For Halloween: The Great Pumpkin

great pumpkin

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was one of the first televised Peanuts specials, and one of the best. Here are a few selected scenes dealing with Linus’s misguided belief in the Great Pumpkin (who will only rise from the most sincere pumpkin patch in the world), and Sally’s reaction when she realized that she’s wasted her whole Halloween evening.


For Halloween: the Monster Mash, by Boris Pickett and the Cryptkicker Five


This isn’t the original, but it’ll do.


Happy Halloween!


And whatever did happen to the Transylvania Twist?



Halloween candy


 I don’t know about you, but my memories of childhood are not wonderful.



Take Halloween, for example.  As I recall, I loved the idea of it: pumpkins, dressing up, getting free candy.  When it came down to it, however, dressing up was a little embarrassing, not to mention uncomfortable (those 1960s-era plastic Fred Flintstone masks really didn’t allow you to breath very well).  Also, going to strangers’ houses to ask for candy – in the dark, yet! – was sort of scary.



So I was pleased to hear this story from a coworker:



Her little boy, three years old, went out with his father to go trick-or-treating. They were gone for a suspiciously brief time; it turned out later that they’d gone to a total of five houses.  But the little boy was deliriously happy.  “I got so much candy!” he crowed. 



And he dumped out his plastic bucket –



And he’d gotten maybe ten or twelve small pieces of candy.



But, to him, it was a windfall.



My friend is apparently very strict about her son’s candy consumption, so he was very circumspect about eating anything from his bucket.  “Can I have one piece now?” he asked.



“Sure,” she said.  “But just one.”



He pulled out a fun-sized Kit Kat, unwrapped it, ate it, and went into a kind of satori.  “Mamma,” he said, “what was that thing I just ate?”



“It’s called a Kit Kat,” she said.



“It is,” he said dreamily, “the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten.  Can I have another one?”



“One’s enough for now,” she said.  “Maybe if you’re good tomorrow, you can have another.”



“Okay,” he said.  He took another Kit Kat out of his Halloween bucket and laid it on the table.  “I’m going to put this right here,” he said.  “And it’ll be right here waiting for me tomorrow.”



That’s the nicest story I’ve heard in a long time.



And now I am going to have a Kit Kat.



But just one.



All Souls’ Day offering: Dia de los muertos


I used to do traditional American for Halloween: pumpkins, scarecrows, etc.



Then, some years ago, a very sophisticated friend gave me a set of Dia de los Muertos figurines: skeleton nuns playing musical instruments.  I didn’t take good care of them, and they lost limbs along the way; I don’t think any of them are whole anymore.



And then I found out that, if they were perfect, they would be very valuable.






Anyway, broken limbs and all, I started using them in a Day of the Dead display (see above photo).  I supplement it with all kinds of things: photos of my dead relatives and friends,  a business card from one of my dead bosses, the funeral notice from a friend who died last year, lots of little things that belonged to my parents while they were alive . . .



I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now.  Every year there are more people to commemorate. 



Every night, through most of October and right up to November 2, I try to light my candle every night, and actually muster up a thought or two for the people who have gone ahead of me on the road.



It makes the prospect seem less lonely, somehow.



Happy Day of the Dead.



Halloween offering: “Colloque sentimental,” by Paul Verlaine


Today, a poem.  Those of you who are purely Anglophone can skip to the translation below, by A. S. Kline.  It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than anything I could manage on the spur of the moment, and it rhymes, and it will give you an idea of the very lovely and sad and Halloweeny original. 



(One thing in the last couplet: “avoines folles” are “wild oats,” which I am sure you know by sight at least, and which I have given you in the above image.  They are a far more atmospheric background for our two ghosts than “wild herbs,” but Kline used “herbs” to rhyme with “words,” and I understand and sympathize and am glad I can read French, and that’s why translation is a crazy bitch.)




Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux formes ont tout à l’heure passé.

Leurs yeux sont morts et leurs lèvres sont molles,
Et l’on entend à peine leurs paroles.

Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé.

–Te souvient-il de notre extase ancienne ?
–Pourquoi voulez-vous donc qu’il m’en souvienne ?

–Ton coeur bat-il toujours à mon seul nom ?
Toujours vois tu mon âme en rêve? –Non.

–Ah! les beaux jours de bonheur indicible
Où nous joignions nos bouches! –C’est possible.

Qu’il était bleu, le ciel, et grand l’espoir !
–L’espoir a fui, vaincu, vers le ciel noir.

Tels ils marchaient dans les avoines folles,
Et la nuit seule entendit leurs paroles.



In the lonely old park’s frozen glass

Two dark shadows lately passed.


Their lips were slack, eyes were blurred,

The words they spoke scarcely heard.


In the lonely old park’s frozen glass

Two spectral forms invoked the past.


‘Do you recall our former ecstasies?’

‘Why would you have me rake up memories?’


‘Does your heart still beat at my name alone?’

‘Is it always my soul you see in dream?’ – ‘Ah, no’.


‘Oh the lovely days of unspeakable mystery,

When our mouths met!’ – ‘Ah yes, maybe.’


‘How blue it was, the sky, how high our hopes!’

‘Hope fled, conquered, along the dark slopes.’


So they walked there, among the wild herbs,

And the night alone listened to their words.



Gimme candy!



R. L. Stine, the Goosebumps man, had a piece in the Times the other day about reclaiming Halloween for kids. I respect his point of view – he should know all about Halloween, it’s his thing – but I don’t think kids are suffering quite as much as he supposes. Judging from the children’s trick-or-treat party we had in my office last Thursday, the essential item is still in place: Free Candy.


I saw the following costumes among the kids:


  • Two Wonder Women;

  • One Darkwing Duck (what bargain bin did that costume come out of?);

  • Lots of Disney princesses;

  • Two Jedi knights;

  • One very pretty Minnie Mouse, with shoes to die for;

  • Two Harry Potters, in quidditch outfits no less;

  • One Thomas the Tank Engine (I thought he was a cell phone from the back, but then he turned around and I saw the choo-choo face in front).


Most of the kids looked vaguely uncomfortable in their costumes. That, too, has not changed. I remember liking the idea of dressing up as a play activity, but the actual costumes (I had a dandy Fred Flintstone outfit, back when I was tiny and adorable) were usually hot and stuffy, and I always felt a little ridiculous being marched around in public like a goon. The trick-or-treat routine feels like one of those arbitrary rituals that has to be endured, like visiting Grandma or going to Sunday school. So long as there’s a Snickers bar at the end of the transaction, however, everything is okay.


Stine’s other point was that adults have taken over the kids’ role at Halloween – parties, decorations, dressing up. Maybe. Nothing new, if so. Adults have always relished the opportunity to make big fools of themselves: Bacchanalia, Saturnalia, Carnaval, Mardi Gras, Purim, the Feast of Fools. (If you want something closer to our own day, the stories of John Cheever are full of mid-Twentieth Century examples of adults being goofy in public.) Besides, there’s something cathartic about dressing up when you’re an adult. Sometimes it’s a way of expressing secret desires (sexy nurses, gladiators, animal outfits, executioners); other times it’s just a way of blowing a big fat raspberry at the constraints of adulthood.


Adult costumes I saw this year:


  • Several witches, some sexy, some Gothic/elaborate;

  • One 1920s dandy with bow tie, raccoon coat, straw hat, and ukulele;

  • One guy with a derby who was either Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, or Alex from “A Clockwork Orange”;

  • One wildly colorful jester;

  • One guy in a red-and-white striped outfit and matching cap, who I think was Waldo from “Where’s Waldo?”;

  • A girl coming out of Stop & Shop who may have been Bella Swan from “Twilight,” or maybe she just looks that way anyway;

  • One Roman emperor with a gilded laurel wreath, wearing white athletic socks and white tennis shoes.


As for myself, I wore a necklace of skulls to the office party. It’s nice and simple, and besides, it’s not every day I can wear religious paraphernalia to work.


As a special treat, I dug up the above photo from my archives to show you. It was taken on Halloween 1978, my first year in Providence. I was Father Christmas; my friend Joanne, a fellow grad student, was Boethius’s Lady Philosophy. Joanne lives in Connecticut now, has a lovely husband and two lovely daughters, and is still loaded with pep. I am still in Providence, partnered, of course, and am still the lovely giving person I’ve always been.


Have a happy and holy Day of All Saints, y’all. It’s a holy day of obligation for all you Catholics, but I checked, and if you went to Mass yesterday, you don’t have to go today. In any case, if you do, pray for the rest of us, who just want a little candy and a few laughs once in a while.





Sunday blog: Stevie Smith’s cats

It suddenly struck me that today is Halloween, and it might be nice to do something seasonal.  So, instead of the lovely mini-anthology of Snooki quotations I’d planned, here’s one of my favorite Stevie Smith poems.  

Stevie loved reading her poetry aloud; she would sing it and act it out.  It would have been great fun to see her recite this one.


I like to toss him up and down

A heavy cat weighs half a Crown

With a hey do diddle my cat Brown.

I like to pinch him on the sly

When nobody is passing by

With a hey do diddle my cat Fry.

I like to ruffle up his pride

And watch him skip and turn aside

With a hey do diddle my cat Hyde.

Hey Brown and Fry and Hyde my cats

That sit on tombstones for your mats.


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