Years before global warming started to rear its ugly head, Autumn in Southern California was the nicest time of the year. Maybe it was child’s perspective, but the temps were mild during the day and a bit chilly in the evenings. I remember October being boots and sweaters weather, just like in the midwest, only with the smell of salty air from the Pacific ocean. A lot more of our trees changed colors too, back in a time when there were more trees here to look at. Now, all those trees are gone, replaced by concrete buildings and single-track homes. While I miss the golden orange and red hues of fall leaves, the suburbs did usher in a new age of Halloween decorating, the do-it-yourself home haunt. Some people just aren’t satisfied with pumpkins on the porch, which is still totally okay. I confess, I’m a fan of all.
Closer to the coast, I remember having fun filling a plastic pumpkin full of sand and digging my toes down deep under it. We made sand jack-o’-lanterns out of square pails and carved faces in melons and pineapples. There was a local beach shop showing off a seashell centerpiece mixed with mini pumpkins, orange starfish, and purple sea urchins in the window. Some people do not like a “pastel” Halloween, not me. Since my youth, I’ve always had an appreciation for the casual elegance of coastal Halloween decor.
Back in the day, we used real candles, where the hot wax spilled over the side. Yes, it was a dangerous fire hazard, but there’s just something special about flickering light wavering ever so lightly when the breeze reaches out to touch the wick. Artificial light simply cannot reproduce this magic.
I have lots of Halloween memories of celebrating traditional Halloween activities like going to carnivals, carving pumpkins, and trick or treating in a plastic frock and Ben Cooper mask. I’d spend hours looking over my Grandmother’s DIY Halloween decorations, those witch heads with gnarled noses, plastic hands and plastic boots, along with their white cotton hair and home-sewn dresses. I think I get my creative spirit from her, although, sadly, I don’t possess any of her skill.
Over the years, I’ve forgotten the faces of neighbors, friends, and even family, yet, I still remember the look and feel of those Gurley Halloween candles on the dining room table, and shopping trips to Woolworth’s for candy and costumes.
My Halloween traditions are a mishmash of all the things I love with everything that has come to represent the people, places, and things I’ve lost. I can’t remember names or faces, but I remember the good feelings. In the end, I guess that’s all memories end up being, feelings, which is why I think it’s especially important to preserve Halloween traditions and celebrate as many as we can. It’s the only way for us to hold onto our own memories.
Happy Halloween season, everyone. Make great memories.