Month: October 2014

I LOVE HALLOWEEN!

Years ago, I had a friend who told me that, on Halloween Eve, she and her husband turned off all the lights in their house, locked the door and went out for dinner and a movie so they wouldn’t have to open the door again and again for the children who were out trick and treating. I never felt the same way about that friend again.

IMG_0102I love Halloween. I love watching the children going from door to door, bags dragging on the ground as the contents grow heavier and the sky gets darker. I love the costumes; the little fairies and princesses, the superheroes and monsters, the witches and the cowboys. I love carving pumpkins, roasting pumpkin seeds and eating pumpkin pie. I love the fake cobwebs draped on doorways and the scary noises emanating from decorated houses. Most of all, I love the candy and the excuse to gorge myself on my favorites – any combination of chocolate, caramel and vanilla. My children still have not forgiven me for stealing a few candy bars out of their bags when they were sleeping.

Our first Halloween in Florida, I followed my usual routine; I placed two pumpkins right outside the front door, hung fake cobwebs on the front shrubs and checked out the candy displays at the grocery store to make my selections for hand-outs on October 31. Actually, this exercise gives me an opportunity to look at all these wonderful sweet confections but I always end up buying the same thing: one bag each of the mini Milky Way bars and mini Hershey bars. This way, if there’s any left over, the big kid in the house gets to finish it.

On Halloween night, we had an early dinner and waited for the first gremlin. And we waited and waited and waited. That’s when it finally dawned on me that the only children in our neighborhood were in high school. The good news was that I had a lot of candy that needed a home but the bad news was that I would no longer have an excuse to buy candy for Halloween in this neighborhood. Even worse than that, we wouldn’t be opening the door again to any adorable trick or treaters.

Our three adult children still talk about our Halloween parties. One year we somehow acquired an old parachute which we nailed to the ceiling of the garage from the outside door to the family room entrance. The sides of the parachute hung down, making a perfect fun house from one door to the other. Then we tied wet sponges, cooked spaghetti and scary lights on strings tacked to the top of the parachute and hanging right at face level. All the kids (big and little) that were coming to our party had to walk from the outside garage door to the house through the parachute – in the dark, of course.

Another year, the children acquired a Ouija Board and after they finished canvassing the neighborhood for candy, they settled in the bedroom with a group of friends, door closed and lights out, to try it out. It wasn’t long before a scary presence began screeching and pounding on the bedroom window. In an instant, all the children threw open the door and ran out screaming. I was in the living room watching this evacuation when my husband came in the back door, a big smile on his face. The kids told me later they knew it was their father but it was more fun to be scared.

Then Barry decided to take some classes in close-up magic and soon the highlight of our Halloween parties was a magic show by “The Great Harry Barry”. The children were enthralled and watched in amazement – at least until they hit their early teens. At that point, the boys in the audience began showing off their growing masculinity by talking back to the magician and giving their version of how every trick was done. They had outgrown “The Great Harry Barry.”

So we moved the magic act to the front door. We set up a card table on one side of the front door where Barry sat with all his magic paraphernalia. Then we moved a cedar chest draped in black cloth and filled with a skeleton and a large bag of candy to the area behind the door. I bought a great witch mask with eyes that lit up when I pressed a button. When our first trick or treaters’ came to the door, we were ready.

“Trick or Treat,” the first group called. “Trick,” I cackled behind the mask; then led them to the table where Barry did a few magic tricks while I watched their open-eyed wonder. After the tricks were done, I opened the chest and told them to help themselves. A bunch of excited kids exited our door.

To my dismay, I learned very quickly that this routine didn’t work with the younger children. First, the witch’s mask scared them into tears. Second, when I ushered them in the door, worried parents came running from the sidewalk, ready to rescue their children. Needless to say, the mask stayed off and we always invited the parents in with their children. After one year of this, we quickly became the “go to” place for the parents and children in our neighborhood. All was once again well in Halloween land.

Now in Florida, we are coming to terms with the absence of children in our neighborhood. A few times, we’ve had our own Halloween party for friends. This year we are traveling to New York to celebrate Halloween with our six-year-old granddaughter. At the present time, she is enamored with the movie “Frozen,” and plans to wear her Elsa costume. I told her I would like to go as the snowman in the move but I’ve been informed that the costumes she’s seen won’t fit me. That’s okay. I’ll just have to be satisfied with carving a pumpkin and watching her and all the other little gremlins go trick or treating. And when she goes to sleep, I just might steal a candy bar out of her bag.

IMG_0098BOO!

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A Change in the Marriage Contract

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 My husband and I went fishing on our third date. I was in my third year at the  University of Minnesota and he was a first year medical resident at the University Hospital. He picked me up on a Saturday in his 1960 Corvair at my all-girls’ residence and we drove to the St. Croix River where we rented a boat and motor. The fishing equipment was a loan from my brother who was also at the University. I don’t remember if we caught anything but I do remember that we shared our first kiss in the front seat of his car after the fishing trip.

I had been fishing all my life. I grew up in Virginia, Minnesota in the middle of an extended family of great-uncles who had immigrated from Lithuania when they were in their early 20’s. My grandmother, the only sister, had joined them in her late teens. She and a friend took me on my first fishing trip when I was about four years old. I caught one fish that day, a very limp sunfish that had appeared on my line after her friend had distracted me. I was hooked.

Hundreds of family fishing trips followed. Every spring we would pile into the family station wagon before dawn on the opening day of the fishing season. Gasoline fumes from the ten-horsepower motor stowed in the back of the wagon consumed the air. To me, it smelt like perfume. We would be on the water all day, in a boat filled to capacity – my father, brother, grandmother, two great-uncles and myself – usually catching our limit and, often, more than our limit. At mid-day, we would open the large picnic hamper my mother had filled with fried chicken, potato salad, and home-made desserts. When I was nine, my parents purchased a cottage on a small Minnesota lake and we had our own boat, ready to take out on a fishing trip at a moment’s notice. We knew all the spots on the lake to troll for walleyes. Fishing was more than a sport; it was part of our family’s culture.

On our honeymoon, my new husband, Barry, and I stopped in Colorado Springs and rented trout fishing equipment to try our hand (very unsuccessfully) at this kind of fishing. At least once a year, we returned from where-ever we were living (St. Louis, Mo.; Carlsbad, California; Rochester, New York) to Minnesota, dragging three growing children to the lake – first my parent’s home on Lake Vermillion and then my brother’s cottage on Lake Comfort – to swim and fish and to hand-down the family culture.

For a few years, Barry and I had our own boat, kept at a marina and visited on weekends. In Upstate New York, we fished at depths of 300 feet or more for flashing silver lake trout, bringing our catch home to feed the family. Finally, we bought a cottage on a small Finger Lake in Upstate, NY where we had a dock and a motor boat ready to take us out a moment’s notice. I had come full circle.

The children grew and left home. We retired, bought a winter home on the West Coast of Florida and took up kayaking. We took a course at the local community college on fishing in Florida and spent another day with a kayak fishing teacher. Our mutual love of fishing continued. Once we were fishing from a Florida beach next to a young man who was doing much better than us. He gave us a few pointers and we struck up a fishing companionship. When we were ready to leave, I reached the car with my load first and when I turned around, I saw Barry deep in conversation with the young man.

“What were you talking about?” I asked when he reached the car.

“He asked me how you find a chick who likes to fish,” Barry said. We both laughed and I saw the pride written all over his face.

And then, I began to change. In the summer at our cottage, I caught a small sunfish that had swallowed the hook. I cut the line and put him back in the water but I was filled with apprehension. How could he possibly survive with a hook in his gullet? Barry said it would disintegrate but I wondered how long that would take. Half-heartedly, I put my hook back in the water, not sure I wanted catch another fish.

During the winter in Florida, Barry and I were fishing from our kayaks, using shrimp for bait. Suddenly my line was air-borne, the hook in the mouth of a seagull flying away with the shrimp. I was panicked; I had caught a bird, my worst fear. I yelled for help and started to reel the line in, knowing I would have to somehow grab a frightened bird and take the hook out without inflicting further injury. About half way in, the bird let go. He hadn’t been hooked; just hungry. I collapsed in the kayak, relief spreading through my body. I couldn’t put my line back in the water.

I had always been obsessively “kind-hearted.” I was an expert at catching spiders between two paper cups and putting them outside. I hated to trap mice and, once when we had an influx, had bought a humane trap that was supposed to catch them live so you could let them go outside. Barry knew when he heard a screech from the bathroom that I needed his help to catch some critter to put out. He lovingly indulged me.

Now I was having real trouble fishing. At first, I hid it. I would put a small worm on my hook, hoping it was an unappealing meal to any fish. Then I began putting my hook in the water without any bait on it, exclaiming on the good luck Barry was having when he caught a fish. I didn’t want to upset our unspoken contract, our mutual culture. But soon, it became evident. We would go kayaking and I would leave my fishing rod untouched. “I’ll just explore,” I would say, paddling around. “You fish as long as you want.”

Finally, we talked about it and he seemed okay with fishing while I kept him company, exploring the nooks and crannies of the river or bay that we were paddling on. We had reached a compromise.

One day, we paddled out to Gilligan’s Island, a charming small island about one mile from our launch that offered lovely beaches and good fishing. We pulled our kayaks up on the beach and I broke out the sandwiches while he began casting. Within minutes he pulled in a red fish. A quick check with the measuring tape in his tackle box proved that the fish was at the top length of the legal limit, a real rarity. He put it on a live chain and tied it to the back side of the kayak, where it would be in enough water to keep it alive.

As he continued to fish, I stood by the kayak watching the fish. It was beautiful, a muted red, a sleek body, smooth and vibrant, glistening in the sun. I approached my husband. “It’s suffering,” I said. “Maybe you should just take it out of the water and let it die.”

He looked at me and frowned. “If I do that, it will spoil before we get home and we won’t be able to eat it. “

A few minutes later, I approached him again. “It’s so beautiful. Do you think we should keep it?” He kept fishing and didn’t respond. I agonized and then tried again. “Isn’t catching it enough? We don’t have to keep it.”

He sighed heavily, put down his pole and walked over to the kayak. I watched him take the fish off the live chain and gently place it back in the water. The fish hesitated, gathered its strength and disappeared into Tampa Bay. “Thank you,” I said quietly. At that moment the old expression – If looks could kill – came back to me.

A few days later, we met friends for dinner and he told the redfish story, dramatizing it a bit and playing for laughs. Over the next year, he told the story many times, while I entered my version at the right moments. Our friends laughed, expressing sympathy for both of our positions. The redfish story had become part of our history, joining the stories about our children, our pets, our life together over the past 52 years.

One day, I was at the beauty shop getting a haircut and the hair stylist and I were chatting as women do. Somehow the subject of fishing came up and I told her about the redfish and my changed attitude toward fishing, expecting a laugh. She stopped cutting, a strand of my hair in her hand, and looked over my head at my reflection in the mirror, a horrified expression on her face. “Are you a vegetarian?” she asked.

“No,” I answered.

“Then why can’t you fish? It’s the natural order of things.” She said.

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, and quickly changed the subject.

When I met Barry for lunch, I told him what the hair stylist had said. “So are you going to start fishing again?” he asked.

“I can’t,” I said.

“I know,” he said. And we both laughed.

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