Monday, November 05, 2007

in a stunning holiday season, led off by devil's night and hallowe'en, followed by all saints' day and all souls day, also known as dios de los muertos in mexico- i left work on thursday having heard about the death of a colleague's grandfather, who had jumped off a tractor while it was still running- an upsetting story. on this weekend, i sold my truck to a young couple, and also attended the wedding of my stepdaughter, in crystal clear, cool fall weather, out in a glade in the heart of southern illinois, south of marion, where the countryside blends almost imperceptibly into shawnee national forest, you can hardly tell where one starts and the other ends. the weather being what it was, i could see every leaf, the bright, the orange, the red, the brown and crinkly, already dead, free-floating ever so slowly to the ground; even with the euphoric hope of a young couple, the season's brown colors stood silent in the background. earlier, i'd worried about a late hallowe'en party on saturday, at the house of friends who put two salukis (egyptian hunting dogs, symbol of siuc) on their porch; many years back, i'd made an elaborate costume, was a refrigerator, complete with condiments in my door, but didn't win any prize for the costume, and was mildly hurt by that, and remembered it, even this year, so many years later. actually making any kind of costume is a chore for me, since i have virtually no repressed sides of my personality, nothing dying to come out; dressing for work is already a costume, a daily hallowe'en, as i'm somewhat of a charlatan, though i'm a good teacher, and it's all i can do to keep a straight face, and keep up my act in a routine week.

my wife however was into being marilyn monroe, at this particular party, to the point that she'd had her hair done, and on saturday evening we were running behind- one batman (6-yr-old) and one lion (2-yr-old) for whom costumes weren't much of an issue, but feeding, dressing, pleasing etc. was. So in the end i threw on a saudi tunic and a palestinian head scarf, sunglasses, and grabbed a cell phone. on the good side, i felt that it was a pleasure to actually wear things that my students had given me. i felt bad, however, i was wearing them as a costume. arrived at the party, saw the salukis on the porch, decorated, and entered with much fanfare, especially for marilyn monroe, who made an impression on everyone our age. the winners, however, were chosen by 14-yr-olds, and apparently the bright colors of the saudi getup made an impression on them; i heard the word 'terrorist' several times. i won; first prize was a small hand-carved wooden box. like a jewelry box; skulls were carefully carved into it; it was painted black, wtih the skulls silver, and any sign of where it was from was gone. i was stunned, speechless, but the lion was ready for bed; we didn't hang around and glory in the victory. several people, hosts included, may have felt that marilyn was more deserving of the prize. another friend was death; she won third, and at some point young teenage girls were running around, looking for death. one asked me if i was osama bin laden. more likely his father, i said. if you were really going to blow something up, in the usa, you'd dress like everyone else, on any given airplane. you wouldn't dress like a saudi businessman, householder, citizen. you wouldn't want to stand out in the crowd.

dios de los muertos is a holiday where people actually celebrate death, bring it out, dress it up, decorate it in a way that is foreign to us northerners- i myself don't mention it much; though i'm capable of talking about it, i prefer not to. it occurs to me that powerful holidays celebrating saints, as well as people in purgatory, or hell, or wherever, would bring out a lot of different reactions in people, fears, excitement, a quickening of the pace. so it is around here, though very few have heard of all souls day, or dios de los muertos, or even bonfire night, guy fawkes day, which it is today & tonight. nary a bonfire around here, though the midwest is the home of 'you guys,' said as a kind of 'y'all' - the 'guy' that we use for random anonymous men, comes from the guy himself. not a bonfire around, as i said, though there are some leaf piles ablaze in spite of a city ordinance prohibiting that. the guy, it turns out, tried to blow up parliament as a catholic, bitterly opposed to king james; bonfires that burn effigies of the guy also burn effigies of the pope, they say. burn all of religion, all superstition too, all of this heaven-hell & purgatory stuff while you're at it- it's all right here, in front of our eyes, maybe that's the point of these holidays. i have to admit, i don't know why they burn anything, don't know from guy, wouldn't know what they're burning, but do vaguely remember a place, here in the usa somewhere, where, on a certain fall night, there were fires all throughout the countryside, as a tradition; maybe that was vermont. the person who pointed it out to me didn't know why, if i recall correctly- it was just tradition, he said. maybe a way to stay warm, after the weather has turned, when the trees are still beautiful, the air crisp and cool, the sky a deep blue turning to star-filled, and you aren't ready to go in yet, for the winter.

back at work, my colleague told about her grandfather- he'd lived out in that beautiful area, south of marion, as it turns out; his wife, her grandmother, had died but a year earlier. sudden and unexpected, yes, but it was good in a way, that it wasn't slow and painful, like some. actually we didn't talk about it much; i felt bad; there wasn't much to say; in her resolve, she was clearly moving on with her life, not dwelling on it. outside, the wind brought in clouds; the grays seemed to bring out the oranges all the more, but the wind kicked up the crackly leaves a bit as i waited for my ride. the bright colors of the season, and the browns behind them, look suddenly more distinct, different in the changing light, as daylight savings has thrown off our schedule in both morning and evening, given us an entirely different perspective, at least until we get used to it. much of the family, in bed now, has dry coughs, hacking which sounds terrible at night, which i superstitiously attribute to coming & going during violent changes in weather, when nobody can remember to carry a jacket, or put it on before they go out the door. having one's schedule thrown off by random changes of the clock, or having too much candy, causing both kids and grownups to run around just a little too much, on a cold fall day, without a jacket or a lick of sense. in this case, the grownups are actually in worse shape than the kids, but everyone will surely be allright; nevertheless, i tuck the little ones in early, and ask them, as i often do, if they have any idea how much i love them. 'infidion' is the stock answer; it was one kid's version of 'infinity,' a few kids back, and now, it's the only answer to that question. somewhere on a shelf, out of reach of the young children, is the box- waiting for me to figure out what to put in it. or for me to decide that, yes, i am superstitious, and probably shouldn't go anywhere near it, at least not for a while.


Blogger J-Funk said...

Congratulations on winning the costume contest! That sounded like a super-fun party.

And extend my congrats to Kylie, I'll put a card in the mail asap.

10:19 PM  

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