Halloween Memories

Lea and I halloweenThere’s something about Halloween that almost makes me wish I was a kid again.  I remember when I was very young, and Halloween meant a trip to the local Woolworth’s to pick out my costume, back in the days when they came in a cardboard box with a clear cellophane top so you could see what you were getting.  Later, I’d help carve the family pumpkin, and then we’d head out to trick our treat in the neighborhood.  The best part was after trick or treating, when I’d come home and sort through my haul, eating as much candy as I could before my mom noticed what I was up to.

When I got a bit older, my friends and I would piece together our own costumes from whatever we could find around the house.  None of us had fancy costumes, either store bought or hand made, but we didn’t care.  My favorite was when I put a black cape over a white sheet, and went trick or treating as Dracula’s ghost.  By then the chief attraction of the holiday wasn’t so much the candy as it was a fun night out with my friends, telling jokes and trying to scare each other as we walked down the dark streets toward the next house.

Later, when I had my own kids, I could revive a little bit of that Halloween excitement through them.  I helped pick out or make their costumes (I wasn’t very good at sewing, but they didn’t seem to notice), enjoyed watching them in the school Halloween parade, helped with the class parties and took them trick or treating.  But eventually my kids got old enough to trick or treat without me, and then stopped going altogether.

Martha and Daniel HalloweenNow I am middle aged, and I think I have just outgrown Halloween.  I still put real pumpkins on my porch and set out a couple of ceramic pumpkins in my living room, but I can’t be bothered to string orange lights, stretch fake spider webs across my bushes or place crime scene tape across the steps.  And I certainly don’t want to turn my front yard into a fake cemetery or put zombie figures on my lawn.  I don’t believe that Halloween decorations should ever be graphic enough to scare small children, the way the the barbecue pit with a bloody Santa Claus head on it I once saw on someone’s porch most certainly would.

I know there are lots of adults who still enjoy Halloween, and love the elaborate decorations and the Halloween parties that require costumes, and that’s fine.  I’m just not one of them. My husband and I did go to several costume parties when we were newly married, and I thought they were fun, although my husband didn’t like dressing up.  (One year he went as an Accountant, which he is, so that meant he didn’t have to wear a costume.  And that was the only year he didn’t whine about having to go to a Halloween party.) But it’s been many years since I’ve dressed up on Halloween, and I honestly don’t miss it.

These days my Halloween celebration consists of carving a jack-o-lantern, maybe making a few pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies and handing out candy to the kids who ring our doorbell on Halloween night.  It’s true I don’t get the same feelings of anticipation and excitement that Halloween used to bring, but that’s okay.  I  believe that Halloween is for the young, and I’m no longer young.   And I know I’m lucky to have a lot of great memories from when I was.

A Prince Of A Horse

Prince in St. JamesPrince is not a name I would ever have chosen for my horse.  Having grown up watching “Fury” and reading books like “Midnight” and “Black Beauty,” I had always dreamed of having a horse that was spirited and beautiful, and I wanted it to be named accordingly.  But Prince was eight years old when I got him and already knew his name, so I had no choice but to let him keep it.

He was handsome, with a copper-colored coat, a black mane and tail, and a white stripe down the middle of his face.  He was a calm, easy-going horse rather than a spirited one, and since I was fourteen and inexperienced when I got him, that was a good thing.  My first horse, Gypsy, had been very spirited, and after she had bitten, kicked, and bucked me off, I was more than ready to appreciate a horse who actually seemed to like people.

Honestly, Prince liked people more than any horse I have ever known.  I got him a couple years after my family had moved to a small town in Kansas, and kept him at a small stable where he had access to a large pasture.  Everyone else at the stable had to spend some time catching their horses when they wanted to ride them.  I simply called Prince and he came trotting right over, eager to see if I had some food for him, which I always did.  He was easy to ride as long as I made it clear that he wasn’t allowed to stop and graze along the way.  Even when I wasn’t feeding or riding him, Prince always stayed near me when I was at at stable, occasionally  resting his head on my shoulder or nudging me hopefully to see if I would give him a treat.

His only real vice was that he was a pig about food, and the only way he would ever hurt anyone is if they made the mistake of standing between him and something he wanted to eat.  Prince believed that the shortest distance between him and his next meal was a straight line, and if someone was standing in his way, he would not hesitate to plow right into them.  But other than that, he was so calm and friendly that just about anybody could ride him, and I had more than one friend get over their fear of horses just by being around him.

Prince in MarionI admit I spoiled him a little, at least by the standards of some people.  He loved apples, but would only eat one if I “started” it for him.  That meant I had to bite a chunk of it off first, give him the chunk, then hold the apple while he took a bite himself, and then finally he would take what was left of the apple and eat that.  He also expected me to swat away the giant horse flies that sometimes landed on him and bit him when we were riding, even if that meant dismounting to swat one off of his leg.  I would be lying if I said the more experienced horsemen I sometimes rode with were impressed with the way I handled my horse.

Prince came into my life when I was fourteen and he was eight, and he stayed a part of it for seventeen years.  When my family moved to southern Illinois, we took him with us, even though I was heading off to college in  Iowa.  When I married and moved to St. Louis, I moved Prince to a nearby farm in Missouri.  By that time it was sometimes hard to pay all the expenses that come with owning a horse, but I never once considered selling him.

We had been through so much together.  When my teenage years got a bit painful or confusing, I could always find peace by going to the stable and spending time with Prince.  Riding him on my breaks home from college was always something to look forward to, and later, when I moved back to the large city of St. Louis, I treasured my weekend rides on Prince out in the country.  He was a constant in my life during a time when almost everything else was changing so quickly.

I had to say goodbye to Prince when he as twenty five years old and his arthritis made it impossible for him to move around freely anymore.  I knew it was time to let him go when just walking across his stall caused him real pain.  It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, and I still miss him, all these years later.  And even though I didn’t realize it when I first got him, his name fit him perfectly.  He really was a prince of a horse.

Dropping Shopping

I’ll be the first to admit that my tastes have changed as I’ve aged.  I no longer think that green shag carpeting is the coolest floor covering ever, the way I did back in the early seventies.  As a child, I craved candy and would only eat green beans if they were covered in ketchup, but I’m happy to say my taste in food has improved a lot since then.  And as the photo of the outfit I wore to my high school prom shows, my taste in clothing and hairstyles has also, thankfully, improved.

Prom dressStill, last weekend when I went to the local mall to do a little shopping, I was surprised to realize how very much I hated being there.  I used to love going to the mall, and have fond memories of happy Saturday afternoons spent at the mall with my teen-aged friends as we shopped for the latest fashions, stopping only for an ice cream and a soft drink when we needed an energy boost.  Even after I grew up and had my own kids, a trip to the mall was still a good time.   Shopping was a little bit of time to myself, checking out the available goods and occasionally scoring that perfect piece of clothing that fit, looked good on me, and was also on sale. When did that all change, and a trip to the mall became as much fun as going to the dentist?

I think part of the problem is my age, because most of the smaller stores in the mall are geared toward teenagers and people in their twenties and early thirties.  There are some shops that seem to target “women of a certain age,” but they also labor under the mistaken belief that all women my age want to wears lots of leopard print, fringe, and sequins. (I don’t.)

For a while, I could count on the large department stores to be places I could shop in relative comfort, but no more.  Now most of the department stores seem to be having a contest to see which store can cram the most racks filled with random assortments of clothes in their space, forcing shoppers to paw through the goods as though we were at one of K-Mart’s old “blue light specials.”  And even if I do find something that I want to try on, I have to first find an empty dressing room, remove the mound of clothes that someone else left in there, and then prop a chair against the door before stripping down to my underwear, since none of the locks ever work.

Finding something I want to buy means even more fun at the check out, where I’m asked (repeatedly) if I want to sign up for their new rewards program, which entails filling out a lengthy form or verbally giving my email address, phone number, birthday and any other information which is routinely used in identity theft in front of the thirty or so other people who are within earshot.  A friend once recommended trying the “high end” department stores for better quality merchandise and better service, but that didn’t go well.  I did find a belt that I liked, for what I thought was $35.  Then I put on my reading glasses and looked at the label a bit more closely.  It was $350.  Which is considerably more than I will ever spend on a piece of leather whose chief purpose in life is to hold my pants up, and why I no longer browse the “high end” stores.

I’m not sure why I was so surprised to realize that I no longer enjoy shopping at the mall, since my tastes have changed in so many other areas of my life.  Maybe it was because I want to support brick-and-mortar retail establishments and the people they employ, rather than just shopping online and hoping that whatever I order actually fits.  (They never say “perfect for the aging, pear-shaped body” in the description.)  But I think it’s time for me to give up my trips to the mall.  And the chances are that I probably won’t miss them any more than I do eating green beans drowned in ketchup.

The Season of Change

It may sound odd, but I’ve always found autumn to be just a little bit depressing.  I do love the crisp, cool air; the beautiful colors of the turning leaves, and the pumpkins and gourds that are used to decorate our houses and yards.  But even while I’m enjoying all the good things that autumn brings, I also feel an underlying sense of sadness and loss.  The days are getting shorter, those beautiful leaves are going to fall to the ground and leave the trees stark and bare, and I know that cool, crisp air is soon going to be replaced by cold, snow and ice.  I’m not a huge fan of winter (it should end the day after Christmas, as far as I am concerned), and so maybe the problem is that I’m just too aware that when autumn comes, winter is not far behind.

If I wanted to get really deep, I would point out that middle age is basically the early autumn of our life, but I try to keep this blog light and positive, so I won’t go there.  I will just say that I am at a period of my life when the losses are beginning to pile up, and as a blogger friend of mine so aptly put it, “there are more endings than there are beginnings.”

IMG_0878But this autumn has been an exceptionally good one for me and my family, and I can honestly say that for once, I’m not melancholy or sad.  Just last month, we celebrated the wedding of our daughter and our terrific new son-in-law, and that was a joyful, happy occasion for all of us.  Yesterday, my son proposed to his long-time girlfriend, which means that not only do we have another wedding to look forward to, but that our family is changing and growing in a very wonderful way.

Yes, being middle aged means that I am sometimes dealing with too many changes that are challenging and sad.  But other times, the changes that come to me and my family are very positive, exciting and hopeful, and knowing that both of my children have found a special person to love and share their life with is a change of the very best kind.  I know our family will never be the same, but in this case, that’s a good thing.

Last night we gathered at a local restaurant with a small group of friends and family to celebrate the engagement of my son and his new fiancé.  We were celebrating the beginning of their new life together, the joining of two families who will support them throughout their journey, and of all the possibilities that the future may bring them.  It’s a good, happy and hopeful change for us all. And for me, it’s a powerful reminder that there are still lots of good things in life to come, no matter what the season.

Happy Birthday

IMG_0823Today is my husband’s sixtieth birthday.  I can remember so clearly when I first met him in college and decided that he might be someone I would like to date, even though we seemed to have almost nothing in common.  He was a gifted athlete, and an active member of a fraternity.  He liked to spend time fishing and golfing, and had a special talent for playing pool.  I was a klutz who was completely uninterested in sports, and had lasted a mere three months in the sorority I joined my sophomore year. I played only miniature golf, was terrible at pool, and thought fishing was a bit cruel, to both the fish and the worms.  But still, something clicked, and we married shortly after I graduated.

It just doesn’t seem so long ago that we moved into our first apartment together, then later bought our first house and brought our first baby home from the hospital.  How can that baby now be a twenty-nine year old woman, and how can we possibly have lived in this, our third house, for twenty-one years?  How can my husband, the young man who searched so eagerly for his first accounting job, carefully typing out his resumes and letters on my electric typewriter, be just five years away from retirement?

Dave at typewriterWhen did we make the shift from the young, clueless couple trying to find our way in the world, to a couple that is fast approaching (if we aren’t there already) the years where we can’t even call ourselves middle aged anymore, and actually qualify for those “senior citizen discounts?”  Next year will actually be the fortieth reunion of my high school graduating class.  And I still believe someone added wrong to come up with that number, but I’m not sure who to speak to about it.

I remember when we were young (a very long time ago, apparently), people kept telling us that the years would just fly by.  And like all young people, we didn’t really believe them.  We knew we were at the beginning stages of our lives, and our attention was focused on acquiring all the stuff we thought we needed, establishing our careers, and starting our family.  But now, with my husband turning sixty, there is no denying that we have many more years behind us that we do ahead of us.  And that we are no longer young anywhere except in our own minds.

Now our focus has changed.  We are certainly not wealthy, but we have most of what we want and all of what we truly need.  We treasure our time with family and friends more, because we now understand what a gift time spent with people we love really is.  We aren’t always happy with our aging bodies, but we accept them and do our best to stay healthy.  We may not have as many years left as we would like, but we do intend to spend those years wisely.

A friend once told me that the beauty of long-term marriage is that each partner knew the other one when they were still young, so that when they look at their spouse, they still see the young person they once were.  And that, I have found, is true.  My husband may be turning sixty today, but to me, he will always be that somewhat shy, sweet, college boy I thought I might like to date…..

Gotta Have That

IMG_0815One of my family’s favorite vacation destinations is Sanibel Island, a beautiful spot on the gulf coast of Florida that is well-known for its beaches teeming with sea shells.  I still remember our first visit to the island, when my husband and I could barely believe the number of shells we saw on the beach and were literally scooping them up by the handful.  In later years, we became more particular about our “shelling,” ignoring the piles of plain white clam shells and scallops as we searched for the more colorful and harder to find alphabet cones, nutmegs, tulips, fighting conchs, etc.  Even so, we have brought home countless bags of shells as souvenirs of our beach vacations.  And we have reached the point where we absolutely do not need any more shells, no matter how pretty they are.

IMG_0813We have shells displayed all over our house, in jars, vases and even in a lamp.  We have given shells, and crafts made from shells, to almost everyone we know, and yet we still have several bagfuls of them sitting in a storage bin in our basement.  This means that for the last several vacations to Florida, we made the promise to ourselves that we absolutely will NOT collect shells this time.  We will “just look” at the shells as we walk the beach, but not actually pick them up.  That vow usually lasts for no more than the first twenty minutes after our feet hit the sand.  And although we have gotten better at returning many of the shells we find to the beach at the end of our vacation, we always, always, have a bag of shells that we wind up bringing home with us.

Why do we keep collecting shells that we don’t even want anymore?  I’m not exactly sure, but I’m beginning to suspect that it has something to do with the thrill of finding a “treasure,” not unlike finding a valuable antique at a garage sale.  Once my husband and I became more experienced shellers and learned how to find the rarer types of shells, each one we found became, I think, a small victory.  We would congratulate each other on finding a king’s crown or an oversized angel wing, and then eagerly go back to the search for an even nicer shell.  And of course the “good” shells we were finding had to be kept and admired, or so we believed as we were combing the beach in search of the next “shelling score.”  It wasn’t until later, after we were back home, that we would look at all our shells and wonder what in the world had come over us.

IMG_0803I believe that the desire to acquire things runs deeper in most of us than we want to believe, and possibly dates back from the days when humans were primarily hunters and gatherers. I may not have the stomach for hunting, but I’m realizing that I do have a rather strong gathering instinct, particularly when I’m naively convinced that what I’m searching for is both rare and valuable.  I may hate clutter, and I may not be comfortable owning lots of stuff, but I can get swept up in the “gotta have that” craze just the same as everybody else.  And if I’m ever silly enough to doubt that, all I have to do is go down in my basement and check out the bin holding all those bags of shells.  Which is stored right next to the bins holding the couple of hundred Beanie Babies we’ve had since the kids were little…..

I’d Rather Read About It

A good friend of mine once asked me why I enjoyed reading so much.  “How can you  just sit there for hours,” she wanted to know, “doing nothing but staring at a book?  I just don’t have the patience for that!”  I have to admit that I found her question so odd that I couldn’t think of an answer right away.  Especially since I know that my friend really enjoys watching movies, which the last time I checked, also involves sitting still for long periods of time.  And while I do enjoy a good movie, if I were given the choice between reading a book or watching a movie or television show, I’ll pick reading every single time.

A movie shows me things, in its own way and in its own good time, and sometimes with jerky camera movements that leave me feeling just a little bit motion sick.  A book, on the other hand, tells the story with words, and there are always plenty of details that are left to the reader’s imagination.  That means each of us are going to picture the characters, the action, and the setting just a little bit differently, so that reading a story becomes so much more personal that simply watching the action on a screen.  And I don’t know about anyone else, but I usually imagine the main character looking at least a little like people I know, and that makes them very real.  In a movie, you are stuck with what the actor actually looks like.

IMG_0696Words, if put together skillfully, can convey the subtle nuance, off-beat humor, and shared insights that make reading such a joy.  I enjoy the mysteries of Gwendoline Butler, not so much for their plots (which are good), but for her way with words.  In her book Cracking Open A Coffin, she describes the main character, John Coffin, sitting at a table listening to his companion’s troubles.  His dog, Bob, is underneath the table with his head resting heavily on Coffin’s foot, which is beginning to go numb.  She writes:  “Coffin looked his sympathy and tried again to shift Bob from his foot.  Bob sank deeper down.”  Anyone who has experience with a stubborn dog knows exactly how one can “sink deeper down” when it wants to stay put.  But that’s not something that could easily be shared on a screen.

When I’m reading a good book, I am truly seeing the world from someone else’s eyes, because everything is told through the narrator’s perspective. I know what the character is thinking, not just saying and doing.  I may be a middle-aged, middle class Protestant woman, but after reading Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway, I know what it feels like to be a young, broke,Quaker girl from England who is struggling to start a new life in Ohio in the 1850’s.  That’s a gift.  And although I don’t read poetry nearly as much as I should, a good poem can pack so much meaning into just a few simple words.  My college yearbook used these words from Chidiock Tichborne as a memorial to a student who died during the school year:  “My thread is cut, and yet it is not spun.  And now I live, and now my life is done.”  Exactly.

So yes, I know I spend a good portion of my life with my nose in a book.  But there are so many good books out there, and so many authors whose words are just waiting to be read, and so much to experience, enjoy, and learn from them.  Personally, I can think of very few better ways to spend my time.

Vacation Fun

480My husband and I are hoping to take a trip to Florida in a couple of weeks, as a way to celebrate his 60th birthday and to unwind from the whirlwind of our daughter’s recent wedding. Our plan is to spend the week doing exactly what we want to do, when we want to do it, which means we will probably spend lots of time walking the beach, collecting shells, and eating way too much food.  Once we get there, it should be very relaxing.  And that’s a good thing, because I know from long experience that getting there will be anything but relaxing.

We’re planning to fly to Florida, which is stressful enough all by itself.  I’m old enough to remember the days when flying was actually fun–a special treat for special occasions.  We even dressed up a bit before we went to the airport.  But these days, between the necessary security measures and the tiny seats on crowded planes, flying is more like visiting someone in jail and then boarding a Greyhound bus. And I swear I have seen some people in the airport wearing pajamas.

But in my family, the stress begins long before we even get to the airport.  My husband and I are both terrific worriers, and I have come to realize that one of my husband’s main worries in life is missing his plane.  The night before we leave for a trip, we usually go to bed rather late, what with all the packing, last minute instructions for dog and house sitter, etc.  Throughout the night, we wake up at least once an hour from the worry that we might oversleep (because it really is possible that the alarm clock could pick that particular night to break down).

Then we get up bright and early, rush through our morning showers, throw our suitcases in the car and head for the airport.  On the drive there, my husband curses at every single red light and mutters dark comments under his breath about all the other people who are inconsiderate enough to be out driving on the streets when we have a plane to catch.  When we finally reach the airport, he drops me off at the curb to check in our two huge and heavy suitcases by myself while he parks the car, because “it’s quicker that way.”

We usually meet up again at the security line, where he spends the whole time trying to estimate how long it will take us to get through the security check point and whether or not we will have to run for our gate once we are through it.  He removes his belt, shoes, and watch while waiting in line just to save time.  And once we are finally through security, we anxiously check the departure time for our flight and realize we have at least two hours to kill before boarding time.  That’s when I buy a magazine and a Diet Coke and settle in for a nice long wait.  It’s our vacation routine, and I know better than to complain about it.

IMG_0703Because I know there is a reason for my husband’s madness.  Once we scheduled a vacation to Florida on January 1st, and our flight was supposed to leave at 8:45 in the morning.  That was the one time I actually tried to talk my husband into waiting a bit before we went to the airport, because I figured very few other people were going to be flying early on the morning after New Year’s Eve.  Luckily, I lost that argument, because when we arrived at the airport at 6:15 in the morning, we were greeted by the sight of a check-in line that stretched out the door, and a security line that snaked back and forth across the lobby three times.

As we stood in line, people all around us were complaining about how they were missing their flights, but we, for once, were calm.  We knew we had gotten there early enough to easily make our flight, despite the long lines.  My husband was vindicated, and I was confident that I would have time to buy my Diet Coke once we got through security.  Sometimes excessive worrying pays off.