Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why, for me, Halloween = Love

When I was 6 years old my mom was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Cancer. When you're 6 you don't really understand the logistics of cancer.  I just knew that my mom was either feeling really bad or in the hospital all the time. And I was sad.  I was scared too.  When you're 6 and you're gone from your mom a lot it's scary. But I'm fortunate that I come from a very big family.  My dad has 5 sisters and 1 brother and endless cousins, and so even though I missed my mom and life was scary, there were family members all around us.  There was always someone there taking care of my brother and me when my dad was taking care of my mom.

When Halloween comes each year I can't help but remember my very first memory of going Trick-or-Treating.  It was that year--the year mom had cancer.  She had gone to the store with us the week before Halloween and let me pick out a Smurfette costume.  I couldn't believe she let me have Smurfette, but she did. (Some people back then thought Smurfs were from the devil.  I knew she wouldn't want people to think that we approved of the devil.) She came with us to the town Halloween party and I wore my Smurfette costume in the costume contest.  I remember smelling the weird scent of the plastic mask as I marched in a circle with all the other 6-year-olds.  Of course, my store-bought costume was no match against the elaborate, homemade costumes, but that was okay with me...that night we were going to go knock on people's doors and get candy!  But by the time we got home, mom was not well and dad had to stay with her.  Trick-or-Treating was not happening.

I'm not the kind of person who takes disappointment well.  That feeling, for me, ranks among the worst.  To be so excited and in such anticipation of something and then have it squashed..........
The 6-year-old me felt the same way.  But I tried not to cry because I could tell my mom really wanted to go too, but she just didn't have the strength.  I walked into my room swinging the Smurfette mask round and round by the elastic band and I heard the phone ring.  My mom called from the kitchen, excitement in her voice. Sarah, get ready! You're going to the farm!  "The farm" was our family's farm.  The Casey farm.  It went back a few generations and my older cousins Jessica and Margaret lived there.  I loved going to the farm because I loved the horses and cows, but most of all I loved Jessica and Margaret.  They were beautiful, they were allowed to wear lipstick, and their mom let them use as much hairspray as they wanted even when their Meme yelled at them that it was enough. Keep your costume on, my mom told me.  You're going Trick-or-Treating.  I don't think I could have smiled any bigger.

My dad took me outside and Jess and Margaret's mom pulled up in her car to take me to the farm. When I got there, my cousins were waiting for me.  I was kind of nervous because I wasn't sure they'd want a little kid tagging along.  But when they saw me they smiled and hugged me and told me how much they loved my Smurfette look.  I think Jessica had pink hair, and I wondered if my mom would let me do that next year...probably not.  As they finished getting ready, she and Margaret were arguing about what houses we were going to go to first.  I giggled because it didn't matter to me what street we walked or how much candy we got. Anything we did would be fantastic and fun.  If I couldn't go Trick-or-Treating with my mom, this was definitely the next best thing.  That night goes down as one of the best memories of my childhood...walking down the dark, country, Douglas, Massachusetts roads, holding hands with the big girls, screaming at the scary Halloween decorations, getting tootsie rolls stuck in my teeth.  I was loved and I felt loved. My cousins may not remember Trick-or-Treating that year, but I'll remember it for the rest of my life.

So for me Halloween isn't an evil holiday.  It's not the devil in disguise any more than a little girl in a Smurfette costume.  For me, Halloween represents a simple act of kindness that happened over 30 years ago that translated into a great big act of love.  It represents a time of joy for that 6-year-old little me who, at the time, had a lot of sadness and fear in her life.  I take Halloween as an opportunity to not only cherish that memory, but to remind myself to love like Jess and Margaret loved me on that crisp, New England, Halloween night. Thank you, Jessica and Margaret.  Because of you, Halloween = Love.

Many years with Margaret (middle) and Jessica in Boston Common