Halloween. On my street, up to the town, there are only two houses decorated. One has small commercially made pumpkins on the steps. The porch is draped in cobwebs and there are small orange lights dispersed through the webs. The other, my favorite, is obviously decorated by children. There are three child-carved pumpkins on the steps. The porch is wrapped in some kind of green tape, and there is a small ghost hanging from the light fixture by the front door.
Downtown, the shop which sells gifts for “eclectic living” has two blocks in the window. On one block is “I’D TURN BACK IF I WERE YOU.” The other block is “SURRENDER YOUR TREATS.” These are good signs to put in the yard if you have trick-or-treaters, but children do not trick-or-treat in my neighborhood. The same shop has a blackboard placard on the sidewalk with the witches’ incantation, “Double, double, toil and trouble . . .” from Macbeth on one side and lines from Emily Dickinson, “One need not be a Chamber–To be Haunted– / One need not be a house– / The Brain has Corridors– surpassing / Material Place–”
The ice cream shop has changed the names of the sixteen flavors to these: Witch’s Brew, Monster’s Milk, Skeleton Lungs, Brains of Frankenstein, Choc Chip Spooky Dough, Halloween Crunch, Bat’s Guano, Cookie Monster, Goblin Juice, Toasted Finger Nails, Hissing Roach, Howling Good Chocolate, Bloody Mary, Pirate’s Booty, Rotting Swine, Jack-o-Lantern. The sister of a worker there gave the new names, and yes, those serving give the ordinary names of the flavors. I enjoyed one scoop of Witch’s Brew (coffee).
Fall. Days have been frosty and bright and sunny or cloudy and mild. A yard with a few leaves and smelling of fall reminded me of playing touch football in next door neighbor Randy’s yard with Billy and Carroll and Randy and Phil and Eddie and Larry Bill, and Wally. We were close to the earth in those late afternoons after third and fourth and fifth grade classes.
We may be graced with color late into November. Almost overnight, Sanders, the young red maple, turned fully with rich red leaves; Song, the gingko tree, is no more than half-turned yellow-gold. The willow oak, who has not yet told me its name, has just a few brown leaves.
Nonfiction. Mark Forsyth, The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language (2012). Forsyth presents obsolete words by arranging them in chapters pertaining to activities and associated attitudes of the day, from dawn to midnight. The book is humorous; the choice of “Jaunt” in the title is appropriate. Obsolete words, by-gone slang, current technical vocabularies, and even projected words for kinds of email are presented and explained, often by examples. Interspersed are wry observations about life. For example, describing those waiting for a bus, Forsyth writes, “. . . people who peer optimistically down the road for the approaching Godot” and “All of the best rumours are false.” The appendix includes a four-page listing of Benjamin Franklin’s terms for drunkenness, a bibliography or sources, and an index of the words presented by chapters. It’s an excellent book for entertainment, random reading, and reference.
Fiction. Two stories for Halloween:
M. R. James, “‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad'” (1904) A professor, a strong disbeliever in ghosts, finds a whistle with strange inscriptions on a beach. Going to his hotel, he is followed by a strange man who mysteriously doesn’t catch up to him. That night, in his bedroom, he blows the whistle. Afterwards there are eerie occurrences: bizarre and frightening dreams, strong winds, and turnings and tossing in a vacant bed. The next day there are confirmations of unrest in the unoccupied bed, reporting of sightings of his visions by a witness, and a recounting of an ominous folk belief. The next night the wind occurs again, and there is an embodiment, a horror “with the face on linen,” that arises from the bed sheets of the vacant bed and attacks the professor. He is saved at the last minute, before he goes insane or is pushed out the window, but he remains fearful: “. . . he cannot even now see a surplice hanging on a door quite unmoved, and the spectacle of a scarecrow in a field late at night on a winter afternoon has cost him more than one sleepless night.” And it might cost us the same, should we think too much on the details of the story.
Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820). I enjoy the story each time I read it. It is leisurely, a tale to be read aloud and slowly. There are humorous descriptions of the now-famous characters, Icabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel, Balthus Van Tassel, and Brom Van Brunt (Brom Bones). There are humorous descriptions of the horses Gunpowder and Daredevil. There are long descriptions of autumnal woodlands, the Hudson River, the food at the party. The narration befits the atmosphere of Sleepy Hollow, with its slow-pace life and its tradition of tales of ghosts, hauntings, and witchcraft. Of particular interest are the comments it evokes, as told in the “Postscript.” Subtle humor and gentle satire are prevalent throughout the story. It is a story well-written, justly deserving of its fame.
Old Testament Scripture. Sirach (c. 175). The book is a celebration of Wisdom. There are precepts for actions in daily life, particularly in relationships with others, proverbs, celebrations of the goodness of God, celebrations of Nature, prayers. The book ends with a celebration of the leaders of Israel.
There are beautiful images: “. . . like frost in fair weather, your sins will melt away” (3:15); “He scatters the snow like birds flying down, / and its descent is like locusts alighting. / The eye is dazzled by the beauty of its whiteness, / and the mind is amazed as it falls.” (43:17-18)
Another beautiful cadence is this description: “It is the moon that marks the changing seasons, / governing the times, their everlasting sign. / From the moon comes the sign for festal days, / a light that wanes when it completes its course. / The new moon, as its name suggests, renews itself, / how marvelous it is in this change, a beacon to the hosts on high, / shining in the vault of the heavens!” (43:6-8)
Two favorite precepts: “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one has found a treasure.” (6:14) and “Do not deprive yourself of a day’s enjoyment; do not let your share of desired good pass you.” (14:4)
Thank you for reading. I hope your days are good and that the upcoming week will bring blessings.