Note from Paula — when I was going through items written by my mother-in-law, Barb, after her death, this short story recounting her Halloween memories is one of the pieces I found among the records she had kept of pieces she had submitted to various publications. The Polaroid picture above was clipped to the hard copy in her files. It seemed like the perfect Halloween “gift” and as I typed it, I could hear her voice in every word. It was the loveliest kind of Halloween “ghost.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I did …
A Jack O’Lantern Filled With Memories
It’s October again, and the air is filled with autumn’s crisp scent. To me this means it’s time to pull the orange ceramic jack o’lantern from its resting place on the top shelf of the hall closet. The pumpkin has been there for twenty years, never escaping except for this one month of the year when it leaves the dark and becomes the dining room table’s Halloween centerpiece.
Today, watched by its triangle eyes and smiled at by its toothy grin, I set it on a wicker mat in the center of the table. Placing a candle in its hollow center, I carefully struck a match and brought the season’s hallmark to life. Then as the flame’s warmth caressed my hand, I felt a rush of twenty year old memories.
Chuck was there, a white faced ghost draped in a mended sheet. Beside him stood Patrick grinning a six year old’s toothless grin and wearing a ballerina’s pink tights and net tutu. Ann, dressed in a fleecy blanket sleeper, wore bunny ears held straight by wire coat hangers.
Another son came into view. Wayne? Memory flickered like the candle flame, then resumed its steady flow. Yes, it was him. Then I laughed, for his small self had become a balloon-shaped orange-skinned pumpkin and his head a green stem.
The memories, my real-life now grown children, danced around the candle lit pumpkin and shouted, “trick-or-treat.”
“Do you think my costume will win a prize, mama?” The ballerina shouted, pirouetting on feet that stretched the satin slippers to the breaking point.
“No, I’m going to win,” announced another child with Jim’s voice. He was wrapped completely in multiple layers of six inch gauze. Small slits for eyes, nose and mouth permitted the mummy child to see, breathe and eat.
“Maybe you’ll both win,” I heard myself say, wanting to keep peace between the ballerina and the mummy.
Then as suddenly as they had come they were gone leaving me staring into the pumpkin’s grinning face.
“Do you remember?” I asked, but before the jack o’lantern could answer, my children were back.
“I won the prize, mama,” two voices chorused.
“I didn’t,” other voices chimed.
I looked into the earnest faces and tried to guess the winners, but their smiles hid the secret.
“I won for being the prettiest.” The ballerina bowed low before me.
“I won for being the scariest.” The mummy stood at stiff attention.
“And what about you?” I looked from the pumpkin, to the ghost and the bunny rabbit.
“I bobbed for apples and got one,” said the ghost holding up a piece of half eaten fruit.
“I got the biggest sack of candy,” the pumpkin shoved a crayon decorated grocery bag under my nose.
“And I was so tired, daddy had to carry me home,” sighed the little bunny.
The ceramic jack o’lantern’s light sputtered. Again my memories faded from view. Leaning closer, I passed my hand over the grinning face to check the light. When these scenes were first played, I could both see and hear. Today though, I can only hear their voices, as I am blind. Yet for me nothing has been lost, for God has secreted their happy faces inside my heart, and inside a jack o’lantern filled with memories.
Author: Barb Kiger
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.