I’m a big believer in holidays. Always have been. Perhaps it’s the anthropologist in me. Holidays help to mark the turn of the year, and are the glue that help to hold culture together. It doesn’t matter whether they are secular or religious, modern or ancient in origin – holidays help to define who we are as a society. And so, I have always embraced them – every one of them. With my children and then later with my grandchildren, we made our way through the seasons holiday by holiday, and enjoyed the time spent, even in the midst of commercialism and busy schedules.
Since holidays are so important, they are also difficult to handle in the face of great loss. There are unbearable gaps in the family circle, and the holes left are so much more poignant during the holidays. Many organizations that help with grief produce special lists of suggestions for how to endure these difficult times. As the days grow shorter, the darkness in our hearts grows greater, and it is very easy to give in to depression.
For most families, the “bad time” starts with Thanksgiving at the end of November. For me, though, it all starts with October. When there are children in the family, Halloween is a big deal. It’s one of the true children’s holidays, and whether you see the origins of Halloween as religious or pagan, it is now a completely secular holiday of mystery and magic. Choosing just the right costume takes a lot of effort. I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking for special requests on the internet… an elephant, a dragon, a unicorn or a lizard. Some of them took a lot of digging, I can tell you! I’ve made costumes, transformed an old one into a new one, or tracked it down on the computer, first for my own children, and then for my grandchildren. Devon had already picked out what he wanted to be next before he was killed in August, and we had found just the right thing in a catalog. We were just waiting for Ian to make up his mind before sending in the order form. I miss that.
I think that what I miss most, though, is the trip to the pumpkin patch. I took the boys to one every single year, even when they were quite small. Just wandering through rows and piles of big orange and yellow pumpkins can be an adventure for a toddler. Every year we picked a different one, so there was always something different to enjoy – slides and bouncers, a petting zoo, a pony ride, or game booths. Every one of them fun and new. And yet, threre was continuity there as well, in the stories and comparisons with other years and other pumpkins. “Remember when we had a white pumpkin and won a contest?” “That goat looks just like the one who stole my gingerbread man when I was a little girl.” “Look at the llama! When your dad was little a llama followed him all around a petting zoo, and kept resting its chin on the top of his head.”
As I drive around town, I see pumpkin patches going up everywhere. It’s all so familiar and so heart-wrenching. Leaves are turning, the pumpkins are ripe and ready, and I find myself checking out each location as though scouting for just the right one to visit this year, Only, there aren’t any little boys to bounce with anticipation in the back seat or to pull me in two different directions trying to see everything at once. Sometimes I forget that they are gone. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that pumpkins still ripen and grow without them. I really haven’t figured out how to handle my pumpkin patch yearnings, the bitter or the sweet.