One Spooky Halloween

This is the time of year that every red-blooded kid looks forward to.  They dress up in dad’s suit or an old sheet, grab a bucket, and come home with tons of sweets to rot their teeth.  It’s awesome. Or so it used to be.

Not everyone wants to participate in Halloween doings or allow their kids to participate.  It is, after all, a bit of a pagan holiday.  Beginning with the Celtics, who built fires and dressed up in ghoulish outfits on Samhain (sow-in) to confuse the spirits of the dead, we Americans have transformed All Hallows Eve into a secular holiday for handing out sweets to appease the little ones dressed as ghouls, witches, and (these days) princesses and cartoon characters. Some even dress up as presidential candidates. But the holiday’s pagan origins and religious beliefs that it encourages demonic association are definitely at odds.  Not everyone celebrates.  Some avoid.

But back in the good old days, as my Bean calls her youth, not even the most religious among them objected to a bit of Halloween fun.  Every child would be out as soon as it was dark, dressed up in some homemade costume and hoping that this was their year they could go out without a parent to supervise.  This was allowed as long as they agreed to stay in a group.  Exercising this privilege of going out unsupervised on one cold and damp Wisconsin Halloween night, and after fully exhausting the candy possibilities from their 2.5 street neighborhood, with bags and buckets already filled with homemade caramel apples, cookies, and other wonderful treats, the older ones’ minds turned to additional possibilities.  The main street into their very suburban (country) neighborhood, off of which the other two streets ran perpendicular, had homes on only one side of the gravel road.  Except for one.

During the summers, the older ones often played back in the woods.  They had seen the old run-down house and knew someone lived there: someone without children, someone old. Now on this dark cold night with no parents along, they contemplated whether to approach the home.  Did a witch live there?  Was it someone who ate young children? There was some discussion about porch lights being off or on (the signal that they were welcome) and the overgrown unpaved narrow drive through the woods to actually reach the house was very dark.  There were five of them, two of them boys.  They had flashlights which they chose not to use, but they agreed to stick together.

They made their way down the drive carefully, trying not to trip on their costumes or each other, in silence.  It was either a sneak attack or they were too frightened to make noise.  Finally, they reached the front door.  At the door, a whispered argument took place regarding who would actually ring.  And then the deed was done.  They waited.  Just as they were about to give up and turn away, an old man opened the door, his cat beside him, and the automatic chorus sang out:  Trick or Treat!!

To say he was stunned was probably an understatement.  Bean says she now believes that nobody had ever gone to his home on Halloween.  He looked them over, these brave few at his door, and told them that he had no candy … but he instructed them to wait.  They waited.  It took forever.  At last he returned, and into each of their outstretched bags and buckets he deposited a nickel. A whole nickel.  Back then, 5 cents was a huge sum of money, enough for a full-sized candy bar of their choosing.

Each little goblin thanked the man, and they ran off, back toward the lights and warmth of homes where parents waited for their return. Bean recalls telling her mother about where she got the nickel, which was met with a frown of disapproval, head shaking, and “You went there?”

These days, parents take their children to purchase expensive costumes from store fronts set up to deprive parents of their paychecks, and then on the now legislated night at designated hours, drive them into the more affluent neighborhoods, starting in the late afternoon while it’s still daylight.  As twilight comes, cars with headlights dimmed to low (but still on to light the way) and parents line the streets, someone accompanying every group of children.  Doors open, candy – carefully wrapped – is tossed into outstretched bags, and the door closes again, sometimes without a please or a thank you or admiration of the costume it cost mom or dad a fortune to buy.  Everyone grumbles about the price of candy, tooth decay, and kids who don’t even live on the block.  Parents admonish their offspring, “Don’t you dare eat a thing until I say so” and, as soon as the candy collection is finished, drive them straight to the nearest hospital or clinic to have the sweets x-rayed for pins and razor blades.  Anything with suspicious wrapping or potentially homemade is tossed out. Beware the poisoned apple.

The holiday has changed.  It’s simply become a costly routine that everyone detests, except the kids and probably the dentist.  When you have to x-ray the candy and have parents with every group, no matter how old, the fun is gone.  People hold community parties, trick or treat at the mall, and bob for apples in the church basement.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Many will do almost anything to keep their kids safely at home on Halloween.  Your neighborhood kids are probably all off attending those parties or at home eating the candy from their trip to the mall, while the ones at your front door are imports from the next neighborhood over. The magic of Halloween is gone.

Ah, to sneak down a wooded drive with friends and ring the bell on a cold, dark night.


Changing Seasons

Here in central Virginia, we have been somewhat seasonally challenged this year.  Although the Autumnal Equinox occurred on September 22, here we are a month later with Autumn finally in sight.

We’ve had a lovely month with warm – even some hot – sunny days (except for that hurricane business), and temps in the 80’s, all this week.  You hear people say, it’s so hot for mid October, it’s really hot today, wow it’s hot… and then today, we top out in the mid 70’s, on our way down at last.  Tomorrow, we drop like a stone to a more seasonal temperature at last.  Yes, we can be slow to shift seasons and to give up what we have become accustomed to, but when we do, watch out.

I believe the change-over is problematic no matter what the upcoming season.  It’s like what happens after new year’s when we have to write a new year for our check date but automatically write the old one … usually more than once.  We are creatures of habit, clinging to our old ways, dates, and seasons.  The abrupt shifts are noticeable.  One day it was 2015 and then the next day it was suddenly 2016.  Today, we have sun and the vestiges of summer, and tomorrow: WHAM.  It’s autumn.

You can see and smell the shifts at times of the year.  When we move from winter to spring, the dampness in the ground from snow that melted seems to activate something in the soil – probably the final decomposing of the autumnal leaf blanket – that smells to me like growth, as if all the little bulbs and spring flowers are eagerly waiting to push up through the soil and remind us that the dark part of the year is ending. To me, the first days of spring are the scent of hope.   The trouble with spring is that it rarely lasts, and then BAM!!!  It’s hotter than the tropics:  welcome to Virginia!

The shift to autumn is far more gradual but, unless it was an extremely dry summer, is extraordinarily beautiful with the changing colors of the leaves.  The slowed down pace of autumn’s change allows us time to appreciate and enjoy it.  Not every leaf shifts at the same time, which is what paints the amazing portrait of autumn colors before the actual fall…when the leaves all lie on the ground, providing a visual and real blanket for the ground, to insulate the plants and trees for winter.

One of my favorite scents of change occurs when winter arrives.  You know it when you walk out the door.  You can smell “crisp” in the frosty air and the smell of burning fires in fireplaces to ward off the morning chill.  Those mornings evoke thoughts of Christmas is coming, snow and sleds, scarves and mittens, holidays from school, kids playing, presents, lights, and happy people.  My mind fills with ideas and plans to decorate the house and tree, put lights on the house to celebrate, and make all manner of fattening cookies and holiday treats.  Those first days of winter conjure all that in my mind and stay there….right up through the first miserable ice, snow, and bitter, blustery cold.  And then the pleasure is totally gone, and I can’t wait for spring.

So no, I don’t want winter just yet, despite my love of those first few days of winter.  Nor do I want winter to be the season that hangs on forever.  Right now, I’m content to watch the leaves turn colors, twist in the wind, and fall to the ground.  The seasons will all come eventually.  One may be cut short or extended, but eventually we have them all.

FORECAST: Rain later today, upper 40’s overnight; 62 for tomorrow’s high.  Enjoy the new season.

We are approaching…Hitty Club

The Central Virginia Hitty Club typically occurs every three months, February, May, August, and November.  Oops – not this time.  External issues forced a skip of August, and the members just couldn’t get the calendar to work this year in November, although they tried hard! But finally, they settled on a date, and Hitty Club is here at the big house on the 17th.

My Human Bean fixes lunch for everyone, and they take turns leading activities.  It’s a social group, all of whom are United Federation of Doll Club (UFDC) members, and they focus primarily on Hitty, since that’s what the club is about; but that won’t stop them from discussing their latest acquisitions and dolls in general.  Smidge and I can usually sneak in and listen.

They are ending the 4th year of Hitty Club.  That’s a long time for a random club that started with just a couple of people.  Sure, they have come and gone over the years, but there is a core group of 7, all of whom will be in attendance this meeting, and that’s pretty awesome.

So while I’m here talking about Hitty Club, you need to know who Hitty is.  She’s a small, 6+ inch hand-carved wooden doll, jointed at shoulders and hips.  She was discovered in an antique shop in NY City by author Rachel Field and her friend, illustrator Dorothy Lathrop in the 1920’s.  They had spied her separately and both thought the price too much for them.  But one day, Field got the idea that they could spilt the cost, share the doll, and write a book about her.  And they did.  The book was Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, published in 1929.  It is written as a memoir by the doll, whose adventures are lively enough for even the most boyish boy and endearing enough for the primmest little girl.  It’s historical in nature, going through the hundred supposed years since her carving. My Human Bean read it to her daughter’s 3rd grade class back in 1985, a chapter every week.  The boys hung on the story every bit as much as the girls.  The book won the Newbery Award for Children’s literature in 1930, the first Newbery ever awarded to a woman.

Rachel Field traveled all over the U.S. with Hitty and her things (yes, of course she had things) promoting the book and allowing many people to see Hitty.  And the two women did indeed share Hitty, who lived half the year with Rachel and half the year with Dorothy. Rachel Field died in 1942 and Dorothy Lathrop in 1980.  It was Lathrop’s estate who bequeathed Hitty to the location where she resides today.  Hitty – the doll – no longer travels, but lives quietly in the Museum wing of the Stockbridge Massachusetts Library in a special glass case made just for her where she receives visitors. My Human Bean has visited her and wept at the sight of this marvelous little doll whose adventures have spawned hundreds of thousands of admirers around the world.

In addition to admirers, Hitty has promoted wood carving as a hobby.  Many women have taken up wood carving, just to try to re-create Hitty for themselves.  Some people manufactured the dolls, but the truly charming ones are those that are handmade, just as the original one was.  There are online groups devoted to Hitty.  People have made businesses out of sewing for Hitty.  People collect Hitty, have retreats related to Hitty, and continue to adore her well into the hundred years since her memoir of the first hundred was published. The picture for this column is of some Hittys made by my very own Human Bean.  We love the Hittys and recommend Ancestor Hitty’s memoir as good reading.

Ah, tis a dolly’s dream to be so well loved by so many.


“Praktiss” Camping

That is cousin Smidge’s word (Praktiss) and her spelling of the word most would spell “practice.”  With Hurricane  Matthew headed our way, a scramble to prepare, then having him divert and be a no-show (we aren’t complaining), it was a bit of an odd week.  So he’s diverting but still providing us with a bit of rain, and Smidge’s weeks of hoping and dreaming that we could all camp became a sort of a wash out.  So she came up with the idea of practice camping in the Sunroom.

Smidge is a very small dollie with very big ideas.  In her mind, Happy’s two bins full of camp gear from a week-long Hitty camp (not the sort that moves around, but like a resident camp that stays put) were entirely suitable for us.  That was until she got Happy to assemble and pitch the first giant pink tent. Yup, that’s Smidge in the giant tent.  LOL.


So then we had a huge row over who had to sleep in the pink camo tent.  It’s smallish, so it was Smidge’s idea that it was camouflage, so I should sleep in it since I was “the” male camper.  I of course argued that it was (for crying out loud) PINK camo.  There was clearly no room to pitch a second big pink tent for Smidge and her sisters that would lend itself to me getting the khaki mess hall, used for Hitty registrations to camp, for myself.  Happy had installed a nice floor and a tarp, so it was suitable for sleeping, as long as the rain didn’t decide to come down sideways.  I thought it was a much more manly tent, more my speed.  Smidge argued (of course) that there was not enough room in the pink camo for the three of them.  They would sleep in the mess hall and I had to sleep in the pink camo which slept only one.  Sadly, her argument was logical and sound, not her usual, but this once…   Very depressing to sleep in a pink camo tent.  My saving grace is that Happy made me a new sleeping bag in black lined in green checks with lady bugs all over it.  Much better than the pink dotted one Smidge wanted me to have.


So the camp is nearly set up.  We have many dollies joining us tomorrow, and I’m sure everyone will have fun at Practice Camp, which will at least be dry camping.

It may only be practice, but practice makes perfect…and it will still be loads of fun!