Apples, pumpkins and autumn leaves are just a few of my favorite October things. Or maybe, to be precise, it’s apple pie, roasted pumpkin seeds and jumping into piles of leaves that make October my favorite month. And of course, your birthday!
As summer gives way to fall, October produces cool, clear nights great for sleeping, and warm, sunny afternoons great for being outdoors. These are the happy days! When I look back on my favorite times with my children, October comes to mind. I wish the same for you.
In Ohio when the kids were little, a close pal and I piled our children into one mini-van and headed off for an apple picking farm about an hour away. There were seventeen apple varieties, some, which the farmer said, dated back to Johnny Appleseed plantings. John Chapman had gone through Fairfield County, south of Columbus, in the early 1800s. History, apples and friendship came together on those warm afternoons. It was blissful to visit an obscure farm down a windy road with no other visitors. And we ate as we picked, comparing and contrasting the flavors, and brought home bushels of apples. We were a merry band. These were the years I learned to make applesauce, apple brown betty and apple pie. Yum!
When we moved to Michigan, October was the month of leaves. There was no better way to teach Meg her colors then on a walk collecting leaves that had turned red, orange, yellow and brown, and hold them up against October’s brilliant blue sky. After four years, we had learned the names of the trees and could identify them by their leaves. Oh, and when they came down, we raked and raked them into piles which the kids jumped in before we pushed them to the gutter for collection. During our first October, I wondered, as the leaves lay week after week in the street, turning our wide two-lane road into one, where was the weekly pickup by a truck with a vacuum. Then in the last week of October, plows arrived on our street to move the leaves. Into monstrously large piles they went, at each intersection and in the nearby cul-de-sacs, before the leaves were lifted into dump trucks and taken away. The neighborhood kids gathered to watch as the plows created mountains of leaves as tall as the one-story house on our block. Once the plow was out of sight and with a quick glance at me for permission, they sprinted to the piles to climb and dive and jump as they had never before. Happiness is a mountain of leaves that five kids can climb simultaneously.
Our New Jersey years brought an older kid’s life with homework and school sports, along with an earlier sunset. My concern that our outdoor October days might be over was needless worry. The nature walks and other mom-led adventures morphed into street hockey and an evening ritual of night games. At dusk, the neighborhood kids would divide into teams and then there was a romp through the backyards playing manhunt. With a door and a few windows were open I could hear them well, it was as if I was hiding in the bushes with them. Those moments taught me to let them choose, to let them explore, to let them lead.
I loved all those outdoor times, but lurking at the end of each October was Halloween. I am not a Halloween person. Of course, I enjoy a Baby Ruth candy bar after trick-or-tricking as much as anyone (when else do you see them), but I’ve no interest in re-decorating my home, no desire to budget annually for hay bales, nor do I wish to own multiple orange bins full of Halloween costumes and paraphilia. I like a few classic decorations that add to a room, not take over it. I cannot sew beyond replacing buttons and I lack all creativity once the words, “Halloween costume” are uttered. I panic. I cringe. I want to hide until November 1st arrives. This was a great disappointment to my children, especially Meg, who wanted to decorate everything, who wanted distinctive, original and eye-catching homemade costumes and who hoped we would host the Halloween party-of-the-century, every year.
It took time, but over the years, Meg, her siblings and I found ways to compromise. I begged and borrowed costumes from friends and family who sewed; I even put together a few memorable costumes with the help of some old clothes and a good pair of scissors. The kids lowered their expectations and came up with simple costume ideas. I, in turn, came to appreciate the benefits of costumes and wearing them repeatedly. Costumes allow kids to have an alter ego, to try their hand at role-playing, and to expand their imagination. I stopped feeling the pressure of sewing great masterpieces and over time found clothing, hats, and accessories that filled a large box for dress-up. I gladly helped at school parties and cheered at Halloween parades. Each year I agreed to purchase one Halloween decorative item and two weeks before Halloween, I helped Meg decorate as she saw fit, including hanging streamers and every Halloween art project ever made. For freshness, I insisted that our pumpkins were carved the day before Halloween. I did them free hand based on the kids’ drawings. Mostly your Uncle Dan took the kids out trick-or-treating, while I stayed home to hand out candy and bake pumpkin seeds. It was nice to be waiting for them, so that, like the candy in their pillowcases, the stories of the evening could spill out.
You may notice that I skipped all the scary stuff. I did so because it skipped my kids entirely. The Mannix family was not one for ghost stories, haunted houses, or scary movies. Instead, I will leave you with my favorite Halloween image. It is your Uncle Dan at Meg’s pre-school sitting on a small stool teaching eleven four-year-olds the Halloween song he learned in pre-school:
Halloween has come at last,
Witches, goblins, big black cats,
People yell and people shout,
Much love each and every day,