible with the kids vying for her attention. She brought me up to date on relatives and told me about the European river tour she and my stepfather are planning. I told her it was good she was doing the things she wanted to do. I was thinking of my father, who surely had things he wanted to do before cancer took him so ferociously and so suddenly last winter.

Mom and I came back to the house and we got the kids into their costumes for the Halloween parade. I thought June would protest against having to wear leggings and a long-sleeve t-shirt under her sleeveless Tiana gown, plus a cardigan over it, but she didn’t. Mom snapped pictures of Tiana and the question mark and we were off.

As we had last year, we ran into the White-Tailed Deer, who was dressed like a witch, and we marched with her in the first short loop of the parade, when the judging takes place. I took a picture of the two girls together and the Deer’s mom said she could tell this was going to be a Halloween tradition for them. There was a big turnout from June’s class. Over the course of the evening we also saw the Red Fox (dressed as a bat), the Racoon (dressed very creatively as a S’more) and the Field Cricket (dressed as a police officer). This last one was no surprise as there were several months last year when the Cricket came to school dressed as a police officer every day. He even had a set of handcuffs he wore at his waist. I used to joke it was like going to preschool with the Village People. This year his mom got into the spirit and was also dressed as a police officer and his baby sister was a Hell’s Angel.

After the 3-4 year olds had marched the judging route but before the 8-10 year olds did, June announced, “I have to go potty,” so we ducked into a nearby video store. June’s doing really well on the potty recently. As of about a week and a half ago, she’s completely trained for pee. She’s still having a lot of the other kind of accident, but we are using so few diapers, I thought it made sense to use the few cloth diapers we bought for night use when Noah was at this stage, wash them myself and cancel the service. So today, I did just that.

Along the long part of the route, from downtown to the elementary school where the party is held, other marchers and people on the sidelines kept calling out to Noah, saying either, “What’s the question?” or “What’s the answer?” My favorite question, though, came from the mom of one of his old nursery school classmates: “Are you questioning authority?” The reasoning behind his costume, by the way, is that the unknown is the scariest thing. The question mark is “the scariest punctuation,” he told us earnestly.

There was a vivid, deep pink sunset as we approached the school. Once inside, we ate cookies and drank apple juice and listened to Noah’s favorite local band, The Grandsons (, play live. He saw them at the folk festival in September and liked them so much that Beth bought their CD. We talked to more people we knew and finally, the kids collected their goody bags and we got into the car to drive home.

When June came into our room at 5:55 a.m. the next morning I thought she was too excited about it being Halloween to sleep, as she usually sleeps until 6:30 or later. I sent her back to her room, but she was back at 6:05 and I let her crawl into bed with us. She didn’t go back to sleep and neither did I, what with all the tossing and turning, but she was quiet at least. When Beth woke around seven, and said, “Happy Halloween!” June sucked in her breath and exclaimed, “It’s Halloween!” So, I guess I was wrong about the reason for the early wake-up.

June wanted to go trick-or-treating right away, but Beth explained she had to wait until dark or people would not be ready with their candy. This argument seemed to work, as it had about a week ago when June said she had “made a plan” to be “the Halloween maker” so she could decide for herself when Halloween would be. The specter of closed doors and empty candy bowls was effective in putting the kibosh on that plan.

June’s impatience was soon forgotten, though, because she had Grandmom’s undivided attention for much of the morning. They played out in the backyard—tag, soccer, imaginative games about going to the beach and berry-picking. June made a bouquet of fall leaves and brought it inside. Then Mom took both kids to the playground (after a long and convoluted negotiation about which playground). I love grandmother visits.

Sunday afternoon, after Mom had left, we ate popcorn as we watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and carved replacement pumpkins. We’d had unusually warm weather the past week, with highs in the seventies three days, and one by one, our pumpkins succumbed to mold and began to collapse. When I carried the last of them out to the compost on the afternoon of Halloween, they were soft and dripping and a beetle even scuttled out of one of them when I lifted it. We couldn’t be without jack-o-lanterns on Halloween, so Beth bought pumpkins we made two more. June wanted a cat, and Noah did a face. He designed it himself. Instead of carving out the eyes, he carved the outline of them. “Instead of carving the eyes out, I carved them in!” he declared. June reminded everyone that when it got dark and “creepy” out (here she held out her hands and wiggled her fingers), it would be time for trick-or-treating. She mentioned this in case anyone was tempted to leave before then, I suppose.

Beth made chili for the grownups’ dinner and noodles and broccoli and cheese for the kids and then we put the finishing touches on our porch and yard. Beth lit the pumpkins, and then placed another votive candle in front of the cement gargoyle to illuminate it. She turned on the light in the skull of the skeleton and hung the ghost lights over the door and got the coffin-fog machine running. Noah set the cawing, red-eyed raven on the porch column opposite the gargoyle and June filled the Frankenstein’s monster head bowl with candy.

Finally, it was time to go. June was in her costume in no time, and kept haranguing Noah to get into his. Since I’ve gone out trick or treating with the kids the past couple years, I offered to stay home and give out candy instead so Beth could go. I was busier re-lighting candles and refilling the fog machine with water than handing out treats. We got about a half dozen groups over the course of the evening, but most of them came after the kids returned at 8:00. We rarely get big crowds coming to the door, but we’re always prepared.

It’s a good thing, too. As we walked through our neighborhood this week, on our way to school or the library or drama class, June would appraise each house. “Those people are ready for Halloween,” she would say approvingly at the more decorated ones. “Those people are not ready for Halloween,” she’d declare scornfully at the undecorated ones. If there was some token effort, say an uncarved pumpkin or a wreath of fall leaves, she’d say, “Those people are almost ready for Halloween” in the tone of one attempting to be generous and encouraging. Lucky for us, we were among the ready.

Beth and the kids got back after an hour of trick-or-treating. They covered more ground than they usually do, including our block and two nearby streets that intersect it. Several people remembered Noah, commenting on his creativity with costumes. (Some even recalled his rain cloud costume of three years ago.) Beth said June skipped along the sidewalk between each house saying, ‘I’m trick-or-treating!” or “Let’s go to the next house!” At the houses where people opened the door but had no candy, she exclaimed loudly, “I don’t know that could have happened!” At one house they told Noah to take two candies and then told June to take three because she was “so cute.” Even our easy-going boy was annoyed by that, although he didn’t grumble until the door was closed. Beth said both kids were polite and said thank you at each house.

We let the kids choose three candies each to eat and got them off to bed. We continued to watch for trick-or-treaters and to check on the water level in the coffin and the flames on all of our candles until around 9:35, when we brought in the candy and called it a night.

Underneath the black turtleneck I wore on Halloween, I wore a t-shirt from a restaurant in Key West. It used to belong to my father. I’m not Mexican, so I don’t celebrate the Day of the Dead by visiting cemeteries or eating sugar skulls to honor my deceased relatives. I’m not a pagan or a Wiccan either. I don’t believe the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is any thinner in these few days when the lingering warmth of October slips away into November’s chill. Sometimes, though, I wish I did.