October 31 is a special day for me. It is my birthday. I’ve always been happy that my birthday falls on this rather weird holiday. Some people object to this day, even on religious grounds. I’ve always been happy that even in modern times we give a nod to the unknown world, the unexplained, the frightening. The celts used to say that on this day the veil between the material world and the spirit world is thin, even permeable. Although today we like to think of it as just a sort of carnival for kids to dress up and act oddly – to do the forbidden – knock on strangers’ doors and take candy from them – there is something more there. Well, on a more mundane note, as the resident witch (I keep it quiet for the rest of the year) I go out on Halloween evening with my three beloved grandchildren. They come over in their costumes and I – finally I get to publicly wear my hat and carry my besom – go off with them for trick or treat. Before that we always take a stroll down the overgrown lane behind my house. We salute the family of black cats who live there. We investigate what is lurking in abandoned yards and. . . .”what exactly is rustling around in that bush, anyway?” This year my eldest grandson was dressed as Darth Vader complete with a blinding light sabre, my pretty granddaughter was a charming ballerina and the middle boy – ah, the wild card, the quirky one, surprise man – came as Batman. He has rather delicate health and perhaps that is why he loves superheros so much! A school friend tagged along as a pirate and his sword and the light sabre clashed a few times. It took a while to get out the door what with lighting the pumpkins, collecting loot bags, putting on the reflective ankle strips, and unlike last year, remembering to lock the door and secure the key. Granny gets excited at Halloween!
Montreal is blessed with unusual architecture in the shape of spiral outdoor staircases and quite a few of the houses in our neighborhood boast these steps. It soon became obvious that the normal Canadian good manners, turn taking and lining up was not going to be the order of the evening. Those in costumes with trains (dinosaurs, brides, even some princesses) were at a distinct disadvantage compared to my nimble gang. The kids flung themselves at the steps and a melee of youngsters scrambling up and down the narrow twisting steps had even the coolest Granny trembling. Batman’s assurance that he would fly down from the third floor did not make me feel any more secure. Some of my neighbors had gone to town with the decorations. My gang lingered in the yard of a gentleman who had twined a sinister snake around his railings, deposited a plastic head on a plate in the flower garden and set up a red eyed witch who grabbed at passers by. They all professed to love it but I noticed a little ballerina slipped her hand into Granny’s as she backed away from the door. Must have been the wolf howl that did it.
Ah, into this world of make believe shivers, real life horror intruded. I watched, frozen and helpless as an excited Batman ran full tilt into a fire hydrant. He is about the same height as a hydrant so that his forehead was the first point of impact. We made eye contact and stared at each other in grim surprise in the moment of silence before the scream. His cries were pitiful, but totally ignored by the revellers. They did sound like a heart-felt call of a lost spirit. Everything was flung down, bags, broom, camera as I hugged him and tried to comfort him. I ripped off his mask to observe a large bump already swelling on his forehead. We quickly hurried back to my house, the other children touching in their concern. The pirate (not a blood relative I must remind you) grumbled about continuing with trick or treating but he was silenced with a witchy look. An ice pack seemed to calm our hero down and after a few minutes it was decided that rather than run to the ER trauma centre, we would just extort a bit more candy from some neighbors we had not yet terrorized. It was then we discovered that in the panic following the blow, Batman’s mask had been lost! More reason for tears but with Granny witch’s assurance that she would go back and look for it at the scene of the accident we continued. After just a few moments our hero had wrenched his hand out of mine and was jumping over fences and running up steps with the best of them. I was still a shaken wreck when I returned the kids, rather apprehensive about what Mum and Dad would say about the now quite impressive lump on our darling’s head. He explained to his mother that he had hit so hard that he had damaged the hydrant. Seems he noticed a chip out of the paint and attributed it to the impact! I went back to look for the mask but could not find it. Batman went for a little cuddle with his Dad and the others sorted the loot. I mean, in this day and age, who puts peanuts into Halloween bags! Batman happens to have a deathly allergy to peanuts and in fact, they were more of a risk than smashing his head on the hydrant. It was a Halloween that drained me rather than invigorating me as it usually does. In the cold light of All Saints Day I returned to look forlornly for the mask and to my surprise and joy, there it was! As my eminently practical daughter pointed out, without it to cushion the blow, he might have ended up with a concussion! Until next year!