Something Wicked

I love the celebration of Halloween: the decorations, the pumpkin-carving, the bonfires, the masks and costumes, the trick-or-treating and the ghost stories. If you visit Full Moon Cottage any time after Labor Day, you know it’s the home of someone almost crazed about Halloween. Luckily, my good-natured husband encourages, or at least welcomes this. Cats, pumpkins, witches and ghosts…they’re everywhere!

To understand, you need to know about the Halloween of 1963…

In those days, trick-or-treating was an after-dark celebration, walking door-to-door in the neighborhood, accompanied by friends and siblings and, usually, a parent who stood (thankfully) in the shadows, enjoying the spectacle, keeping an eye on us, chatting with friends, and making sure we said, “Thank you.” (The other parent was stationed at home to hand out candy to other eager trick-or-treaters.)

For weeks, high energy fueled the anticipatory excitement of fantasizing about our costumes, planning the trick-or-treat route, speculating about others’ costumes, choosing and addressing cards, and looking forward to the classroom parties. It all culminated on the glorious day of Halloween (not the weekend before or after, but on the very day, October 31st), a day of celebration at school followed by a night of donning our amazing (usually homemade) costumes and going “trick-or-treating,” slowly navigating our way around a few blocks of homes whose windows and porches glowed with lit pumpkins and whose yards featured cornstalks, fabricated ghosts, and goblins. It seemed all the world (circumscribed by those few blocks) agreed that life was enchanted, if only for one day and night every year.

We carried decorated bags handed out at area groceries, bumped into other costumed kids, enjoyed the neighborhood decorations and laughed at the adults who also wore costumes and “scared” us when we came to their doors… Everything about the evening was magical.

When we arrived back home, we dumped our treats on the floor and swapped candy, more cagily than Wall Street traders.

“I’ll give you two Butterfingers for six caramels…”

“No. Two Butterfingers and one Chunky…”

“…For six caramels and a Bun Bar!”

“How about six caramels and a popcorn ball?”

“Is it one of Mrs. Heidke’s popcorn balls?”

“Yes.”

“Deal!”

We were only allowed to have one treat a night thereafter, and tried to be the one whose candy lasted the longest, at least through the second week of Advent.

After trick-or-treating, the neighborhood public school invited everyone into the gym to watch cartoons and a Walt Disney movie, a rare treat in those days. The Halloween celebration was probably all over by 8:30 or 9:00 P.M., but it seemed to last forever. We drifted off to sleep on stardust.

But in 1963, that fateful year when I was eight, a tonsillectomy left me bedridden and unable to participate in all the fun.

The surgery itself was very like a horror movie, so there were Halloween-like elements to the experience. The Dayton Children’s Hospital was at that time an old converted mansion, and I clearly remember my parents exchanging looks that questioned the sanity behind this decision as we crossed the threshold very early on the morning of Friday, October 25th. They quickly rearranged their faces and smiled at me, telling me “what an adventure” this would be, but I was not mollified by their reassurances after glimpsing their initial expressions. Parental energy was never hard to read, and they were anxious and worried.

Within an hour, I was given a mini-hospital gown, even uglier than those offered now, and a shot of something that made me dopey. (Dopier, my brothers would have said.) I remember the smell of ether and some of the hallucination that followed. (It started with the twirling pinwheel from the beginning of every Twilight Zone episode.)

When I came out of the anesthetic, I was assaulted by more pain than I’d ever felt. Apparently, the surgical tool of choice for tonsillectomies in those days was a hacksaw. I also remember the drive home later that day, my mother and I sitting in the back seat so she could hold both me and a coffee can, in case the ether made me ill. I’m pretty sure it did. (I’ve often wondered: did the hospital staff suggest a coffee can? Did they supply it, from a stockroom full of empty coffee cans, hacksaws and ether?)

For the next few days, all was darkness.

Oh, there were bright spots. My grandparents sent me a huge box of books, toys, and candy. My best friend brought me not just my homework, but a present every day for the two weeks I was healing, and an extra-magnificent bag of candy on Halloween. My classmates sent me treats and cards, and my family tended me well…I made a bigger caloric haul than if I’d actually gone out trick-or-treating, and opened more gifts than if it were my birthday, but it didn’t assuage my disappointment in missing out on the fun. And I couldn’t eat the candy, anyway, till my throat healed.

I’d lost Halloween and nothing could replace it.

All that love held me, shone around me, showered upon me, but the disappointment of a child can overshadow everything around her.

My throat eventually healed, and I still had a few great Halloweens to enjoy, but missing my eighth was always recalled as something wicked that came my way.

Many years later, after many lovely blessings and a few and more deeply wicked twists visited my life, I met Phillip. And the fairy-tale I always knew would happen, did.

Once we were settled at Full Moon Cottage, we began shaping our own traditions and I started collecting decorations for the holidays that mark the seasons of the turning year. Frequently, when decorating and celebrating, my inner eight-year old comes out to play, and never more ecstatically than during the Halloween season. Every year, she regains the magic of the Halloween she lost, while the inner wise woman I hope I’m becoming stands back and recalls, in gratitude, all the love that surrounded that eight-year-old and her healing back in 1963.

This year, maybe we should swap candy and watch a Walt Disney movie. In costumes, of course. Good thing I found Mrs. Heidke’s popcorn ball recipe!

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18 thoughts on “Something Wicked

  1. Thank you for the description of Halloween, I’ve heard about this holiday, but never really understood how it was celebrated. Sorry to hear about your suffering back when you were a child, and am gratified that your experience did not influence you negatively, on your way to becoming an inspiration for your friends.

    • Thank you, Shimon. The traditions of Halloween go far back to my Celtic ancestors’ recognition of the end of “summer” (Samhain) and harvest and the midpoint between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. They believes the world becomes a “thin place” at this time of year and that the spirits of the recent and beloved dead (welcome) can travel back to visit…as can the spirits of other beings and the unwelcome…one understanding of bonfires and “guises” was that these protected one from evil spirits’ ability to find one and inflict harm…but the ceremonies involved other rituals of cleansing, purifying, and blessing as well…it’s evolved into the Halloween I described, but even that was long ago, by today’s standards.

      The psychological symbolism underlying these practices (and the ways they’ve evolved) seems to demonstrate a laudable reaching for balance and health, incorporating, as Halloween does, the acceptance of mystery, the open dance with one’s shadow, the permission for one’s inner trickster to come out and play, and the confrontation with one’s fears and fantasies, so carefully hidden at other times.

      For me, it’s sweet, funny, adventurous, rewarding and healing, all at once.

  2. Ah yes….How well I remember getting my tonsils yanked out and I say yanked because as with you the pain was God awful afterwards. The smell of ether was so sickeningly pungent it was almost unbearable. Afterwards in my hospital bed I remember receiving a Ginny Doll but felt so ill I couldn’t even enjoy it. I was so glad to be done with that barbaric experience. Good thing we are still here, in reading about toxic chemicals a while back ether was near the top for carcinogens.Lovely! As for Halloween, I had an orange plastic pumpkin to collect candy in that I coveted. It is so interesting to see which memories pop up….Hope all is well at the cottage. Have a wonderful Halloween and thanks for sharing…Blessings K……VK

    • Oh, I remember those plastic pumpkin containers! It’s interesting how we can both remember the smell of ether..as you say, glad we healed well and found our voices once again! 🙂 Joy to your Halloween!

  3. What a fascinating read, captivated I was!
    How sad that you missed out but …gosh, how terrifying an experience for a small child. The talk of hacksaws chilled me, all very primative back then.

    I do love the title “Moon cottage”….hints at wonderment!

    Lovely post, I really enjoyed it.xxxxx

  4. To be honest, Snowbird, it only “felt” like a hacksaw, but you’re right: surgery techniques have vastly improved since then, thankfully. It means so much to me when people visit, read, and take time to offer comments. How wonderful that we can connect through words and the “magic” of the internet. I am so grateful for your virtual visits to Full Moon Cottage!

  5. Kitty, you brought back so many memories of childhood Halloweens! I remember my Mom sending us to the attic to bring down the costume box, a huge box of every costume she had ever sewn (everything was homemade then, even the masks). We spent hours trying everything on; if nothing fit, she would sew something new. My older brothers were in charge of me, and what fun we had!

    Halloween remains my husband’s favorite holiday – he just played on the back of a flatbed truck for a Halloween parade in the city. It was a warm night and the streets were filled with celebrants – he is still smiling about it.

    Thanks for sharing your memories, good and bad. I also remembering getting chicken pox the first day of summer vacation when I was eight – those kinds of childhood events are what you never forget!

  6. Oh, Lynn; what wonderful memories. Your mother sounds as creative and sensible as mine…and hooray for brothers! Glad to hear your husband was able to enjoy Halloween and share his wonderful gifts with young and old.

    Chicken pox: nasty but what great stories we gain surviving childhood 🙂

    Thank you for your visits and thoughtful, life-filled comments; you are gift!

  7. This is the best Halloween story I have ever read and now I understand the wonderment and magical enchantment behind this yearly tradition! How very lovely that you are having your own traditions celebrated at Full Moon cottage today. How very wonderful to relive the best of your childhood happiness today as a woman! The only thing close to Halloween that I can relate to and brought me equal delight as a child was the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival or the Mooncake Festival (hey moon again!!) 😀 This is an ancient tradition practised 3,000 years ago which paid respects to the moon. Little children on this night are given lighted colourful lanterns and we walked around the neighbourhood delighted to be up later than usual and the wonderful mysterious feeling of walking under the moonlight with just our little flickering lanterns lighting the way. Then we all go and celebrate the occasion with eating a sweet treat called mooncakes stuffed with delicious sticky filling while the adults sip tea. Have you tried a mooncake before Catherine? All my love. Now I will think of Halloween in a totally new way because of you. Sharon

  8. As always, Sharon, you grace my life with your stories and broaden my wonder! I would LOVE to try a mooncake. Maybe I can find a recipe online. It sounds like an enchanting festival: how magical for children to be out walking with their lanterns to celebrate the moon! Thank you so much for the images and background regarding the Mooncake Festival; they made my day.

    I’ll be baking a treat for Phillip to share his fellow teachers on Halloween…we’re all kids at heart 🙂

    Peace to your week,
    Kitty

  9. I liked this account of the thinness of the world at times such as Hallowe’en,I had ny tonsils out when I was three and cannot recall much except being in a ward with adult women and crying because they had little tables on wheels to eat from and I did not!I didn’t recall the pain of it or being shocked whereas later on in my life I felt the grief of being in hospital very strongly…
    Your blog is amazing,,, the photos are wonderful.

    • You are so very, very kind, Katherine. It hurts to hear how traumatic your tonsillectomy was for you…but how profound it can be to our healing to name these experiences and trace their influence and make peace with them…Thank you for your visit and the time you have taken to comment and share my blog. Gentle peace to you, Katherine.

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