Halloween Memory: Eight Years Ago

Eight years ago today I had surgery for cancer, and Halloween was the day I came home from the hospital.  Today no patient is kept in the hospital for very long, even after cancer surgery.  I remember being tucked up all cozy on the living room sofa while my two grown-up daughters and my husband handed out treats to the neighborhood children.

There was something very comforting about the normalcy of life after a cancer diagnosis.  It’s almost impossible to imagine that life moves along from day to day as if nothing major happened.  I think that enables one to mentally handle the shock of illness.  After all, we are meant to be healthy and happy, aren’t we?  So we need to be able to move beyond the bad things and focus on the good, like little ones dressed up as princesses and pirates holding out their paper bags for treats on a cold October night.

The truth is after a cancer diagnosis, nothing ever seems normal.  Complacency is gone.  Maybe that is not really such a bad thing.  We need to be prepared for anything life throws our way.  We just need to leave behind us a footprint that says, “Yes, I was here, and I hope that my presence here on earth has made a difference to at least one other person.”  Then we can move on to wherever we go next and know that we have in some way made the world a better place.

Sometimes I am able to forget I had breast cancer.  It often still seems a little surreal.  But then I look at the photo of my sister who lost her life to breast cancer, or I sit at the table making greeting cards for breast cancer patients, or I read obituaries of women who died from breast cancer, and I have to push aside my own experience and struggle to remember to live on hope, not fear.

I am glad to see the last day of October coming, October with its emphasis on the color pink and its magazine and newspaper stories about how much closer we are now to a cure for breast cancer, a cure that still seems to me to be so elusive, it seems more like a fantasy than a possibility.  When the children ring the doorbell tomorrow night, I will remember as always that Halloween eight years ago, but each year brings me a little closer to security, pushes the fear a little further away from me, and reminds me that I am just here to leave a footprint for someone else to step into.

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Snow Fell Too Early in Upstate New York

Before the first frost iced the few remaining garden flowers, before the maple leaves could finish changing from green to red and orange, before Halloween was over with its smashed pumpkins and toilet paper tree décor, snow fell in upstate New York.  It was far too early and not exactly as predicted, since our local meteorologists forecast snow mainly in the higher elevations.  So now I feel a little more unsure about the next predicted storm tomorrow afternoon into Sunday, one of those coastal storms that occur usually after Thanksgiving and sometimes not even before Christmas.

The thing is, I really like the first snowfall of the year.  I like the way the snow weighs down the pine branches, forming a canopy over the roads.  I like when the sun shines on the powdery surfaces of the ground and sparkles the edges of the pines.

But I’m not ready.  I’m not ready to let go of autumn just as I was beginning to enjoy the falling leaves, the pumpkin patches, and the apple crop.  The stores seem to be ready, however, having displayed Christmas trees and ornaments during the last few weeks.  I don’t know why we rush the seasons.  I don’t know why we don’t get to immerse ourselves completely in each one before the next arrives.  I don’t like being unprepared.

Still, I’m not going to put my wreath on the front door or buy my Christmas cards yet.  I’m not going to be drawn in to the beautiful ornaments adorning the trees in Michaels or A.C. Moore or Macy’s or the malls.  I have yet to think about a turkey for Thanksgiving and I have no idea where my snow brush is or my scraper.  I would rather sit looking out my sliding glass doors at the squirrels racing around the garden and the woodpeckers searching for bugs in the dead pine trees.  I like watching the snow melt into the still-soft ground, uncovering the leaves waiting expectantly to be raked up into piles.  I long for autumn to linger a while.  I want it to rage against the onslaught of winter snow and icy mornings.  I want to hear the crunch of leaves under my feet and smell the first smoky fires from neighborhood chimneys.  I want to hold tightly on to the remaining October days before I am thrown headlong into the frenzy of the holidays.  I am not ready yet for winter in New York.

Halloween Scrooge: How many of us are there?

The proliferation of spider webs, witches, jack-o-lanterns, and skeletons is beginning to move into our neighborhood.  I wish I liked Halloween. What fun decorating trees, porches, and windows with frightening objects!  I guess I just find enough fright other places in my life making me no doubt a real wuss.  (Where did that word originate anyway?)

It seems that in every neighborhood, most likely those with small children and teenagers, there are households that go a little overboard with the scary theme.  There are even sensor-triggered sounds from skeletons and witches, ghouls and ghosts, eerie screams in the night.  I have always thought that we like to scare ourselves in a controlled way to cope with those scary things in life over which we have no control.  We thumb our noses at death when we watch terrifying movies and thrill to the fear of Halloween.

When my children were small, I had to go along with the décor of Halloween, although carving a pumpkin was the extent of my compliance some years.  Then there were the huge bags of candy we had to purchase.  If we tried to go cheap and buy the variety packs of Smartees and lollipops, we were often greeted with disappointment.  However, those expensive chocolate candy bars were always a big hit.  Then there were years we bought only what we truly loved ourselves, especially after our children were grown up and buying candy themselves for children.  I always felt that I was held hostage by teenagers who showed up at our door with little more than a pillow case, a fake mustache, or a baseball cap.  Sometimes we got a trick even if we gave a treat—shaving cream on the car, toilet paper hanging from the trees.

I guess in these difficult times, we all need to have a little fun.  We all need to be afraid of something besides losing a job and our life savings tied up in the stock market.  Some years when I was teaching, I forced myself to pull out my black witch’s hat, relishing the age-old line that as a teacher I had chosen an appropriate costume.  One year I borrowed my sister’s Miss Piggy costume (as a school nurse, she loved to dress up for Halloween) and went over to the cafeteria to greet the students, only a few of whom guessed it was me.  Now I want to just hide upstairs with our dog and let my husband hand out the candy, oohing and ahhing at the little ones’ costumes.  We try to turn out the lights and lock up before the older ones begin their cruising up and down the street, sometimes multiple times.  I want to shout at them, “Go get a job and buy your own candy!”  What is wrong with me, I later wonder.

If my grandchildren were here and not in California, I would make the attempt to get into the spirit of Halloween.  I would decorate the front porch, hang skeletons from trees, get one of those motion-sensor ghouls, and buy only the most popular candy.  I would try not to be one of those people who in the spirit of proper nutrition hand out boxes of raisins and pencils.  I saw an ad recently for tiny containers of Play-Doh just the right size for Halloween bags.  Would a child really enjoy getting this instead of candy?

The truth is this year I am not going to work in a school wearing a witch’s hat since I have retired.  I won’t put on the hat for the neighborhood children since each year we have fewer trick-or-treaters as they go off to the malls or firehouses where the treats are abundant and temperatures are warm.  I do miss the days when we dressed up our children, often in costumes I made myself, and went to see the parade of kids at school as they walked around the hallways or streets near the school.

If there such a thing as a Scrooge of Halloween, I would be an excellent candidate.  This year as always my husband will carve a pumpkin.  He will hand out treats.  I will hide out in the bedroom with the dog.  And for weeks afterward we will eat chocolate candy we do not need until the Christmas candy appears and the healthy diet continues on its downward spiral.

Today as I look out at the falling autumn leaves and feel the coolness of the morning air, I realize that I do truly love October.  I do love the idea of pumpkins on front porches and ghouls and goblins everywhere.  I love that children love Halloween even if I don’t.  And I will try to enjoy these weeks before Christmas when the real Scrooge appears in our lives.