One year later…

by Barb, in Portland, Maine, where we’ve finally had our first frost

I turned in the manuscript for “Scared Off,” my novella in the anthology, Halloween Party Murder, on November 1, last year. The tale starts with a wild party. Julia Snowden’s thirteen-year-old niece, Page, is attending a sleepover at a new friend’s house. When one of the three girls there sends a misguided text, word spreads and before they know it every teenager in town, and a few from out-of-town, show up. The uninvited guests arrive with cases of beer and raid the family liquor cabinet. Before long they are are puking in the bathroom, making out in the bedrooms, and having fights on the lawn. And, the elderly third-floor tenant who had been left in charge of the girls is nowhere to be found.

We don’t include Acknowledgements in these novella collections, but each author is encouraged to write a letter to readers at the end of the story. Here’s some of what I wrote.

It doesn’t happen often, but I got to write this tale of mayhem and murder in the season in which it is set. The lead-up to Halloween in 2020 was a decidedly scary time as parents debated whether trick-or-treating was safe. If their wild party had broken out this year, Page, Vanessa, and Talia would have been in even bigger trouble.

I hope that, as you read this story in a future I can barely imagine, you are preparing for hordes of children dressed in costumes to come to your door and then donning your own costume to go out to a party. If not, I wish for you a glass of warm cider, a plate of Vee’s delicious pumpkin cookies, and a good book.”

Last October, Bill and I rented a house on a lake in Virginia for the month because it was fifteen minutes away from my son, Rob, my daughter-in-law, Sunny, and my granddaughter, Viola’s home. When we made the plan I had visions of supporting a family dealing, as everyone was, with balancing work and remote school. But it turned out, with months to prepare, instead of days as it had been the previous semester, remote second grade was a pretty well-oiled machine and Viola was more than equal to it.

What we were able to provide for a little family, who had been as isolated as all the rest of us, was another set of people to see, another place to go, and new activities to explore. Viola was still young enough to think her grandparents were terrific and it turned into a very special time, the “during the pandemic” memory I treasure the most.

Viola and I with the dollhouse I hauled all the way down from Maine because I knew she loved playing with it and who knew how long that would last? She is a great spinner of fictional scenarios. One of her rules for the imaginary village the dollhouse occupied was “no covid.”

As Halloween approached, I was feeling stressed. Everywhere parents were debating what was safe. Viola’s school and neighborhood had already announced they’d be skipping Halloween. Which, to most, just seemed like one more loss in a lost year.

The stress I felt was because Viola loves, loves Halloween. From the time she was two she had been spinning out ideas not just for her costume, but for entire tableaux, assigning costumes to everyone in the family. As the only member of her generation on our side for four-and-a-half long years, she was able to persuade every grown-up to participate.

The Halloween that started it all. Viola as Ariel, the Little Mermaid, Auntie Kate as Sebastian, Uncle Luke as Prince Eric. (He wasn’t even a member of the family yet, so I think this shows him as an extra good sport. He must have thought it was some form of hazing.) Sunny as Flounder, Rob as King Triton
At the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston. Viola as Princess Aurora, Kate as the Green Fairy, Luke as Samson the Horse, Rob as King Stefan, Sunny as Queen Leah, me as the Red Fairy, Bill as the Blue Fairy. (I still have the hats.)
Blue Fairy and Samson the Horse check in on the Patriots-Bills game. They’re dedicated, but they’re not crazy.
Bill as Batman, Sunny as Hippolyta (Wonder Woman’s mother, of course), Kate as Superwoman, Rob as Superman, Viola as Wonder Woman.
The Scooby Gang; Viola’s “other” grandmother, Joy, as Scooby, Viola as Daphne, Sunny as Velma, Rob as Shaggy (dedicated beard work there) and “other” grandfather, Tom, as Fred. (I told you she got everyone in on the act.)

Viola had had 2020’s theme planned for months–Harry Potter, of course, her current, most fervent passion. The house we rented was on a little cul-de-sac with lots of kids. It appeared they were doing some kind of a pod. Finally, as the day approached, I screwed up my courage and did something I am very, very bad at–I approached a stranger for help. I asked the mom next door what the story was for Halloween. She explained that because there were no streetlights, the street only ever attracted kids from the neighborhood. The plan was to put tables of treats at the ends of the driveways and have the kids go around to them. She told me the time and how much candy we would need.

So that’s what we did.

Rob as Harry, me as Professor McGonagall, Viola as Hermione, Sunny as a Hufflepuff student, possibly Hannah Abbott
Bill as Ron

And it was fine. Viola was a little intimidated by all the kids and houses she didn’t know. But like me, she screwed up her courage, and she went to just the right number of tables to get just the right amount of candy. Everyone was lovely and encouraging.

I cried when I said good-bye to her that night, something I’d vowed not to do, and she did, too. I assured her we’d see her at Christmas, but that, alas, was not to be.

This year WAS better…

Viola got to trick-or-treat with a friend in her own neighborhood. I think the pandemic actually prolonged these family tableaux, put off by one year her going around with kids her own age and losing interest in corralling all of us.

But old habits hang on.

Bill is still Ron, his wig lost to time. Viola is still Hermione, but she’s taken polyjuice and turned partially into a cat, and Sunny has on my old McGonagall gear.

Meanwhile, in another state, another crew gets started…

Etta wanted to be a ghost for months, but at the last minute switched it up.

Etta as the pink monster, Luke as the green monster, Sylvie as the furry monster, Kate as the polka dot monster

Readers: As the year turns, do you find yourself, as I do, comparing last year’s landmarks to this one’s? What strikes you as different or the same?

29 Thoughts

  1. BARB: Those Halloween pics are adorable!

    Yes, I have been comparing what life is like now compared to this time last year.
    In Ottawa. Halloween was cancelled due to COVID lockdowns and the second wave of steadily rising cases.

    We are definitely in a better place now in Ottawa. We have a vaccination rate of 87% in Ottawa (those 12 years and older). And we have more freedom to do “normal” things when the Ontario government issued a QR code-vaccine passport last month. This allows fully vaccinated people to enter indoor spaces such as restaurants, bars, gyms, theatres. Also works in Quebec. And we are finally able to have indoor concerts and music and museums are partially open after being shut down for most of the past 20 months.

    And I left Ottawa and went to Toronto (by plane) and Montreal (by train) last month.
    Again, this is the first time I have left Ottawa since March 2020, and it felt a bit weird, but the trips were off without a hitch.

    1. Oops, also forgot to mention in my post that Halloween 2021 was allowed this year. So costumed trick or treaters were wandering the neighbourhood. And, Ottawa City Council recently decided to allow the Santa Claus parade to take place in late November since outdoor crowd limits have been lifted by the Ontario government.

      1. Yes, Canada has to get its vaccines from Europe or the US, so the original vaccine rollout was much slower than the US. But once we got abundant supplies in May/June, Ontarians were lining up big time. Once Canada approves the vaccines for 5-11 year old, we are sure to hit the 90%+ vaccine level we need for “herd immunity”. The dreaded fourth wave of cases was just a little bump and going down thanks to the 87% fully vaccinated Ontarian adults.

    1. No cruise ships here until 2022 and Key West is tbd. I am so glad there are more people in the city. Bill and I have been talking about a trip there next year.

  2. As I compared this year to the one before, I see progress. Not balls-of-fire differences, but steady incremental steps toward the hope that what we’ve been through will better prepare us for tomorrow. That ebbs into a sense of peace, energizing me to continue. Thanks for asking, Barbara, and I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures!

  3. I love these pictures so much, Barb!

    Mostly I compare the times when we couldn’t meet – and we definitely couldn’t hug. That has improved a thousand percent. And in a few weeks I am going to be very, very brave and get on an airplane to the west coast.

    1. EDITH: That’s exciting that you’re flying to the west coast.
      I have seen the news stories that major airlines have been cancelling flights a lot (American, Southwest) for a variety of reasons. Hope your journey is smooth, safe and enjoyable.

  4. Last year, I had just 30 people at my door on Halloween. I ended up just giving out candy last year instead of candy, comics and special prizes. This year it rebounded to about 100 kids (still less than I used to get but it kept me busy).

    Trivia is back for the last two months. Last year at this time, it had been nearly 8 months since there had been a trivia night to go to.

    There’s a lot of things I couldn’t do last year that I’m still not doing to be as safe as possible. But at least the option of things to do has improved since last year.

  5. Love the family participation in the Halloween themes!

    For me, it has been a combination of age, health, moving to the country and present day conditions that have all played a part if how holidays happen. Yes, I now look back with fond memories of holidays of the past with great happiness knowing that things we once were able to do we can’t. However, we can relive those times by observation – watching other families and the through the little ones eyes.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. What a beautiful sentiment. We’re not doing our big Thanksgiving this year with my husband’s family (usually about 35 people or so), but I do have many happy memories.

  6. Love all your pics!! I really missed my trick-or-treaters last year, having them back this year was twice as special. Our covid numbers are still high in Maine, but comparing this season to last year’s, I’d say most folks are getting more social and really looking forward to being with family for the holidays.

    1. We aren’t doing our big family Thanksgiving this year, but I will be with the motley crew pictured above, so that’s better than last year.

  7. Love all the pictures! Last year we stayed in with the light off — a first for us. This year we bagged candy in baggies and set it on a table at the bottom of the steps. We sat at the top of the porch (about five steps high) so we could see all the costumes and say Happy Halloween! It was great.

  8. Absolutely love the photos, Barb. What a great family and creative grands.

    Up here in the Crown we are a bit backwards and our numbers seem to be increasing. The same thing happened in the 1918 flu epidemic and I have read the reasons, but I couldn’t quote them. Still, while we are keeping close to our masks, things are improving and we are moving forward cautiously toward whatever the new normal will be. Because we are so rural, and a quarter of a mile from the road, we have never had trick or treaters. Until this year. One of our neighbors decided to give his kids a Halloween treat and drove them from house to house. It was so much fun to respond to that tap on the door.

  9. Such fun pictures. And I think this proves that Luke has been part of the family for quite a bit longer than he officially was. 🙂

    We were told on Friday that after the first of the year, we will be returning to the office part time (Tuesday through Thursday and working from home Monday and Friday). I DON’T WANT TO GO BACK TO THE OFFICE!!!!!

  10. First, those pictures are adorable.

    I do and I don’t. Mostly I remember when my kids were young enough that they wanted to be around family for the holidays, as opposed to now (21 and 19) when I get the distinct feeling they think time with their parents (and, you know, responding to a text for crying out loud) is a chore.

    Sad, but maybe someday they’ll realize the parents aren’t so square after all.

    1. BTW, this has been the theme for several years, even pre-COVID, so it turns out last year wasn’t much different than what this year is going to be.

      1. My kids are considerably older than yours. I text with my daughter several times a day. This went way up when she was stuck at home during covid, isolating with a toddler and an infant. Not that she’s back teaching 2 days a week and the kids are in preschool and daycare and doing things like–yikes!–gymnastics, that frequency is diminishing. We say my son, on the other hand, communicates on a need-to-know basis–and there’s not much he thinks his parents need to know!

  11. This year, my husband and I have learned to live with just us again. We have lived with my Mom for 8-10 years as her caregivers. She moved into a nursing home full time this year. It has been a year of transitions. My health has declined. My husband has become my caregiver.

  12. Although fully vaccinated (including the booster), I am still hesitant to leave the trailer. Last year at this time, I was looking forward to scheduling my first Shingex shot. The second had to wait until I finished the two Moderna series shots.

  13. I loved your family photos and the memories you made together. Where’s the ‘heart icon’ when you need it?

    While 2020 ranks in the all time Top Ten for lousy years, 2021 was only marginally better. This was mostly because of my responsibilities first as caregiver and then estate manager for a dear cousin. It’s still not over – including a nasty business with a truth-challenged person who is going to appear in a future article/book.
    No Halloween last year, but we had a fun one this year in the neighborhood. Friends and family gatherings did not happen last year, but this year saw more interactions between the fully vaccinated. Yay!
    Last year I was able to buy shipping supplies for my websites, but the last few months have been a struggle – the supply chain issues are maddening when we can see all those shipping containers sitting on the piers.
    I missed going to conferences last year, but zoom meetings helped a little with connections this year.

    Here’s to a healthy, happy, productive 2022!

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