Category Archives: Family

An Elegy for Fall in her Prime

We’ve been treated to several weeks of beautiful Fall Bonus Time this year in Northern Virginia. The temperatures have been mild, the sunshine plentiful, and nature’s colors absolutely brilliant. Today’s persistent rain, the remnants of Hurricane Nicole, is gradually, steadily, washing away the season’s brightest jewels. Therefore, I offer a look back on this glorious Autumn as we will remember her, in her dazzling, long-lived prime.

Leaves of burnished copper and gold gleamed in the morning sun in our neighborhood woods,

and in my mother’s front yard. On her porch steps, the summer’s red impatiens rubbed shoulders with later blooming yellow chrysanthemums.

The small sassafrass tree in our front yard put on an exuberant, outsized show.

The season’s glowing colors were often set, to dramatic effect, against a flawless blue sky.

But they were equally spectacular with the addition of a few strategically placed white clouds.

And then there were the exquisite, luminous mornings when an early fog was in a constant state of flux, rising here, settling there. These were days that vividly evoked Keats’ ode To Autumn, that “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” While the poet’s words hung in the misty air, the painted images of John Constable’s ever-shifting, cloud-filled skies danced in my head.

A bounty of fall berries will be with us, still, for a while. Like the red, bubble-like jewels of honeysuckle,

and the Nandina clusters that mingle with red double knock-out roses along our fence row.

These hearty daisies, always late-blooming, took their good sweet time this year. Although their foliage has been towering high for months, they waited until late October to bloom. They play host to a variety of pollinators, like the insect above, which appears to be a beetle dressed in Halloween attire. It does, indeed, wear a sort of costume, as it’s really a moth, the ailanthus webworm. In flight, a pair of dark gray wings emerges from below the outer ones of orange, white and black. With every closer look, nature’s fantastic eccentricities become more evident.

Carpenter bees often embrace the daisy centers for long minutes at a time, as though in a love-sick stupor.

As leaves fall, dark, bare branches emerge, and the earth gains a carpet or warm bronze, copper and gold.

As I was looking at these photos, I realized that one familiar element is absent: my autumn-colored dog, who left us in July. The view above, along the home stretch on a morning walk, always reminds me of my dear, odd Kiko, a near-constant companion for the past nearly fifteen years. Most days, I don’t actively miss him. I certainly don’t miss him in the weakened, anxious state of his final weeks. But then, in my mind’s eye, I get a flash of my young, spirited dog. I see him bounding up the driveway, or on high alert in the pine straw, watching a squirrel, pointed ears straight up. I’m reminded of his first fall, when he was our brand-new puppy, and my parents had come up from Atlanta to visit. I see my father, his arms around our daughter. She’s holding Kiko. He’s so little. His fur is dark velvety red, his belly still hairless and mottled. Daddy and D look completely, perfectly happy. Kiko looks, well, a little crazy. And he was.

My father and daughter with Kiko. November 1, 2007.

Grief is tenacious and sly. It creeps up and catches us unprepared. But, as I find myself smiling through sudden tears, I understand that it’s mixed with joy. In every image from the past, our loved ones are alive again in the present. In every cherished memory, they’re with us.

On this dreary day, I can still glimpse fall’s flying colors through the rain. Likewise, I can envision our puppy in my daughter’s arms, and I can hear my father’s laughter. Fall is bittersweet, just like memory.

Goodbye, to Grandpa

I hadn’t planned to dwell on the theme of saying goodbye. But life, and death, rarely go according to our plans.

My husband’s father left this world on September 21. We gathered with family and friends in Rochester for his memorial service last weekend, on the day before his eighty-third birthday.

I wrote about H’s dad ten years ago, in a series of Father’s Day posts. (See here.) I referred to him then as Grandpa, because that was who he was to my daughter. As a grandfather, and as a person, he was kind, caring, and fun-loving. Till the very end, he carried with him a jumbo-sized cache of jokes, puns and silly remarks. Many were eye-rolling bad, but some were hilarious, and all of them were offered with the best of intentions. Grandpa understood the value of humor, of never taking oneself too seriously, and he loved laughter.

My husband delivered a tribute to his dad at Saturday’s service, on behalf of himself and his siblings. He wasn’t sure he could get through the talk without breaking down. Our daughter was on point to take over, should he find himself choked with tears. He made it through, with a few pauses to collect himself. He touched on several key aspects that made his father unique. He spoke of how his dad’s interest in science (including his obsessive talent for electrical wiring), his love of animals and music, his devotion to his family and to God, were manifested in unusual and unexpected ways. These were the qualities that made all those who knew him well nod their heads and smile: Yes, that was Dad. That was Grandpa. That was Jim.

My husband spoke of one particularly admirable attribute his father possessed. This was his gift for discovering something good about nearly every person he met. He always claimed to be shy, but he seemed to love nothing better than striking up a conversation with a complete stranger. Wherever he went, no matter the circumstances, he tended to run into “the most wonderful people.” The doctors, nurses and medical staff who treated him (quite successfully) for two types of cancer about ten years ago–they were all “wonderful people.” As were the car salesmen, the repair guys, and the elderly couple behind him in line at Tops Market.

Grandpa treated those around him with kindness and compassion. He sought out and encouraged those qualities in others. When he recognized that goodness within, as he so often did, we were sure to hear about it. Grandpa took to heart, and put into practice, Jesus’s advice to “love one another.” My husband concluded his talk with this question: What would Jim say about me? Am I living as one of those “wonderful people” he valued so highly?

To honor Grandpa’s memory, we’ll try to do just that.

Grandpa with our daughter in Cape Cod, August 2008.

Time to Say Goodbye (To Kiko, August 15, 2007 – July 24, 2022)

Kiko, on his final day, July 24, 2022

Four weeks ago, we said goodbye to our beloved dog Kiko. It was twenty-two days before his fifteenth birthday. The time had come, and it would have been cruel to deny it.  He wasn’t suffering from a catastrophic illness, but he was clearly suffering, nonetheless. Over the course of this last year, our family witnessed his decline.  It was a gradual descent, with a smattering of upward blips, typically when least expected.  Out on a walk, he’d occasionally harness a sudden burst of energy and run all the way home.  We could hear the plague-stricken old man in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail declaring, “I’m not dead.”  The last of Kiko’s rallying efforts occurred in mid June.  After that, it was all slow motion. We had taken steps, of course, to improve his condition, to alleviate his pain and anxiety.  None had any substantial effect.  Toward the end, it seemed that our dog was more than simply uncomfortable. He appeared to be perpetually and profoundly uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. He was as handsome as ever.  His body was as trim and lean, his thick, waxy coat as luxurious, his face, though faded from dark red to white, just as beautiful. Yet he apparently could find no peace, no place of solace, in his skin or in what had been the familiar surroundings of home.

We watched as Kiko’s former pastimes lost their appeal. As his agility decreased, it became difficult for him to access his prime window-level viewing spots. In early May, I wrote about how a ride in a car, once the ultimate thrill, had morphed into just another source of anxiety. His favorite hassock on the screened porch, the site of long pleasant snoozes in summers past–he avoided it. He had given up all interest in wandering our fenced back yard. Instead of alternately baking on the hot bluestone of the patio and cooling in a patch of shady mulch, he tended to stand uncertainly before heading back up the stairs, which he climbed with difficulty. He seemed to have completely forgotten that he ever lay in the pine straw by the bird feeder and kept watch on the wildlife. After getting stuck in the doggy door a couple of times, he no longer attempted to enter or exit the porch on his own. He used to revel in having the freedom to cross the courtyard to my mother’s house for a sausage biscuit or some other tasty snack. Sometimes he’d sleep for hours in his bed in the chill of her family room. More recently, when he reluctantly accompanied me there, he seemed to be particularly worried, pacing endlessly in a circle. He wanted to be home.

But home had become elusive. More and more, he was anxiously pacing in our house, as well. Over and over, he made a circuit from the playroom to the back door. Even when he ate, he’d take a bite of food and walk away. When inside, he wanted to be out, and when outside, he wanted to be in.

For a while, he could retreat to a safe haven upstairs, in his fluffiest, coziest nest of a bed, the one in my room in a secluded spot next to the armoire. After circling a few times, he’d settle and sleep for a while, something he found impossible in any of his assorted beds downstairs.

Kiko’s eyesight and hearing must have been significantly impaired. But his sense of smell apparently remained acute. Because of that, and his general restlessness, we were out five or six times a day on what should have been short walks. We covered small distances, but at a snail’s pace. He still seemed to derive satisfaction from savoring the party platter of neighborhood smells. With his nose deep in the grass, I could imagine that he was fully alive and well again. But before long, he’d look overwhelmed and disoriented. The oppressive heat during his final days didn’t help.

After returning from such a walk, though obviously exhausted, Kiko couldn’t stretch out on the kitchen floor to relax and cool down. Instead, his restlessness continued, to a heartbreaking degree. My once self-assured little dog, who, for so many years, preferred to go his own way, on his own terms, now followed me insistently from room to room, with a plodding gait, panting, questioning, distressed. Holding him, cuddling him–that did no good. He’d pull away, more uneasy than ever. It was as though he refused to be comforted.

Except in the very early hours of the morning. Maybe that was when his desperation or weariness peaked, or when he let his defenses down. During Kiko’s last months, he’d awaken me around two or three AM, standing beside my bed, nosing the covers. He was no longer able to make the leap, but he’d allow me to pick him up and put him in bed with me. He’d circle round and round a few times, but then he’d curl up near me. Sometimes he’d almost snuggle. And then he’d sleep, deeply, and well into the late morning. On his final night, he actually did cuddle close. He slept most of the night with his head resting on my leg. It’s a sensation I hope I never forget. My odd little dog gave me a precious parting gift. He finally let me comfort him.

Kiko has his wings now. He soars as he did in his puppy days. That thought is my present comfort.

The Music of Robin and Linda Williams, Taking me Back to my Roots

We did something this spring that has become very out of character, in recent years, for us. We threw a party. An actual gathering, not on Zoom. With real people, at our house. Well, outside.

For many years, we hosted a neighborhood party in early December to kick off the holiday season. Covid put an end to that. About a year ago, my husband decided we should try something totally different: an outdoor concert party, with a live appearance by one of our favorite groups. I didn’t share his enthusiasm at first. I wasn’t sure we were up to the challenge. In fact, I was fairly certain that we weren’t. But I agreed wholeheartedly with his musical choice: the husband and wife folk duo, Robin and Linda Williams.

The Rolling Fork River in Gravel Switch, Kentucky, near the farm where my grandmother was born. The house was torn down in the 70s, and the land is no longer in our family. I see images like this when I hear Robin and Linda’s music.

I discovered their music during a hot, humid New Jersey summer of intense study as I was preparing for my general exams as a grad student. One Sunday night, back in my New Grad College room after yet another long day at my art library carrel, I tuned into the college radio station, WPRB, and heard the unmistakable sound of home. Not my midtown Atlanta home. This went far deeper, back to something elemental and essential. It took me back to my maternal grandparents’ beloved farm among the rolling hills of central Kentucky. It summoned the rugged landscapes of the Appalachians and the Cumberland Gap. It stretched back to colonial Virginia. And back across the Atlantic to England, Scotland and Ireland. It echoed the footsteps of my ancestors as they progressed farther west in a new land after making their way from Europe. It was the sound of my roots.

A 1913 photo shows my grandmother, Nora, at left, her sister Maude at right, with their friend, Emma in the center. They’re in the yard of their father’s house near Lebanon, KY. Note the buggy at back left.

I became a regular listener to the weekly local show that often featured the Williamses, which was called “Music You Can’t Hear on the Radio.”* The pair is known for their original compositions and for new takes on age-old traditional classics. Their voices are richly, warmly unique, and their harmonies sublime. Each is a skilled instrumentalist, with Linda on banjo, Robin on harmonica, and both on guitars. Fiddles, mandolins and the occasional dobro round out the sound when they’re accompanied by other artists. There’s an easy give and take between the two as they alternate vocals.

A view, from 2006, of the site of the old farm in Gravel Switch. New buildings occupy it now.

Robin and Linda’s songs are vivid with a sense of place. They call forth hills and hollows, mountains and prairies, small towns and family farms longed for by city folk who were forced to leave them behind. They sing of heartache, longing, love and joy during hard-scrabble times. They root for the underdog. They empathize with those who are down on their luck. With a few colorful details, they tell memorable tales that speak to universal themes. They’re masters of the evocative, haunting lyric, as well as the nicely phrased, comically insightful observation. Though some songs are suffused with melancholy, they’re never maudlin. Many overflow with a rollicking zest for life in all its messy glory.

I recently found my first recording of music by Robin and Linda. This was before the internet and smart devices, so I’d written off and ordered a cassette tape that first summer, through June Appal Recordings. It’s Dixie Highway Sign, recorded in 1979. With the advent of CDs and streaming services, I’d boxed up my old tapes, and hadn’t seen them in years. But I couldn’t forget the cover photo, and there it was again: a smiling young couple, Robin in a black cowboy hat, Linda with a mane of curly hair, and Peter Ostroushko, who joined them on this album, standing behind the two, looking studious. In the background is a lush green landscape. The plastic case was cracked, just as I remembered. Would it still play? I was hesitant to try. But after digging out my old boom box from the basement, I popped the cassette in and pushed Play. The title track is from the perspective of a trucker, reveling in the challenges of the drive, while missing his southern home. The exuberant, familiar fiddle opening was as bright and buoyant as when I first heard it in 1987. Amazing, considering how much use this little tape has seen.

Main Street in Lebanon, KY, where my mother grew up, and where I spent the most memorable parts of my early childhood. The sign designates the spot as the geographical center of Kentucky. Robin and Linda sing about little towns like this one.

Not long after I met H, I heard that Robin and Linda would be playing in Philadelphia, about an hour away. I didn’t expect their music to resonate with him. As a boy from Rochester, New York, he lacks ties to the Appalachians and the heartland of which they so often sing. But he feigned enthusiasm, because back then, at least, the pleasure of my company was worth it. He told me recently that one of our friends, a banjo-playing fellow engineering student, had encouraged him to bow out. “You won’t like that music,” he said. “Let me take her to the show.” After that offer, there was no way that H wasn’t going to accompany me. So we went to Philadelphia, and saw Robin and Linda in person at The Cherry Tree Music Co-Op. An intimate, chapel-like venue, located inside St. Mary’s Church, it hosted folk artists from 1975 – 2003. The live performance cemented my appreciation of the Williamses’ music. Apparently, it did the same for H. For over thirty years now, we’ve been fans. Our daughter has grown to love them, as well. Other interests have come and gone, but our affinity for the music of Robin and Linda has been a constant. For me, their songs will always prompt treasured “memories that glisten and shine” (to quote from Dixie Highway Sign) and visions of my old Kentucky home.

Family photos could easily show characters in a Robin and Linda song. Here, c. 1942, my mother’s oldest brother, Leland, on the right, with his wife, Dessie in the center, and their friend Clyde in army uniform. Leland farmed the land on the Rolling Fork after my grandparents transitioned to a farm in Lebanon. After Leland’s unexpected death at 52, there was no one in the family willing to take over the farm, and Dessie sold it and moved away.
My grandparents, Nora and Sam, and my Uncle Leland, holding me at about age three. We’re on the porch of the house in Lebanon, the one I remember so well.
It’s this house that I picture in my mind’s eye most often when I hear the music of Robin and Linda. Here, in the summer of 1967, I’m on the porch steps, talking to a cat. This was after my grandfather’s death, just before the sale of the house and my grandmother’s move closer to town.

*Despite the title of the WPRB show, Robin and Linda were, and are, quite often heard on the radio. They’ve been frequent guests on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, from 1975 on. They appeared in the 2006 Robert Altman-directed movie of the same name.

More later about our concert party with Robin and Linda!

Toward Finding Common Ground on Gun Violence

Four more people were shot dead on Wednesday, this time at a hospital in Tulsa.  Yet again, the gunman used a military-style semiautomatic rifle.  He bought it that very day.  This is the 233rd mass shooting in the U.S. so far, in a year that’s not yet at the halfway point.  Guns have replaced car accidents as the leading cause of death for children.  In the light of our country’s ceaseless gun violence, the need for real progress toward a solution becomes ever more urgent.

Is there really no common ground?  I continue to pray that it does exist.  We might find it if only we could step out from the confines of our ironclad political ideologies for a moment.  Of course, this is difficult because we don’t want to leave the safety of the familiar.  Maybe imagining ourselves in a hypothetical situation can help.  Let’s say we’re students, working together on a final group project.  We’re tasked with arriving at a plan to curb gun violence.   We don’t agree with, or like, everyone in our group.  But we all could really use an “A.”  Our teacher reminds us that no plan can possibly stop all gun violence, humans being what we are.  She suggests that we pretend, for the duration of the exercise, that the two major political parties as we know them do not exist.  A fellow classmate suggests that a real solution may be hiding in plain sight.  He proposes starting with some basic questions for discussion.  Here they are:

  1. You’re a parent, and you learn that an active shooter is threatening your child’s school. Which incites your greatest fear?
  •  To hear that the shooter wields a small handgun capable of firing a limited number of bullets before reloading is required, or
  • To hear that the shooter wields a semi- or fully automatic assault-style rifle capable of quickly firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition

2. You’re a police officer, responding to a call about an active shooter at a school.  Which gunman would you prefer to confront?

  • One wielding a small handgun, as above.
  • One wielding an assault-style rifle, as above.

3.  Does it really seem good, right, and appropriate that any eighteen-year old, unable to legally buy a beer, is able to purchase not one, but two AR-15 rifles for immediate use?

4. Think of a particularly immature, hot-tempered teenager whom you know.  Would you want this person to have easy access to multiple such weapons and a huge cache of ammunition?

5.  Would you feel comfortable knowing that the volatile teenager above is armed and roaming your neighborhood regularly?

4. Is it really likely to impact your rights as a responsible gun owner to protect your home if the person mentioned above is unable to purchase an AR-15 or similar gun without a background check, waiting period or any red flag laws in place?

5. Do you lock the doors of your home  at night and when you’re away?  Or do you not bother because, if someone wants to rob or harm you, they will find a way? 

The next victims of gun violence will likely not be members of our own families. But let’s act as if we expect them to be. Let’s quit bickering, acknowledge our shared humanity, and take real steps toward lessening this horrific epidemic.

For the Fallen Accidental Soldiers of our Hometown Wars, Let’s Really Think and Pray

Another Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. Every year around this time, fresh new memorials to lost American lives appear across our country. They commemorate the growing number of civilians forced unwittingly to serve as soldiers in our ongoing hometown wars.

Among these most recently fallen conscripts are the nineteen fourth graders in Uvalde, Texas, who almost made it to the end of the school year. These nine and ten-year old kids might now be relishing the start of summer, had they not been shot to death in their classrooms after returning from an awards ceremony. They include two teachers, both mothers, brave women who did their utmost to protect their students. They include ten people of various ages, from twenty to eighty-six, who had the misfortune to stop by their neighborhood grocery store in Buffalo for snacks, or strawberries, or a cake, at the wrong time.

We should also grieve for the traumatized survivors of these urban battles, whose lives are forever altered. They include the Uvalde children who evaded death because they chose an effective hiding place, or because they smeared their clothing with the blood of their dead and dying classmates. They’ll never see many of their little friends again. There is the young woman in Buffalo who eluded the gunman when another woman lunged at him and was shot dead in the process.

To these survivors and to the families of the lost, we are quick to offer our “thoughts and prayers.” This phrase, if uttered automatically, has little meaning. But we should, indeed, be thinking about, and praying for real solutions. Solving a problem requires opening our minds in order to approach it from various viewpoints. Prayer, to be effective, needs a similar attitude, a willingness to consider answers that might push the boundaries of our comfort zone. Prayer should prompt us to release our tight hold on notions we cling to simply because we have always done so. I pray that we can find some common ground, and that it will move us to take strategic steps toward stopping our country’s epidemic of gun violence.

And as we think and pray to find this common ground, let’s remember that, at any time, we might find ourselves, or our parent, grandparent, child or spouse, forced suddenly into battle. We’re all in this dangerous lottery together; we don’t know when or where our number may be called. Medical exemptions or wealthy parents will no longer keep us from the fight.

A Snowy Start for 2022

The first two days of 2022, here in Northern Virginia, like those at the close of ’21, were damp, gray and mild, with temperatures reaching the mid-60s. There was talk of snow to come, but it seemed highly unlikely. The pattern of dull, sunless days had been established; it was hard to conceive of it ever changing.

But just as predicted, snow began falling in the early-morning darkness of January 3rd, accumulating quickly.  It coated the bleak landscape with glistening white frosting that piled up, and up, elegantly and artfully.

Our yard and house soon acquired the Christmas-card aspect they had been missing all during December.

Kiko’s first steps in the snow were tentative and uncertain. Mine were, as well. The older we both get, the more actively I work to avoid a fall. Our morning walk was slow and halting, as I tried to keep him off the many icy spots on the road.

Once we made it back to the fresh snow near the house, he embraced it gleefully. Seeming to regain his youth, he pounced like a fox through the soft powder.

At sunrise and sunset, sky and snow tend to take on a luminous pink glow.

On the night of January 6th, our old house gleamed as white as the snow. Now that all twelve days of Christmas have come and gone, our exterior illumination is history. I’m always sad to hear that final click of the lights as they go dark, not to shine again for another eleven months. I’ll keep the decorated trees up for a while. Their soft light will be a much-needed comfort in the winter darkness to come. For now, the brightness of the snow, visible through the windows, provides some extra consolation.

I can’t help thinking about how much our daughter would have appreciated being at home for this particularly lovely snow. A few years ago, she would have reveled in the luxury of a few days off school, with time to savor the glories of the surrounding winter wonderland. But she returned to Maryland on Sunday, and awoke the next morning, as we did, to the blanket of white. We swapped snow pictures. Her days of simply cavorting in the snow on a weekday are largely in the past. The demands of the job were calling, a job not well-suited to remote working. Her car, in the uncovered garage, would have to be dug out. It’s too bad that no one thought to send her back to her apartment with a snow shovel. She used a dust pan instead.

But hey, I’m impressed. I didn’t know our girl owned a dust pan. Clearly, she’s an adult now.

Tis the Season?

Christmas is five days away.  Every year around this point, I ask myself: how can this be?  How can Christmas be upon us?  But this year, more than ever, time seems slippery, unreliable, prone to eccentricity.  Yesterday seems like a month ago, yet wasn’t Halloween just last week?  Is it because of my advanced age?  Is it because of sudden and broad temperature fluctuations?  In a typical seven-day span, here in Northern Virginia, we experience weather appropriate for all four seasons, sometimes in a single day.  Is it because we’re approaching our third Covid winter, and the weeks and months are draped in a veil of sameness? 

It’s certainly not because I’ve neglected the usual Christmas prep. I haven’t, and it’s kept me too busy to write. The evidence of the season is all around me, but still, this mid-December has an air of unreality. Something just seems off.

After further reflection, I think it may be this: the back-of-my-mind awareness that our daughter will no longer be joining us for an extended winter break. The Christmas season, in recent years, has begun in earnest for me with her arrival home from college. Last year, it started with her final online exam, as she was already here. I think what I’m missing now is the anticipation of having her back with us for about a month. That extra spark of excitement is absent.

At this realization, I had a mental pep talk with myself. Our daughter will be coming home soon, for about a week. She can’t stay longer because she’s gainfully and happily employed. (I’ve never held a job that ticked both boxes.) She’s embarked on a career that relies upon her training. This is why she went to college. At least it’s why the time, trouble and expense of college can be justified. All those demanding classes in aerospace engineering and astronomy are being put to good use. And while she’s a Maryland resident now, she’s closer to home than she was in Charlottesville. When she first began applying for jobs, my husband and I both feared that she’d find it necessary to move to the West Coast. In the rare absence of traffic, she can drive home in about an hour.

So I’m a lucky mama. We should see our dear daughter in two days. And then Christmas Vacation will officially begin.

As my mother reminds me, having recently watched a PBS show about the medieval origins of the twelve days of Christmas, December 25 is only the first day of the festive season. I’ve got plenty of time to get that spark of excitement back. In fact, I’m starting to feel it already.

The spirit of the season is popping up in unexpected places. Here, for example, is a radish that resembles a little head in a pointed elf cap.

The halls have been decked. It’s time to savor the joy of Christmas.

This morning’s full moon, not long after sunrise.

A Pilot in the Family, on Veterans Day, 2021

Thank you, this Veterans’ Day to all those who put their lives on the line to defend our country and our freedom. My father is the first veteran in our family that I typically think of on this day set aside to honor those who’ve served. My Uncle Bill is the second. Daddy was stationed in Regensburg, Germany, with the U.S. Army Occupational Forces following World War II. My mother’s brother, Bill, enlisted at sixteen and served as a Frogman in the Pacific.

While looking for a photo of Daddy or Uncle Bill to post on Veterans’ Day, I came across a picture of another family member in a military uniform. I don’t recall my father ever mentioning his distant cousin, Hunter, above. According to the inscription on the back of the photo, in Daddy’s neat handwriting, Hunter was a Lieutenant in the Air Service during World War I. He was born August 30, 1895 in Jane Lew, West Virginia, which is also my grandmother’s home town. He survived the war, and died at age sixty-five on May 9, 1960 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. He’s buried in Arlington Cemetery. The photo bears no date, but it must have been taken in 1917 or ’18, when he was twenty-two or twenty-three. When he was my daughter’s age.

I learned from another cousin that Hunter was the son of my great-grandmother’s brother, which makes him my grandmother’s first cousin. He was married in 1922 to a woman named Marion, and together they had at least one child, a son. I wish we knew more about Hunter’s experiences during the war. I wish I could read some of his letters home, as we’ve read my Uncle Bill’s. I wish we knew more about Hunter’s later years, as well. I hope he has grandchildren now keeping his memory alive. I hope they have photos that document other notable stages in their grandfather’s life. But I’m grateful that at least I have this lone visual record, this window into Hunter’s young adulthood, when he was a dashing pilot in jodhpurs and goggles, striking a jaunty pose before climbing into his plane to do his patriotic duty. Thank you, cousin Hunter, for your youthful confidence and courage. I hope it stood you in good stead throughout your life.

Halloween 2021

The last time our daughter was home for Halloween was in 2017, her senior year in high school. Her return for the recent holiday weekend therefore seemed extra special. Slim was eager to see our daughter, as well. He recognized her as his ideal partner in preparing for all things Halloween. She is nearly as big a fan of the day as he is. Ever since she was a toddler, Halloween anticipation has begun for her in the summer. (See Friendly Ghosts of Halloweens Past, October 2013.)

In 2020, because of Covid, young parents in our neighborhood organized a Halloween parade, with all trick-or-treating outside. The kids progressed from one end of the neighborhood to the other, to tables set up by families in front of their homes. It worked so well and was so enjoyable that they decided to do it again this year. I liked it because it made it easier to appreciate the costumes and gave more time to chat with kids and their parents.

Our daughter was determined to make our Halloween display as thorough as possible. Slim was equally zealous, of course. Together, they hauled out all the old, mostly homemade decorations that D recalls fondly from her childhood: Fred, the stuffed dummy, the tombstone and graveyard fencing, various skulls and bones, jack-o’-lantern votives, spiders and spiderwebs. They festooned our tables for treats in appropriately witchy garb. They set up the fog machine and an outdoor speaker for projecting spooky sounds. They rolled out the love seats from the garage so we could be comfortably seated during the parade. This persuaded even my mother to join us. When we began to see the children approaching, Slim climbed up in a cherry tree, and D, wearing the gorilla costume that we just happen to have, hid herself from view.

Our daughter, quietly channeling her inner gorilla.
A tense moment.

As each group of children chose their treats, my husband, holding a heavy chain, would ask, “Has anyone seen my pet gorilla?” Then D would pop up from behind the love seat and jump around. The performance was well-received, usually with genuine surprise. No one was overly frightened, which was as intended, but one little boy asked his mother to remain close by his side as he got his candy. Several trick-or-treaters, and possibly one parent, wearing an inflatable T-Rex costume, engaged in high-spirited dance-offs with the gorilla.

Thanks to our friendly neighborhood, the parade, to the presence of Slim and our daughter, this Halloween was one of the happiest I can remember. It was rewarding to see just how many children live among us. We were impressed by the innovative costumes, on both kids and adults. How satisfying it was to see neighbors out socializing as they provided treats. As Slim likes to remind us, Halloween has evolved from an ancient Celtic harvest festival into a day when we affirm our common humanity through a love of sugar. It’s a day to welcome back, unapologetically, the child that abides within us, no matter our age. A time to share some sweetness and joy with others, simply because we’re God’s children here together. After all, it’s the custom to give candy not only to those we know personally, but to everyone who stops by.

It was a perfect top-off to the evening when a small Superhero jumped out of a highly decorated SUV and brought us a festively wrapped bottle of sparkling wine. We’d won one of the prizes for best display. Our daughter’s and Slim’s efforts had paid off. We’d given treats, and we got a treat. That, my friends, is Halloween, isn’t it?