Trick-or-Treat

With only a few days to go until Thanksgiving, I thought maybe I would share a little bit about our Halloween, which to me feels like yesterday.  I’m not exactly sure where time goes these days.  Every time I sit down to write a little bit on this blog, I tell myself, now is the time where I will start writing regularly…and then a few more weeks go by…  But this only means that over the past year I have been living more of my life in the real world and less of my life in the virtual world–a gift, really, although I do so love to stop and collect my thoughts sometimes…

So Halloween, yes!  I have to say that our Halloweens so far as a family, although sweet and simple, have been somewhat on the generic side–costumes, trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns, pumpkin seeds, hot cider.  We have never gone overboard with decorations, or costumes (although I did like the year that we all dressed as the characters from Olivia) and although I think it has always been somewhat enjoyable for the kids (except for the year Emerson was sick, or there was a snowstorm…), it has never been more than a bump in our everyday existence.  But why is this, I wonder, when Halloween has always and forever been one of my favorite holidays–a time to recognize the darkness both outside and in, a time to be mischievous and brave, a time to step outside of ourselves and our worlds for one night and become whoever we want to be?

This year we decided to get a little bit more into the spirit of Halloween, and by that I don’t mean paper ghosts and bats on the windows and lots and lots of candy.  By that I mean delving into the darkness this holiday ushers in, bringing out qualities in ourselves that during other times may be more elusive.  The dreamy days of summer are far behind us, and now begins the time when we are most awake, most inside ourselves, most connected with the deep beyond.  It is a time for magic…for werewolves and witches, ghosts and ghouls, and we wanted to share that with the girls as much as their ages and fear-threshold would allow.

This year–because we are addicted to it–we took the girls to Old Sturbridge Village, which on first appearance may seem like a vacuous tourist-snare (this was our thought as we waited in the lengthy line to get in) but turned out to be perfect.  Once all the people were in and spread out, it didn’t seem crowded at all, and what says “haunted” more than a recreated seventeenth-century village lit only by jack-o-lanterns?  It was low on candy (although there was trick-or-treating–the houses were manned [womanned] by people dressed as story-book characters…the three bears sitting around a bowl of real porridge; Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Mad Hare and the Cheshire Cat having an un-birthday party with a real cake and candles, speaking in riddle the entire time; Mary and her real lamb; and so on…) and high on spooks. We started off the night by watching an old-time shadow puppet performance of Jack and the Beanstalk, and ended the night listening to ghost stories, quietly told in the Old Quaker Meeting house, where the only thing we could see were the silhouettes of people and the shadows of flickering candles on the walls.  They told “real” ghost stories, about “real” ghosts (quotations are Emerson’s, and she is referring to people who have died but still linger around us, not quirky miniatures in white sheets).  A good time was had by all.

…and speaking of stories, here are some of the books we enjoyed leading up to Halloween–not quite on par with Emerson’s ghost stories, but nice for Ophelia.  (With Emerson, we spent a lot of time telling our own ghost stories, and these she enjoyed so much that I’m looking forward to making-up some doozies for next year…) All of these books are stories of people (and pumpkins, and quirky miniatures in white sheets) harnessing (or not-quite-harnessing, but daring to try) the power and magic that lives inside them.  Perfect theme for Halloween, and for a little girl about to become four…

In order of publication:

Georgie’s Halloween by Robert Bright, copyright 1958.  I think we all remember Georgie, the shy little ghost.  I do, vaguely at least.

…But while the children rang doorbells and shouted boldly for treats, Georgie stayed hidden, and maybe you saw him–just maybe–and maybe you didn’t.  And that was just as it should be, because Georgie was a gentle little ghost and he was shy.

This is the story of Georgie, who, despite his fear, is convinced by his friends–some mice, a cat, and an owl–to venture out on Halloween night in hopes of winning a costume contest.  I love it for its display of bravery, and for showing that not all ghosts are scary–not everything is always as it seems.  The 1950’s pencil drawings are great too.

Although Georgie is persuaded to leave the house of the Whittaker’s, he is not gone long…

Now Mr. Whittaker did not see him even then, he was so busy looking the wrong way.  But the children saw him and recognized their favorite little ghost.  And so they shouted all together: “It’s Georgie! It’s GEORGIE!”

If only they had not shouted quite so loud!

With all the shouting, Georgie quickly runs all the way home (before he has a chance to win the prize for best contest and before Mr. Whittaker can see him of course, which is another great part of the story–the magic only kids can perceive), and is greeted by his friends the mice, who give him their own prize…

…And maybe it was the best kind of prize for Halloween, because it had come right out of a very old, creaky and squeaky bureau drawer. (Of course we adults and seven-year-olds laugh at the fact that his ribbon reads “Giant Pumpkin”)

At that, Georgie was so happy and pleased, he might well have forgotten everything else.  But even tonight, as soon as Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker were home again–

Georgie did not forget to creak the stairs just as usual–or to squeak the parlor door, just as usual.  As for Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker, they were still so puzzled and betwizzled by what had happened on the green that, while they went to bed as they should, they forgot to blow out the pumpkin in the parlor window.  But Georgie took care of that, thank goodness!

Oh Georgie, wouldn’t everyone love to have a ghost like you haunting their house?

Wispy, the Littlest Witch, by Rosemary Leahy Varney and illustrated by Robert Mashens, copyright 1977.

Much like Georgie, this is the story of a young witch excited for Halloween but still a little too small to fly…

Wispy turned around three times and whispered, “Kiddlekazoo, klippity klee, Magic buckles, fly for me!”

Nothing happened.

Wispy stared at the shoes, waiting.  Still, nothing happened.

“These clothes are just too big for me,” said Wispy.  “That’s why I can’t fly.”

Thinking the problem is only with her clothes, Wispy quickly stuffs her shoes and hat, and pins up the hem of her dress and her sleeves before riding off the meet the grown witches…

Unlike Georgie’s sweet, encouraging friends, the witches laugh at Wispy…all except one, who offers her an important Hallow’s Eve job…

“Can you cook?”

Wispy’s eyes sparkled.  “Yes, that I can do,” she said.

She was still smiling when she crawled into her little bed.  For now, she was truly a Halloween witch.

Such a sweet story, and I love the simple watercolor illustrations–especially the watermarks.

The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Richard Egielski, copyright 2003.

This is a “long-lost story” by Margaret Wise Brown, which was illustrated after her death.  I love Margaret Wise Brown’s stories, and this is no exception.  It is the story of a pumpkin who admires the resident scarecrow for his ability to scare the birds.  The pumpkin aspires to this “fierce” status…

But try as he would, his own pumpkin face stayed smooth and yellow and shining.

Then one day the sun did not shine as hot as fire.  And blackbirds, skies full of blackbirds, began flying over the big field.  There was a burning smell of leaves in the air and a crisp tingle that tickled the fat little pumpkin’s sides…

…then that night and the night after, something began to happen.  The first cold frosts came in the night.  And the fat little, round little, yellow little pumpkin woke up one morning and discovered that he was a fiery orange-yellow pumpkin.  The color of the sun.  A fierce, burning color.

Then three little children came galloping through the big field past the old one-eyed scarecrow.  They ran up to the fat little, round little, orange little pumpkin, and one little girl called out, “Here he is.  Here is our pumpkin!”

I have to admit, that although I love the story, I’m not bonkers about the illustrations.  I can’t help but wonder what this book would have looked like if Margaret Wise Brown chose her own collaborator.  Hmmm…

Finally, Only a Witch Can Fly, by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, copyright 2009.

Although this book is the most modern of the bunch, it is written as a sestina–and poetry form that originated with the French troubadours in the 12th century.  I love exposing my children to different types of rhythm, so they are better able to feel the breadth of language.  For this, I was excited to find this book.  The illustrations aren’t bad either.

Your heart tells you now and you walk to the door. Cat arches his back and croons, soon.

Far above are the stars you love, singing their far away tune, but black cat beside you hums, Poor you, poor, poor.

How awful it is not to fly in the sky.

This story, however, is not a story of defeat.

Hold tight to your broom and float past the stars, and turn to the heavens and soar.  For only a witch can fly past the moon.

Only a witch can fly.

I hope your Halloween season was full of inner awakening and transformation as well!

(And speaking of transformation, here we are on Word Press!  Not a planned move, and certainly frustrating, but maybe a good move in the end.  We’ll see…)

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