A Halloween Tale

It’s October, and you know what that means. It’s harvest time. It’s time the leaves on the trees are red and gold and orange. Seems the trees make an extra-special effort this time of year. The birds take off for their southward journeys. The squirrels make a last minute snatch, gathering up a few more nuts for the coming chilly days of winter. It’s October, and Halloween’s a-coming.

Already carved pumpkins are showing up in folks’ windows and on their lawns. They’re letting us know that the show is coming soon. That show being costumes and trick-or-treating galore.

Yet, over the years, Halloween’s been the runt of the holidays. Unlike Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, Halloween didn’t start showing up in the national consciousness till the twentieth century. And it didn’t even have its own story. Until “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

All great stories invite the reader in with an invitation. Here’s the invitation from The Halloween Tree:

It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small norther part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and dead flowers now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of…

Boys.

And it was the afternoon of Halloween.

Eight boys show up for trick-or-treating in a variety of costumes. Tom Skelton is dressed in skeleton bones. There’s a witch, a mummy, an apeman, a gargoyle, a beggar, a ghost and Death himself with his scythe. There’s only one boy missing. And that’s Joe Pipkin.

Joe Pipkin was the greatest boy who ever lived. The grandest boy who ever fell out of a tree and laughed at the joke. The finest boy who ever raced around the track, winning, and then, seeing his friends a mile back somewhere, stumbled and fell, waited for them to catch up, and joined, breast and breast, breaking the winner’s tape. The jolliest boy who ever hunted out all the haunted houses in town, which are hard to find, and came back to report on them and take all the kids to ramble through the basements and scramble up the ivy outside-bricks and shout down the chimneys and make water off the roofs, hooting and chimpanzee-dancing and ape-bellowing. The day Joe Pipkin was born all the Orange Crush and Nehi soda bottles in the world fizzed over, and joyful bees swarmed countrysides to sting maiden ladies. On his birthdays, the lake pulled out from the shore in midsummer and ran back with a tidal wave of boys, a big leap of bodies and a downcrash of laughs.

In other words, this Joe Pipkin was a mighty fine fellow. And the other eight boys waited in anticipation to see what he would be dressed as. But poor Joe is whisked away on a journey of life or death.

With the help of a creature named Moundshroud, the eight follow Pipkin to the celebrations of the origins of Halloween by the ancient Druids. They find themselves among the mummies of Ancient Egypt, the ceremonies for the dead by the Greeks and the Romans, the gargoyles of Notre Dame in Medieval France and the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Each ceremony has a jack-o-lantern on the Halloween Tree.

Are the boys able to rescue their friend, Joe Pipkin? And, if they do, what will it cost? Only by reading The Halloween Tree will you be able to discover the answer.

Advertisements

The Gift

As she stood in the living room, Doug’s daughter looked beautiful in her strapless, ankle length evening dress. Just gorgeous. Marge’s blonde hair was short and curly and that accentuated her blue eyes. She had her mother’s eyes. Ellen, her mother, snapped several photographs, then she urged Jack, her daughter’s date, to join Marge so she could take more.

Jack’s smile was the smile of someone who was receiving a precious gem. He took the flower out of its box, laid the box on the table and walked over to Marge. He went to pin the flower to the gown. His hand shook. He was too nervous.

Doug said softly, “I’ll do it.”

Jack looked at her dad with grateful eyes.

Doug took the flower from Jack’s hand and pinned it onto his daughter’s gown. “There,” he said, then kissed his daughter on the cheek.

“Thanks, Dad,” Marge said.

Doug backed away, proud of the girl they’d almost lost two years earlier from cancer. Ellen snapped more pictures. As Marge stood beside her date for the prom, her face glowed.

Doug and Ellen followed the two outside. Standing on the porch, they stood arm in arm, and watched the work of their lives get in the car and drive away. Their eyes were filled with wonder.

Celebrating Father’s Day

I want to give a shout out today for all the Dads out there. I did not know my father. My mother left him when I was six months old for what many would consider dereliction of duty. He just wouldn’t work and take care of the family. So my mother got the hell out of Dodge and never looked back.

In all the years after that, not once did he make an effort to contact me. I heard from my older brothers that my mother had refused to let him see me. But even as an adult, he never gave the old college try. And I can’t see my mother refusing him from seeing me.

So fathers, Dads, have always been a mystery to me. But I think they are mysteries to those who have Dads.

Anyway I have two poems and two songs here that celebrate children’s relationships with their fathers. The first is Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”.

The second is Seamus Heaney’s “Digging”:

Here is Dougie Maclean’s “Scythe Song“:

And finally Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”:

Happy Father’s Day, y’all.

 

 

President’s Day Special: Why does anybody want to be President?

Here’s twenty-five reasons why it’s the best job ever:

1.You get your own song.
2.Everybody has to stand when you enter the room.
3.Even if you have never been to a library, you get your very own library. And it will be filled with your stuff.
4.There will be big fat books about you. Just look how many have been written about Washington’s cherry tree or Lincoln’s big shoes or Coolidge’s rocking chairs.
5.You get stuff named after you, especially streets, airports and bathrooms.
6.You get your own band. It’s great for parties. You can say to your friends, “You bring the food and the booze. I’ll bring the band.”
7.You’re so important people talk about you all the time.
8.You have your own house. Of course, it’s a loaner. But four years without paying for room and board. Pretty darn good, I’d say.
9.Your dog gets the run of the house. But don’t pull on his ears the way LBJ did. It’s a big no-no.
10.Anything you want to eat you pick up the phone. It’s yours in fifteen minutes.
11.Congress has to listen to you. Not. We know Congress never listens to anybody.
12.Think of the selfies. Everybody wants to take a selfie with you.
13.Any place you go it’s a parade.
14.You get free pens to sign stuff with.
15.You get a loaner cabin in the woods to have Summit Meetings at.
16.You get your own day in February. Of course, you have to share with all those other Presidents.
17.When you want to go to a show or a movie, you get front row seats.
18.You get your own airplane. And it’s a gem. It’s supplied with really good stuff. Like your favorite teddy bear.
19.Another benny is that helicopter. So you’ll never be stuck in traffic.
20.Movies will be made about you. How you killed all those vampires.
21.It will be a boon to the tourist trade for your home town. So you’ll be a hero to the folks back home. A bonus: your hometown will get a spruce up from the National Parks Service.
22.You might even get your face on money. Maybe the three dollar bill.
23.Your portrait will be everywhere. You’ll be up on the wall at the Post Office with the FBI’s ten most wanted. Quite an honor, I’d say.
24.People in uniforms salute when you show up.
25.You have a bowling alley in your basement.

There are some downers. You have to play golf. It’s required. Even Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln played golf. There’s a rumor that it was invented by Benjamin Franklin on his lunch break during the writing of the Declaration of Independence. So you can see why golf is required. It’s on the application. It’s the patriotic thing.

10 Resolutions I’m Making For the New Year

Here’s hoping everyone has a wonderful New Year. Party like it’s 1999 but don’t drive while drinking. Remember there are a lot of amateur drunks on the highway. Better yet, stay home and invite your friends over. Let them face the amateurs. Isn’t that what friends are for? Anyway here is my list of New Year’s Resolutions.

1.Remind people that I am not dead yet. But Elvis is.

2.Start a Bucket List, and make sure the bucket ain’t leaking.

3.Turn on the light at 3 a.m., so I don’t break another toe stumbling around in the dark.

4.Quit throwing the alarm clock across the room. Alarm clocks are like hearts. They break easily.

5.Give up dancing. I have no rhythm. At all.

6.Quit imagining I am a bullfighter. Those bulls have horns, and they hurt.

7.Don’t play with guns. I will shoot my eye out. Ouch!

8.Next Halloween I shall not go as a pumpkin. At least, not without cleaning out the insides.

9.Betting on the horses is no retirement plan.

10.Gotta give up singing “In-a-gadda-da-vida” in the shower. The shower is getting sick of my singing.