All hell broke loose in Oregon last weekend. We had snow, freezing rain, ice, power outages, and the worst – no TV! You don’t realize how truly alone you are until you’ve lost the internet and TV. My husband’s mom came to our house for two days because her power was out, and while she was here our power went out. We were forced to play Scrabble by candlelight to entertain ourselves, and then she beat me. “The game was rigged!” I whined.
Then we heard that in Texas hell actually did freeze over, bursting people’s water pipes and causing power outages and water shortages. The news was full of tragic stories about couples with four kids having no power or water in a freezing house. Many of them left their homes to stay with relatives or friends. In times of trouble, strangers step up, but it’s easier to call your mom or son or a friend to help.
Some of us don’t have nearby relatives, and some don’t have friends. It’s hard to make connections when you’re busy all the time, or prefer your own company so you don’t have to share the remote control. It also takes courage to have friends, because there’s always the risk of rejection. They might not invite you to a party, or they choose someone else to go with them to the beach. If you’re busy all the time when they call, they eventually quit calling. Plus you have to be nice to them. That sounds flippant, but really, you can’t insult your friends or do mean things to them because they’ll put up with it for a while but eventually they’ll find a new friend.
These two angels that my kids made at an Advent Fair are part of the Christmas decorations I put out every year. My daughter’s has a sweet face – smiling and happy. My son’s is a tough guy – his scowling expression says, “You want a piece of me?”
Those pictures in magazines that show holiday homes with color schemes – turquoise birds on white trees with silver ornaments all matchy-matchy – that’s not happening in my house. Nothing coordinates. Just about everything has broken parts glued back on. I keep them for the same reason I’ve kept my kids’ angels all these years – they have a memory that makes me smile.
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.
It’s our 244th birthday! Ever since July 4, 1776 we’ve spent money buying explosives that light up the sky for several nights, booming so loud that old curse when they go to bed at 8:30 and dogs to bark continuously and pee on the floor.
On the actual holiday, we gorge ourselves on fried chicken, potato salad, and white sheet cakes with strawberries and blueberries and Cool Whip to make the Stars and Stripes that our bellies refuse to digest, stretching our American elastic waistbands beyond their endurance.
We are a good country, formed on sound principles written in the Declaration of Independence – that revered document we celebrate every July 4. The most famous quote says that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Our country seems like a mess right now with all the protests. We’ve been here before, but my hope is that after this year is we don’t go back again. I hope we will all remember that pursuing happiness can’t happen when you are angry. No matter what side of a political fence you’re on, if you hate others because of the color of their skin or the nation they came from, you cannot pursue happiness. Hate makes you angry.
Go ahead, think about that for a minute. Has your child (or you, when you were a child) ever had a hissy fit, slammed a door, and shouted, “I hate you?” Are they smiling and happy? No, they’d kick you in the shin if they could get away with it. Now think about that same child looking into your eyes and saying, “I love you.” That’s happiness right there. It’s dang near impossible to find happiness when you’re angry – and pretty easy to be happy when you love someone.
It’s that simple – if we want to pursue happiness, we have to love each other. I know this goes against what you may have been taught by your angry parents, uncles, aunts, teachers, bosses etc., but it is the truth. And the truth will set you free – give you Liberty, and that will give you Life, and free you up to pursue Happiness.
Those old guys were pretty smart back in 1776.
The video below was sent to me by my 93 year old friend, Pearl. Another very smart person. It’s a short version of a 1985 documentary where a teacher does an experiment in discrimination. It’s only 6 minutes long and well worth watching. The link to the full documentary is below that – it’s about an hour long. Happy 4th of July everyone!
Scissors don’t have legs – they can’t walk away. While I was weeding at my community garden plot, my good Gingher’s did not get up on their pointy ends like a ballerina and tip-toe away. Someone swiped them.
The main suspect was a woman who came into the garden talking loud on her cell phone – as annoying as cat shit under a couch. My scissors were lying there right by the path. I was busy staking up my tomatoes, my back to her, and didn’t bother to even say hello since she was blathering on.
This woman didn’t water, she didn’t weed, she didn’t pick anything – she wasn’t there long enough to do any of that. She talked on her phone and then drove away. Now I’m not saying she did it, but what did she come there for except to steal my scissors?
When it was time for me to leave I gathered my tools and the other things scattered around – string and extra bamboo stakes. I had this nagging feeling I was forgetting something – these day I forget something most of the time. I walked up and down my little ten by twenty foot plot but didn’t see anything else so I left.
When I got home and unloaded I thought, “Now where are those scissors?” Those Gingher’s are expensive – cost me about $30 many years ago. Silver, and the things actually cut. I have ten pairs of scissors all over this house and none will even cut a string hanging off my hem except these Gingher’s and the Betty Crocker ones I got at the Dollar Store. They cut so well I gave a pair to all my friends for Christmas. Yes, I’m cheap, I’ll admit that to anybody – I’m proud of it.
At the end of this morning’s Mass our priest gave us a homework assignment. He told us to think about a person who has been an advocate for us. In his sermon, Deacon Bill defined the Advocate, or the Holy Spirit, as a comforter, counselor, friend and companion.
Lots of people have been one or more of those to me, but if I have to choose just one, it’s my friend Laurie. I’ve dumped my troubles on her in the most boring and repetitious ways and she’s given me support when she’d probably just as soon slap some duct tape over my mouth.
The best thing is she’ll listen and do it quick. You don’t get much phone time with Laurie, she’s always busy, so you’ve got to launch right into your whining – get right to the point about what a jerk someone has been so she can (a) agree with you and (b) pile more on, even if she’s never met the person, and (c) give her tidbit of either advice, “the person is a jerk, you gotta just walk away,” or sympathy, “the person has always been a jerk, I don’t know how you stand it.”
I know it’s not cool to talk about religious beliefs, unless it’s about “the universe.” I’m not sure who “the universe” is – sounds like a committee of aliens – but for some reason “the universe” casts its random favor on people. I prefer to call them Guardian Angels. Not only do they help me with the big things like avoiding a car crash or speed trap, but little things that happen all day long.
This conversation is pretty much verbatim how I abused my poor husband when we met friends for a late dinner out of town. I was tired and he wasn’t getting me back to the motel quick enough. We had our little dog in the car with us. I’ve written it like a movie script – it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s talking (I’m the spiteful nag).
Do you ever wonder what people think of you? I do. I’m always saying to them, “You must think I’m a complete idiot.”
I really don’t have a clue what a person is thinking, though. When I would first start dating someone, and there was a lull in the conversation, I’d ask, “Whatcha thinkin’?” He was most likely thinking, “How much of this talking am I going to have to endure before she’ll let me in her pants?” But he’d always pause and say something like, “I was just thinking how much I like hearing your voice.”
I’m no better at reading women’s thoughts. I’ll be at the mall with a girlfriend and we’ll bump into someone we know.
My friend will say to her, “Hey Marcie, you look great. I love that new hairdo. And have you lost weight? It’s so good to see you – we have to get together.”
After Marcie walks away my friend will say, “Oh my gosh did you SEE that hair? What was she thinking? It looked like canaries styled it – how do you GET hair to be that uneven? Do you think she cut it herself? And those pants. She’s put on a good ten pounds since I saw her last. Oh my gosh! That woman just drives me crazy, did you hear how she went on and on about how smart her daughter is. It’s all she ever talks about. She just drives me nuts.”
I’m listening to all this and thinking, “You just treated her like she was some movie star you were delighted to see, and now you act like she’s a bragging, disheveled fat slob.”
Because I’m pondering this and quiet for a second my friend says, “What are you thinking?”
“I was just thinking about what you say about me when I walk away.”
Laughing, she says, “Oh, I only say nice things about you.”
“Really?” suspecting she’s not telling the whole truth.
“Of course, you’re a nice person. Why else are we at the mall together?”
“Because you have no other friends.” We both laugh as if this is the silliest thing in the world, because she has tons of friends.
And I still don’t know what she, or anyone else, thinks of me. Maybe it’s better that way. Maybe I’ll just make up in my mind what people think, since there’s no way of knowing for absolute sure.
“That Suzanne is so funny! She writes these humor blogs and hits the nail on the head every time. I mean, I just LOVE her. What a delightful human being she is.”
I like it! This is what I’m going to think from now on. At least that’s what I think I’m going to think. I’d better stop thinking about it before I start wondering if everyone thinks I’m a complete idiot…