Friday, October 31, 2008

All Hallows Eve

As a kid, I loved the mysticism of Halloween. I knew that the origin of the day lay in the Irish myth of All Hallows Eve, which states that on October 31 the boundary between the living and the dead dissolved, and spirits could walk the earth. If you asked me, I could relate this fact to you and laugh at its implications. And the laughter would continue...until the sun went down. Then, terror would slowly creep into my soul.
What if it was true?
As I walked through my neighborhood trick or treating I was aware of every sound - real or imagined - that came from the wood around us. Was it spirits? Or was it a nocturnal beastie making his way about? It was probably the latter but I wouldn't rule out the former, either. And it could be anything out there rummaging around in the dark? It could be anything. After all, traditional Halloween symbols obviously include ghouls, witches, owls, crows, vultures, pumpkin-men, black cats, spiders, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, and demons. For me, I always had a particular fascination/fear with scarecrows and pumpkin-men.
Autumn in New England finds pumpkins everywhere. We didn't live on a farm, although there was one not 100 yards away from my house, but pumpkins were everywhere. I used to believe that the spirits of Halloween just loved to inhabit scarecrows with pumpkin heads and animate them to do their bidding. For me, the idea of an animated scarecrow was terrifying. the glowing eyes lit from within, the horrible carved grin, the rustling sound one would make as the hay stuffed inside its tattered clothing shuffled along in their horrible gait.

As awful as this was for me, there was still a legend that haunted me more: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Is there anything more terrifying than them maniacal laugh of the Headless Horseman as he bears down upon the hapless Ichabod Crane?

"As yet the panic of the steed had given his unskilful rider an apparent advantage in the chase; but just as he had got half way through the hollow, the girths of the saddle gave way, and he felt it slipping from under him. He seized it by the pommel, and endeavored to hold it firm, but in vain; and had just time to save himself by clasping old Gunpowder round the neck, when the saddle fell to the earth, and he heard it trampled under foot by his pursuer. For a moment the terror of Hans Van Ripper’s wrath passed across his mind—for it was his Sunday saddle; but this was no time for petty fears; the goblin was hard on his haunches; and (unskilful rider that he was!) he had much ado to maintain his seat; sometimes slipping on one side, sometimes on another, and sometimes jolted on the high ridge of his horse’s backbone, with a violence that he verily feared would cleave him asunder.
An opening in the trees now cheered him with the hopes that the church bridge was at hand. The wavering reflection of a silver star in the bosom of the brook told him that he was not mistaken. He saw the walls of the church dimly glaring under the trees beyond. He recollected the place where Brom Bones’s ghostly competitor had disappeared. “If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.” Just then he heard the black steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even fancied that he felt his hot breath. Another convulsive kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash—he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind."
To this day, the idea of the Headless Horseman sends a fantastic shiver down my spine.
The Disney version scared me for years. This may be one of the Disney Studios most effective scenes ever. Pay close attention to the animals and their warnings...

I love Halloween.
On this most mystical of days, when the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead dissipates, if only for a night, I will take great care when I am out and about. Tonight I will listen close for any whispers on the wind or the sound of rustling hay and I will look for the glint of life in the light of a pumpkin's eye. I will remember the fun and fears of All Hallows Eve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Journey into Day

It's a cold, wet October day. Streetlights illuminate the the damp city streets as I wind my way through the other commuters on their way to their jobs. People pass me on either side. I don't care.
I walk slower these days. Not through any infirmary, but because I'm not in so much of a rush to get to where I need to go. I used to have to be the first person off the train so I could begin my sprint to wherever I was going. I've always had a long stride combined with a quick pace. These days my pace is slower and my stride is lessened. More and more I've decided to actually slow down and take time to notice the world around me. What's that old saying? It's not the destination, but the journey that counts. By focusing on the journey I have begun to appreciate all the minor colors that make up the rich tapestry of my life. What I once viewed subconsciously is now at the foreground of my perceptions.
After leaving Brueggers I head into my office. I am the first person to arrive. I sit down at my desk and notice the gray sky that fills the wall of windows on my right. Just the sight of it sends a chill through me. I walk over to the window and watch the wind play havoc on the flags mounted at the Langham Hotel/ The light from beneath the awning is warm and inviting, perhaps because I know that the heat lamp used by the doormen is powerful, indeed. Either way, that light is an oasis of warmth on a cold, damp day.
Today would be a great day for staying home and resting on the couch with a good book and a warm mug of tea. It's also a good day to sit and watch a long movie with a big bowl of popcorn. Otherwise, I could sit and do some writing while the soft strains of Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach play in the background.
I sigh wistfully as I log into my work computer, instead.
I'll use this time to answer some e-mails and, more importantly, get a head start on this weeks homework.
It's just another day at the office.
But the journey getting here was worth it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

View from The Passenger Seat

It was a beautiful, Autumn afternoon as Jenna and I left King Richard's Faire. We had a great day. Instead of our usual run of the various games and contests we instead just walked around and people watched while taking in the various sights and sounds. It was a fantastic day.
We were driving down Route 58 north, heading for Halifax. The windows were down and my right hand (read:clenched fist) was hanging outside of the car while my left hand rested on the emergency brake.
"You're doing fine, Jenna."
There was no reply other than a quick "OK" as she scanned the road ahead of us. We drove along peacefully while inside I was more nervous then I hope I let on.
When we arrived at King Richard's Faire Jenna proudly opened her pocketbook and said "Look! I have my permit!"
Indeed she did.
It was right there in front of me in black and white. According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts my daughter is allowed to drive a car. To me, not so much. As we were leaving King Richard's Faire she asked, "Can I drive the car?"
"Why not?"
We walked in silence for a moment or two more, then, "Can I really not drive the car?"
"Why not?"
"You really don't have a good reason at all for not letting me drive right now, do you?"
"Nope. Not at all."
She laughed. So did I.
Jenna and I have been reviewing the rules of the road for awhile now; to the point where she points out my own indiscretions as we travel the highways and byways of Massachusetts. From my own experience I know that Jenna needs to physically do things in order to get a sense of them. Her Mom had let her drive around Scituate the day before so she already had logged a whole 20 minutes of drive time. I assessed the risk and concluded that Route 58 on a Saturday afternoon was a safe place for student driving.
Once we left King Richard's Faire I drove out of the fairgrounds, through the police presence and the road cones until we reached a mini-mall. I pulled into a drug store parking lot, turned off the car and handed my daughter the keys. We switched seats and I watched (very) closely as she pulled the seat up to a comfortable position, adjusted the mirrors (all three of them), and checked the location of all the gauges. The key in position, she put her foot on the brake and the Saab roared to life. She looked around, decided on the all clear and backed out into the parking lot. She stopped at the exit to Route 53, looked left, right then left again and pulled out into traffic.
Off we went.
It's amazing how fast 35 mph feels when I'm in the passenger seat and my 16 year-old daughter is driving the car.
I would point out when an intersection was coming up or if she was hugging the shoulder a little too closely. However, nothing out of the ordinary occurred.
At one point we were riding behind an elderly driver who kept braking for invisible things. Jenna was very conscientious of this car and the erratic driver who, at Shaw's, came to a near-dead stop in the middle of the road. In my mind we were approaching this car awfully fast.
"Brake," I said calmly.
Still approaching.
"Brake," I said a little less calmly while pressing my right foot down on the imaginary passenger side brake.
The car slowed to a stop, right where we should have stopped.
"Dad, I was braking. I had everything under control."
I was immediately reminded of this exact same conversation with my own Mother as I drove the Vega wagon to Pembroke Center one cold, Autumn day in 1982. Same tone of terror in her voice, same calm reply from the student driver.
I smiled at the memory.
Soon, the old woman found what she was looking for and we left her behind to run her errands. We were on our way to visit my Dad. I figured that he'd get a kick out of this so I let Jenna drive all the way to his house, where he was waiting on the front porch for our arrival. The look on his face as we pulled up to the house was priceless.
For the record, she did a great job and I am very proud of her.
Last Saturday afternoon my daughter and I enjoyed an Autumn drive. One down memory lane, the other one mile closer on the road to her adulthood.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tweed and Dartmoor

The air is cold today.
Once the cool Autumn of New England begins in earnest I dig out my flat cap and don it once again to keep my head warm.
I bought my Barbour flat cap in a hat store in London near Montague Street, across from the British Museum. I had always wanted one and the brisk, cool air of England in November was the perfect time to buy one. It was tweed; tan with olive and brown striping. It fit great - a first for this type of hat on my head. According to the young sales girl, the hat looked great. While her opinion is biased, I agreed with her nonetheless. I bought it on the spot.
For the next week, whenever I went outside, this hat came with me.
I wore this hat to Westminster Abbey, where it absorbed the dust of the ages. I wore it as we climbed the Tower of London and I held it reverently as we looked over the tombstones and memorials scattered throughout the ancient stone walls found there.
I wore this hat on our train ride to Devon, where we met our friends Ian and Annie for a two-day stay at their beautiful farmhouse. Annie showed my how to properly wear my hat (low on my forehead) as we walked along old country lanes and visited the churches of East Worlington and West Worlington. Once again, hat in hand, I strolled through an ancient cemetery and listened to the barely comprehensible words of the old groundskeeper as he talked to Ian. As the fog rolled in over the hills of East Worlington my hat kept my head warm as I was regaled by Ian with the history of how Worlington became a divided town in the first place.
The next day the open air market in Moulton was an unexpected pleasure. Moulton is a small town with a quaint town square and a market that takes place on Thursday mornings in an old grange building. It is full of characters. Here I eavesdropped on a farmer who was discussing the sale of cows that was upcoming later in the day. nearby we met a transplanted woman from western MA selling her homemade soaps. She complimented me on my hat, saying that I looked like a native. Again, the light drizzle and fog was so traditionally "English" that I couldn't help but smile as we walked around.
After leaving the market we went to lunch in a 13th century inn that was situated at the edge of Dartmoor. The ceilings were low and beamed, with white plaster walls and dark wood everywhere. Here we sat near the fireplace, that had one of the old, high back wooden chairs nearby. Ian explained that, back in the day, these chairs were placed directly in front of the fireplace and the high back helped to contain the heat for the sitters. After today my hat smelled vaguely of burning English wood in the fireplace. The smell soon faded but my tweed was now filled with the memory of burnt wood and of the moor.
On our way back to London I used the hat to shield my eyes as I rested, slumped down in the train chair.
Once home again in London I wore my hat to every pub that we went to. The area around the British Museum is crawling with bars and taverns and we did our level best to try a pint in all of them. Soon my hat smelled of cigars and old wood polish. I didn't mind. As we passed in and around Trafalgar Square on our way back to the Hotel Montague the cool air of the London nightlife was kept at bay by the thin layer of tweed, a thick wool turtleneck sweater and my brown car coat.
Of all the souvenirs that we brought back from London, this hat was my favorite. It was a tradition and a memento. Within its tweed and woven among its fibers are the memories of Devon, the moor, the fireplace and our friends. It was a part of England and it was my tie to that place and that moment in time.
On Monday, while we were at work, Callie somehow removed my hat from the drawer in the armoire and destroyed it.
More than one person has said to me "It was just a hat; a thing."
Yes, it was just a hat.
It just happened to be irreplaceable.
And the air is cold today.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Merry Din

The kitchen was bursting at the seams with people. Soon every chair on the first floor was gathered around the kitchen table where bread was cut and dips prepared. A salmon and dill spread for fresh Italian rustico bread was a surprise delight. So was Jen and Chris' warm and homemade artichoke dip. As scotch, wine and beer was distributed to each guest the individual smaller conversations combined into a delightful cacophony of noise that swelled to fill the house. I talked as I compiled our dinner on an oversize tray, which was loaded with various forms of marinated chicken, steaks that had been dry rubbed with salt, pepper and garlic powder, garlic and cheese sausages, salmon burgers (with onion and thyme) and salmon fillets with Cajun spices that were ready for the grill. Soon the smell of grilled food filled the backyard and sent taste buds to watering.
A few guests kept me company grill side as I drank my scotch and kept an eye on cooking times. Kathy likes her steak done medium while John and Kristen like their burgers medium well. Bridget's chicken strips would take the least amount of time while my thick, marinated chicken breast would take the most. The salmon fell somewhere in-between these cook times. Asparagus with cracked black pepper, ground salt and olive oil had been put on the top rack of the grill. By the sizzle of the olive oil I knew it was done. I soon handed off platters of food to Kathy and Bridget and a short time later I joined the feast myself. A salad had been cobbled together from spinach leaves, mushrooms and blue cheese crumbles and a bit of vidalia onion dressing. Asparagus was passed around with the potato salad and drinks were refilled. People spread the party throughout the first floor and our living room was full of diners. Laughter could be heard from each room as well as snippets of compliments for each tasty morsel. Each of our guests had provided a piece of the feast and all could take pride in the meal. Dinner gave way to after-dinner drinks and dessert, which consisted of a birthday cake for myself, Kristin (October 1st), Kathy (September 25th) and Jen (October 10th). Gifts and cards were exchanged. Laughter filled the room as I opened my present from Kathy to find a View-Finder from 1968 complete with an episode of "Star Trek" on three reels. "The Omega Glory" never looked so 3-D.
We bid farewell to Jen and Chris with a promise to see them on Friday night for Jen's birthday get-together. The rest of us moved the party up to the third floor where we sat in chairs, on the sofa, in the window seat and on the floor and gathered to discuss our book club selection "In Cold Blood", which resulted in our most engaging book discussion yet. An hour and a half later and we concluded book club with our latest selection, "In The Meantime" to be read for next month. More mingling and conversation took place down in the kitchen until, finally, people with long commutes decided to hit the road. The party was officially over - seven hours after it began at the Roslindale Day Parade.
At one point, while we were eating dinner, my friend Kathy looked around the room, smiled and said to me "I love these people."
I couldn't agree more.

Friday, October 03, 2008


When I was a kid I never believed that anyone else shared my birthday with me. In fact, no one that I have ever met was born on October 3rd - in any year.
Yet in my core group of friends two people shared a birthday on the same day in March and two shared a birthday on the same day in September. So, for years I always thought "October 3rd is MY day."
I think that part of me still believes it.
It's MY day.
Yet, here I am, on my self-proclaimed day, blowing 43 candles off of the metaphysical birthday cake and I am not alone. Already well wishers have assaulted (or drooled on*) my e-mail. One message came in at 12:01AM. Others came between six and seven in the morning. I have been blogged about, superpoked, and had people write on my Facebook Wall. I have lunch plans in Sudbury and dinner plans in Cohasset. Today will be a good day.
I am so very fortunate to be surrounded by people who include me as a part of their lives. Reaching 43 years young is a gift when I consider all of the friends and loved ones in my life who consider me at all.
It's my day because of all of you who share it with me and who have made it so. You are all the threads that combine to create the rich tapestry of my life.
So here's to all of you - for being a part of me.
*see comment #1

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Kittens in Cut Outs

It's after 3PM on an Autumn weekday.
I get off the school bus and began the short walk past the Wynn's house and Grandma King's to home. The air is cool but the warm sun and my light jacket are more than enough to keep me comfortable. The wind blows quickly, scattering the fallen leaves from both our maple tree and the one in front of Grandma King's front yard. The wind kicks up some loose sand from our dead end dirt road and I close my eyes against the flying grit.
As I approach our house I see Suki sitting on the front steps. Her tail begins to wag and she watches me closely. At 11 years old she no longer meets me at the end of the street but she's always somewhere in the front yard waiting for me to return home safely. As I call out to her I look at our house. Taped inside the picture window is a cardboard decoration of a kitten in a pumpkin. Inside myself I jump for joy. Because of this display I know that Mom has been decorating the house with our Halloween decorations all day. When I opened the door there would be the ceramic pumpkins on the chest in the living room, Halloween figurines on the mantle along with holiday candles and candy bowls. Halloween is here!
This happened every year and for every major holiday, which arrived on Antilla Court via these cardboard decorations. Mom used to get them at Pembroke Drug or Fernandes Supermarket and taped them up in the window with a few weeks to go before the big day. Thanksgiving saw either a turkey or a cornucopia, Easter had the bunny or a chick, Valentine's Day had a big red heart (with or without an arrow through it) or a Cupid with a bow. Christmas was the only holiday that didn't merit a cardboard cutout, but only because all of the lights and tinsel would have overshadowed it anyway. I loved seeing these decorations because I knew that a fun day lay ahead in the not too distant future. This was a great family tradition.
We have many family traditions that continue to this day but this was one that didn't continue into my adulthood.
Unfortunately the many places that I lived in before my home today did not allow for big picture windows and cardboard decorations. Also, it was no fun to put the decorations in the window for myself because it spoiled the surprise of seeing them for the first time when I returned home on any given day. Finally, without Jenna to come home from school each day (to my home, anyway) I didn't see the need to put decorations in the window. Upon reflection, I regret that I didn't do it anyway.
Still, when the weather changes, and a major holiday approaches, I remember the young boy walking up the dead-end dirt road, looking for his dog and a window decoration to announce the season, lovingly installed by a Mom who knew that sometimes it was the simple things that meant so much.