Thursday, 30 October 2008

Halloween Memories: Buffalo & Williamsville New York

It's almost here: Halloween Night!
I can still remember the little poem my children learned in Pre-K:
On Halloween Night
The ghosts come out
Say, "Trick or Treat"
and then they shout-

I can close my eyes and smell what Halloween smells like: all crisp and cold, creating red, dripping noses, with smoke-filled, chilled air, from fireplaces burnin
g wood to keep the chill away from inside rooms.
Stomping through piles of fallen leaves, making crunching, paper-like sounds as we pus
hed our way through them.
The occasional jump in a neatly piled leaf mountain near the road, and laughing as we made a mess of it all.
Those were simple days and exciting times for the little ones.

Although there is controversy regarding Halloween and many people believe it is an un-Christian-like night, kids only believe in the magic and make-believe of the evening.
All they want is a night to be someone they are not, and to run rampant throughout the neighborhoods, shouting and reveling in the fun of it all.
The eerie nightfall; other costumed characters; the scents and sounds of the evening; and of course, getting all of that candy!

My children were no different: they adored Halloween night. They were dressed-up in costumes I made for them, and carried flashlights and glow sticks and little pumpkin pails in which to collect their candy.
Tradition in our family had it that a pillowcase was used for candy collection, so I always carried three pillowcases and periodically, dumped the tiny collection pails into them, all through the evening.
We would walk in a safe neighborhood, usually where my sister lived, as we joined her children and the other cousins to trick-or-treat, all in the same area.
The older kids would take off on their own, while we strolled along with the younger children.
Sometimes, kind adults would offer the parents liquid refreshments to help keep them 'warm' on the cold, cold nights.

Those beverages were anything from wine, to mulled cider, to hot chocolate or coffee and all were welcomed by us! Since we weren't doing all the running our kids were engaged in, our older bones needed a little boost!

Throughout the years, my children were cats and pumpkins, prisoners and boxed Christmas gifts; fairies and skeletons, Princesses and chefs, but never a ghost. Not one of my children ever wanted to be a ghost, but oh how much I wanted one of them to be one!

When I was little ghost 'costumes' were standard fare! We would raid our mother's linens and steal white pillowcases, cut out two eyes, drop the cases over our heads, and we were off for a night of fun and frolic.
I don't remember mom ever chastising us for our indiscretions with her linens, but I know if my children had done that I would have been very angry, to say the least!
But I loved the ghosts in their simplicity and total coverage for anonymity!
And how much they reminded me of my own youth.

Ours was a different sort of Halloween from that of my children.

The costumes were mostly home-made and they represented inanimate objects, like TV sets, or spaceships. Or simple things like dogs, cats or teddy bears or babies, dolls, or Indians. Or scary things like witches, vampires, devils, and ghosts.
The closest thing you would see to an overly commercialized movie or TV character might be kids dressed up as Raggedy Ann an Andy dolls.
When compared to the costumes my childrens' friends had, costumes of my youth, were innocent and for the most part, non-controversial.
Schools didn't have to resort to limiting costumes to characters found in literature books.
Pretty much, that was all we had anyway.

We carried soap with us to soap the doors and windows of people who didn't offer candy.
Our parents forbid us from carrying the soap, but we sneaked it out of the house anyway.
We rarely used it though - we were too afraid of getting caught!
Some bad kids carried eggs and egged houses that were not offering treats.
They believed that was their 'trick,' I guess. We never did anything like that.

"Trick or Treat," we would shout as we pounded on doors or as we rang bells of the unsuspecting victims of the fright we believed we were causing.
They would open their doors and drop candy into our pillowcase sacks. Some were acting frightened, and some would question us, and all were friendly.

There were some families that actually invited you into their homes for warmed, mulled cider and a donut. I can remember a family who did that on Lexington
Avenue in the city of Buffalo, New York and another one Norwood Avenue.
The ladies on Norwood opened-up their enclosed porch and served cider from a punch bowl and
Freddies donuts.

Some people gave out candy corn, and some gave out smaller versions of our favorite candy bars: Reeses Peanut Butter Cups; Milky Way bars; Butterfinger; Heath; Snickers; Clark bars.

And some gave out our favorite candies: Good and Plenty; Milk Duds; Licorice, red and black; Dots; Mike and Ikes; fireballs; Tootsie Roll Pops; Safety suckers; peach stones
; candy lipsticks. Some families gave pennies, or apples, or popcorn balls, and some gave gum.
But our favorite houses were the houses giving full sized candy bars.

The word would spread from group to group of kids: we all knew where the good candy was being given out and would race to get there before it was all gone!

It wasn't all a selfish, gluttonous evening. We also carried little milk cartons for UNICEF, into which the charitable would drop coins which we would carry to school with us to give back to our teachers.
We'd walk for blocks and blocks, unsupervised by adults, coming home tired and cold but all too ready to dump our sacks onto the floor and take a good long look at our loot.

Most of the time Halloween was icy cold and sometimes even snow was on the ground. The snow was the worst. You had to wear a coat over your costume and oh no, BOOTS too!
And you would be freezing and wet and i
t just wasn't the same as Halloween nights without snow. But either way, the scheme was the same; you were in it for as much as you could get!

When my children were young, someone was alway on hand to give out our own candy. This usually meant that the dads had all the fun of greeting the trick-or-treaters, while moms went out with the kids.

In order to have both parents go out with the kids, some families had grandparents man the doors and some trusting people simply left bowls of candy on their doorsteps with a note of instruction to help yourself to one treat and leave the rest to share with others.

When I was young, our parents remained at home, answering the door for the Halloween revelers, and we went out alone. As years went by, my older sisters stopped going out (except Debbie) and they helped with the door.
I think I stopped going out about the age of 12. I think Deb carried
on right through High School!
In those days, kids teased you if you were still trick-or-treating at ages much above 11.

My own kids carried on as long as they had breath in their bodies!
I do believe Katie kept going the longest - maybe until she was about 20!

Preparation for the giving of treats began with a trip to the farmers of Western New York.
Our parents would take us out to the countryside to select our own pumpkins.
We weren't wealthy, but there was always enough money for each of us to have our own pumpkin to carve.
We would carve them in time for 'Beggars' Night.' This was traditionally the evening of the 30th of October - a night for brave young children with a thirst for rejection to try to get some extra treats.
The brave ones would go door-to-door, trick-or-treating, with the audacity of a Wall Street risk-taker: they knew the rewards could be good, if they got lucky!
They appeared on your doorstep asking for candy the night before the actual event.
In our house, we didn't give candy out on Beggars' Night. We would politely ask them to return the next evening.
But since we answered the door, they would simply scurry off.

They were luckier in homes where people were afraid of retaliation: soaped windows, et all, if they didn't hand out the goods. Those frightened people gave candy out on beggars night only to find they had none left for Halloween - so they would need to buy more or take a risk of getting soaped - or worse - egged.

Sometimes older kids used toilet paper to toss in trees which left eerie shreds of thin paper flying about on Halloween night.
In our neighborhood, since Halloween was very near to Election Day, the temporary voting booths were set out in places between the street curb and the public sidewalk.
(Do you remember them?)
We had one set in its rightful spot on the corner of Ashland and Highland Avenues.
One neighbor teenage boy climbed upon its roof and hurled water and worse on unsuspecting trick-or-treaters walking past.
Oh the merriment and tricks that were had on Beggar's Night!

But with out pumpkins carved, we would set about doing other traditions to prepare for the big night.
My mom and dad bought the candy, and with all of us sitting around the big harvest table, we sorted and packed; making tiny treat sacks for other kids to have from us.

We spread out white napkins and filled them with candy corn and other treats. Then we tied them securely with curling ribbon and made mini ghosts of the bundles.
The white bundles filled massive bowls and were set near the door awaiting the arrival of fiendish visitors.

Part of the fun of Halloween in those days was the preparation and anticipation of it all.

Here in England, Halloween used to be celebrated when my husband was a child, but it went out of favor for a while. Now, it is beginning a comeback and each year more and more shops are carrying items to decorate homes, and costumes, and candy.

I brought some of my decorations with me, and some, I have purchased since my arrival here two years ago.

This Halloween, w
e again have some candy from home, courtesy of our friends, Esther and Don. We have some candy corn and some mello creme pumpkins, and some Hershey's Kisses in the Hugs style.
I also purchased some candy bars with familiar American brands: Mars bars, (really Milky Way bars in disguise) and Twix.

Tonight, Jim, Katie, and I will wrap small bundles of candy in napkins, the same way we always did at our house when I was a girl, and fill a bowl with the precious bundles.
We'll carve our pumpkins and prepare for our little 'guest' tomorrow evening.
And the traditions carry on.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Theatre of Small Convenience

Our dear friends, Esther and Don, left for home today. Our week together went by so fast!

They had a whirlwind tour of Great Britain and Ireland before joining us here in the Midlands.

They looked
tired, but happy, when we collected them from their hotel in London last Sunday.
We spent the first day traveling back home engaged in
conversation, enjoying the sights, and learning all about their travels.

Blessed with unseasonably good weather, we spent the next three days escorting our friends to many of the towns and villages we love: Stow-on-Wold, Morton-on-Marsh, Chipping Campden, Ledbury, Ludlow, and a special
destination we discovered and have come to love:
The Theatre of Small Convenience.

Who would not love a place so unique and special as this?

Situated in a very steep street in
Malvern, the tiny theater is contained in a former Victorian Gentleman's toilet!

Large, old trees surround the building's stone exterior, while haunting faces peer up at you from the earth surrounding the front of the building,
but the story only begins there.

proprietor, Dennis, is an artist who, with the help of his family, has transformed the small space into a work of art, with its 'found' stage and decor, hand-painted walls, and hand-made puppets.

We called in on the theater on a day it is usually closed, and this wonderful man arrived to open it just for us. He performed magic on stage with his tiny friends and music with sound effects, much to our delight and amusement.

It was a special engagement and a special time that none of us will soon forget.
Even though this tiny jewel was discovered on the first day of our adventures together, it was the highlight of our outings, and the most memorable.

Time is fleeting and our week together has come to an end, with our friends heading home today.
There were so many places we left undiscovered and so many hours spent and wasted with necessary sleep!

But the magic of the tiny theater will always remain, and the time spent together can always be culled from our memories, and good friends will always be there,
no matter how many miles and days are between us.

Monday, 6 October 2008

There's a Chill in the Air

Please take a look at my Etsy shops when considering gifts for the holidays.
Sweet Scarlett for all things handmade.
And English Preserves for all sorts of vintage items, just right for that person who likes something different for Christmas. I am planning on adding some new hat designs in time for Christmas gift giving, as well as some vintage bookplates that can be personalized with your child's name on them.

Brrr . . . we have had to turn on the heat in the house, it has been that cold here!

Now I am originally from Buffalo, New York, where our weather can be pretty terrible - I mean wind chill temps below freezing and snow storms that come across Lake Erie leaving us snowed-in and freezing!

So this is 'easy weather' for me now situated in the middle of England! Yet, it feels way colder than the temperature reveals; it is cold and damp in a way that cuts to your bones. Damp cold is on par with the bitter dry cold I lived with for so long.

So our heat is on and there is a nip in the air, and it feels like fall has arrived.
You would never know it from the shops here. Instead, you would think Christmas was much closer than it actually is! The shops do not 'do' autumn. They skip right by it and steer directly into Christmas. I miss the Halloween and Thanksgiving displays and the festive atmosphere they encourage.

However, I did see some pumpkins in a vegetable shop on my way into the city today. They reminded me of home and of haystalks standing guard each side of doorways; and the scents of the leaves falling from tress in vivid colours of the season.

I can close my eyes and see the little children walking to school, kicking up the leaves as they walk along the sidewalks, or, as they return home from school, jumping in piles of leaves, left neatly for the town to cart away for mulching and composting.

Ummm, baking cookies seems like a good idea!

My sister Deborah, who lives in Florida, sent me a set of cookie cutters by Wilton.
She purchased them in Joann Fabrics and made some chocolate ginger cookies from Martha Stewart's website. The set has maple and oak leaves in three sizes and some sweet little acorns in three sizes as well. I haven't used them yet but am thinking about baking some soon, soon, soon!

I have been busy preparing for a visit from some dear friends, Esther and Don, from the US who will be staying with us next week. We are so excited about their visit!
They live in Niagara Falls, New York and are already here in England as I type.

They are first taking a UK and Ireland tour and will be returning to stay with us on Sunday.

We plan on taking them to some of our favourite haunts in and around the Midlands, including Stratford and the
Cotswolds. It should be so much fun!
More about their visit next week!