Let us put by some hour of every day for holy things...

Think on th' eternal home,
The Saviour left for you;
Think on the Lord most holy, come
To dwell with hearts untrue:
So shall ye tread untired His pastoral ways,
And in the darkness sing your carol of high praise.

--from Keble's The Christian Year, Thoughts in Verse



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I grew up on ghost stories. 

My grandmother had a store of them--mysterious, uncanny tales of paranormal encounters that had been experienced by members of previous generations of the family, and even a few unexplained, unsettling manifestations she'd observed herself.  

It wasn't her intention, I'm sure, but these anecdotes fueled in me a deep fascination with the supernatural.  By the time I was an adolescent, I was ferreting out ghost story books from the local library, playing with ouija boards and, along with my friends, attempting seances to speak with departed spirits. 

It was all "harmless" fun, or so I thought. I found out my error eventually when the "fun" began to turn unpredictable and dark. Without my realizing it, I had opened my life up to influences that were anything but benign. 

My husband had also dabbled in the occult briefly as a young man, and discovered to his dismay just how real a danger it presented.

Because of our experiences, when our kids came along, my husband and I decided to be extra cautious with what we allowed them to be involved in. Halloween was one thing we decided they could do without.

So when Vanessa commented on the last post that she thought I might be surprised she had never gone trick-or-treating as a child because her mother had reservations about it, I could certainly relate to her situation.

I did feel sad, though, that my kids would be missing out on the more innocent aspects of Halloween fun that I'd grown up with. By the time our daughter (the oldest of our kids) had turned three years old, I was worrying that she would be upset at skipping the fun her friends were allowed to participate in. I was casting about in my mind, wondering what we could do as a family to make up for the public celebrations she was having to forego, but without much success. To tell the truth, I was beginning to feel like a Halloween version of Scrooge

The Lord graciously solved this problem for us and just in the nick of time. On a gloriously sunny, crisp Halloween afternoon in 1986, our son came catapulting into the world in a homebirth that I'm jolly glad had been planned because we'd never have made it to a hospital. The midwife made it there only minutes before our son did.  ("Ease up, Victoria, you don't want to shoot the baby across the room," she exclaimed when she saw how fast things were progressing.  "Oh, yes, I do!" I remember retorting through clenched teeth.)

By 4:15 in the afternoon it was all over, and my husband had great fun phoning my mother to ask her if she knew when trick-or-treating was officially supposed to start in our neighborhood. He then told her we'd already had a trick-or-treater show up at our place--and his costume was his birthday suit!  

Anyway, all this is a very long-winded way of relating that, instead of Halloween, we had a great celebration every year of our oldest son's birthday, and everyone was happy. I took the kids to the store to let them each choose a pound of the "pick-a-mix" candy of their choice, we revved up the projector to watch home movies, and had pop and snacks while we watched the annual "show". It was a blast!

By the time our youngest boy was about twelve years old, we'd decided we didn't have to be quite so strict about some of the observances. We switched from home movies to hokey "horror" show videos (Godzilla or one of those "aliens from outerspace" fifties sci-fi classics, usually) and when his aunt invited the family to her "new" old house for a Halloween party, we went ahead and dove right into the fun.

Wyatt had a greatest time of all of us. It was his first and only experience of trick-or-treating and he made the most of it. Since the rest of us got tired of our costumes after about an hour, he kept appropriating them and going out to the neighbors' houses in a parade of different disguises throughout the evening. Finally someone remarked drily, "You know, I think I've seen those shoes here a number of times already."     

He found his one, belated foray into Halloween entirely satisfying.

Who was that masked woman? 

Okay, that's probably WAY more than you ever wanted to know about my family's idiosyncrasies, so I'll mercifully draw these reminiscences to a close. 

I'll leave you with a favorite ghost story, one that's in the form of a poem. (I did warn you, remember, back at the outset of this month!) I don't mind tame fictional ghost-hunts, and this one's a gem:


A Shropshire Lad    



The gas was on in the Institute,
The flare was up in the gym,
A man was running a mineral line,
A lass was singing a hymn,
When Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Came swimming along the old canal
That carried the bricks to Lawley,
Swimming along, swimming along,
Swimming along from Severn,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank
While swimming along to Heaven.

The sun shone low on the railway line
And over the bricks and stacks,
And in at the upstairs windows
Of the Dawley houses’ backs,
When we saw the ghost of Captain Webb,
Webb in a water sheeting,
Come dripping along in a bathing dress
To the Saturday evening meeting.
Dripping along, dripping along,
To the Congregational Hall;
Dripping and still he rose over the sill
And faded away in a wall.

There wasn’t a man in Oakengates
That hadn’t got hold of the tale,
And over the valley in Ironbridge,
And round by Coalbrookdale,
How Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Rose rigid and dead from the old canal
That carried the bricks to Lawley,
Rigid and dead, rigid and dead,
To the Saturday congregation,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank
On his way to his destination
.
John Betjeman

  

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