The Christmas frenzy came early this year. Long before Black Friday my email overflowed with people wanting me to spend money at their stores. Even my dentist is begging me to get something – anything – done to my teeth in time for the holidays. Tis the season!
I responded to Land’s End’s frantic 55% Off and Free Shipping! emails by ordering a bunch of stuff I don’t need, since I have nowhere to go. No holiday parties, no nights at the theater, no restaurants with old friends I haven’t seen since March. But just in case, I ordered a red sweater – they were practically giving it away. Also some cotton zip-up sweatshirt things to stay warm while I clean closets. I’ll wrap these items and give them to myself for Christmas. That way I’ll at least get a few presents I won’t have to return.
One of the things I’m most thankful for in this world is my electric teapot. Sorry if you were expecting me to say my family, my health, food on the table. Those are the big things, and I’m exceedingly grateful for all of them. But sometimes it’s the little things that have the most impact. Like when a child hands you a bouquet of scraggly wildflowers to show they love you – isn’t that more wonderful than a huge box of long-stem roses? Sure, the child is just trying to bribe you, but still, you see my point.
When my mother-in-law gave me the electric teapot for Christmas a couple of years ago, I rolled my eyes. Another gadget. She’s the queen of gadgets. If it’s been on TV, or a friend has told her about it, she’ll buy one for herself and one each for her daughter and daughters-in-law. At my house a few of these get used, some collect dust, others find themselves snuggled in with clothes and old toys headed for Goodwill. I pictured this gadget in that last group.
We humans are a stew of talents, motivations, and fears. In the right proportions, our stew can end up being a huge success that feeds many others, or it can be something a dog wouldn’t touch.
Take, for example, the metaphor I just tried to make. Shakespeare’s pen would have made it a culinary masterpiece. My keyboard has produced a bowl of gruel.
Here’s a mo’ better metaphor. A guy had three servants. He gave the first five talents, the second two talents, and the third, one talent. This metaphor is a tad confusing because a talent is an ancient measure for a weight in gold – approximately one gazillion micrograms to the third power or something like that.
Election 2020 has put an extra five pounds on me. On Tuesday, as I watched the returns coming in, my appetite for salty, crunchy foods hit new highs. We made tacos for dinner, and I ate extra beans and onions and chips and cheese and guacamole, and vigorously shook out way too many drops of Tabasco sauce on everything. I was wound up.
Record-breaking quantities of food passed through my mouth at dinnertime. With every new red or blue state on the map, I headed for the kitchen. I devoured 80 percent of the crunchy food group before moving on to chocolate.
It was fear eating. Like when I’m at the cinema watching a scary movie in wide-eyed horror, barely breathing, putting fistful after fistful of faux-butter popcorn in my mouth with one hand, clutching the armrest with the other, not even aware I’m eating until my greasy fingers scratch the bottom of the bucket.
We don’t get many trick or treaters on our street. Parents drive their kids to clustered neighborhoods of decorated houses where all the lights are on so they get maximum loads of candy with minimum time and effort, like I did with my kids. On our street the houses are darker than a bat in a cave. They are obviously not in the free-candy business on October 31st. Except us. One of us is usually home, or at least we leave a full candy bowl on the porch.
A few days before Halloween I put a few decorations around the house, a witch sitting on a pumpkin with a plug-in little Christmas light in it, an round, orange wicker basket full of dried mini-corn cobs – those kinds of things. For the window by the front door I have six carved pumpkins stacked on each other – about 2 feet high – that my mother-in-law gave me years ago. They sit on the shelf looking out the window. This year I balanced a giant spider on the top pumpkin’s head to look creepy.
I also hang ghosties outside. My kids made a dozen or so of them years ago out of baseball-shaped Styrofoam covered with white cheesecloth and a pipe-cleaner that we twisted under the ball to look like ghosts. By fanning out the “arms” of the pipe cleaner under the fabric, they become fuller and look more lifelike. Each one is about 8 to 12 inches long. My daughter drew happy faces on hers – my son’s look grumpy.
For the final decoration I carve a pumpkin – three triangles (two for the eyes, one for the nose) and a jagged mouth. This year I found a pumpkin at the last minute. He was the right size but had a big gash. I got him for a discount – $1.67 – and figured I’d just carve the good side. But when I started carving, the gash was so mushy I cut it out and gutted him from that direction, rather than the top. A semi-rotten pumpkin is the way to go. The whole thing turned out to be soft and pithy. It was very easy to carve. Plus, it’s extra creepy-looking with the whole back of his head gone, and you can see through it so it gave off more light. I put it on top of my car facing the street, and could also see the whole pumpkin’s face (from the inside) while looking out the kitchen window.
Since we were home because of Covid, we decided to watch “The Shining” as our Halloween entertainment. Neither of us had ever seen it. Boy, that Jack Nicholson can sure look spooky when he moves his eyes sideways, especially with the eery music that sometimes sounds like my heart pounding (or maybe it was). We’d pause the movie so one of us could grab a Milky Way while the other got a little bag of peanut M&M’s that had either 4 or, if I was lucky, 5 pieces in there. Hardly worth the effort to tear open the package.
I got worried around 8pm – not because Jack was hacking through the locked bathroom door with an axe, his lunatic – no possessed – eyes wild. I worried that Covid would keep my one family of trick or treaters from showing up. I’d gone to the kitchen for more food (candy) when I heard the doorbell. By then my nerves were as tight as new banjo strings, and I was afraid that, instead of a sweet family, there’d be an axe-wielding maniac with crazy Jack Nicholson eyes.
Giggles from outside gave me the courage to open the door. “Trick or Treat!” they called. “So glad you came! Tell me what you are.
The boy, who’s maybe middle-school age, had on a black outfit and carried a black bow with arrows on his back. “I’m the Black Bowman,” he said.
“Haven’t heard of him.”
“It’s a name I made up.”
The girl, who’s close to high school, was also in black with a wad of aluminum foil on her right hand. “Are you familiar with Marvel characters?” she said.
“Yes.” I know about 479 Marvel characters and have seen about that many Marvel movies. Tuesdays used to be $5 movie nights (before Covid) and my friends and I saw a lot of Marvel movies.
“I’m Bucky Barnes.”
“I don’t know Bucky Barnes.”
“He’s a fried of Captain America.”
“Oh, okay, cool,” I said. “I know him.” I turned to the adult behind her. “And you are?”
“I’m a hobbit.”
“That’s what you were last year.”
“Yes, you’re right, I was.”
“Good to get your money’s worth out of these costumes. What about you?” I said to the woman beside him, but can’t remember what she said – I think it was a half costume, like when you dress normal and wear a witch’s hat. “How about you?” I said to the woman behind her – making Halloween small talk, I guess. As a kid, I used to hate it when people delayed me with a lot of questions – I wanted to get to the next house for more candy, but figured this was their last stop.
“I’m just me,” she said. “No costume.”
“It’s hard to tell if someone is wearing a costume when we all have masks on,” I laughed. They chuckled at my sparkling humor. “I’m just really glad you came. You made my night.”
“We love coming here,” the girl said. “We love all the ghosts. We call you the ‘Ghost Lady.’
“The Ghost Lady,” I said. “Hmmm, I like it. I have a Halloween nickname.”
“I love your stacked pumpkins,” the boy said.
I held out the bowl of candy. The kids grabbed handfuls. “Take more,” I said. “Anything you don’t take I’ll eat.” I stretched my arm toward the adults. “Here, you guys, take some. Take it all.” Each of them grabbed a small fistful. I offered it to the kids again. They took most, but not all, of the candy. “Trust me, you’ll want a few pieces tomorrow,” the man said. Of course he was right.
They left, and it occurred to me that, in all the chaos of life, we’ve had this five-minute encounter that I look forward to every year. I know where there live (not on our street), but I don’t know anything else about them. They always come later, probably after they’ve hit the good, candy-rich neighborhoods. We’ve never exchanged names. Every year I’ve had taken my kids out, and in later years walked with my friend and her youngest daughter, or occasionally we’ve gone to a party, but I always try to be home by 8 in case my one family comes. I leave the candy bowl out in case they get here before we do.
When they left I came back inside beaming, an active participant in the Halloween tradition that I have loved ever since I can remember. “Well, they came,” my husband said. “Yeah, they came,” I said. I cozied up under my throw, pressed the “Play” button and saw Shelley Duvall slice Jack Nicholson’s hand when he reached through the hole he’d hacked in the bathroom door to get to the doorknob. The blood. The fear. The horror. Didn’t bother me a bit. I was floating like a, well, like a ghost. The Happy Ghost Lady. That’s me.