Posted in Halloween, Life

How I Do Halloween

IMG_20191030_215741582

If you’ve met me or read this blog before, you probably know that my birthday is on Halloween because I like to tell people that. I love having a Halloween birthday. I love decorating my yard and dressing up in costume and carving pumpkins and watching scary movies and going to haunted houses and accidentally scaring myself with the tricks and traps I set for my husband.

This year, my homemade cemetery had a theme…

 

While I love having a birthday on Halloween and celebrating it all month, my actual birthday can be a bit chaotic. When the day approaches, friends often ask me, “What are you going to do for your birthday?” and I just laugh. If they’re thinking of parties and date nights and nice dinners or even just some relaxing me-time, they’re way off.

I dressed as Lucy Carlyle from the amazing Lockwood & Co series at school and a wild-haired demon thing wearing yoga pants at home…

See, I can’t actually go out on my birthday because I have to want to be home to hand out candy to all the trick-or-treaters I’ve been luring to my house for the past month. Nope. No fancy birthday dinners or relaxing me-time on my birthday. Instead, my night goes something like this:

  • Dump candy in bowl, light 8-10 jack-o-lanterns, turn on Halloween-themed music. Change out of work costume into yoga pants, comfy sweater, and creepy mask. Pour “pumpkin juice” into a Halloween-themed cup, and sit down to put my feet up and wait for—DING DONG! Never mind, trick-or-treaters are already here.
  • Open door, offer candy, say Happy Halloween in creepy voice, close door.
  • Sit down, take a sip of “pumpkin juice,” realize I cannot drink pumpkin juice through my mask, lift mask, raise “pumpkin juice” to lips—DING DONG—spill “pumpkin juice” on self.
  • Pull mask down, open door, offer candy, am informed of peanut allergy, offer Halloween pencil instead, say Happy Halloween in creepy voice, close door.
  • Sit down, pick up “pumpkin juice,” am handed birthday gift by hubby. Squeal with delight from behind my mask, begin opening birthday gift—DING DONG!
  • Put down “pumpkin juice,” leave gift half-unwrapped, open door, see some of my students on the doorstep, offer candy, say Take two. Take THREE if you’re a good student. Watch them squirm a bit, say Happy Halloween in creepy voice, listen to students laugh at me because I’m a very dorky teacher, close door, return to birthday gift.
  • Rip paper quickly and unceremoniously off of birthday gift, say Ooo! Thank you so much! in non-creepy voice. Lift mask to kiss hubby—DING DONG.
  • Pull mask down, open door, offer candy, am informed that neighbors have bigger candies, say Good for them in creepy, surly voice, close door.
  • Lift mask, realize I have lost my “pumpkin juice,” begin searching for it—DING DONG!
  • Pull mask down, open door, realize it is the pizza we ordered, take the pizza, tip the delivery person, offer candy, say Thank you and Happy Halloween in creepy voice, close door.
  • Find “pumpkin juice,” lift mask, guzzle “pumpkin juice,” stuff slice of pizza in mouth—DING DONG!
  • Swallow pizza, pull mask down, open door, see small child staring at mask in horror about to cry, lift mask, say It’s ok! in not-creepy voice, offer candy, say Happy Halloween in least-creepy voice, close door.
  • Sit down on couch and—DING DONG!—Tell hubby to please please please hand out candy for five minutes while I eat a slice of pizza.
  • Eat pizza, pour more “pumpkin juice,” contemplate going to Bermuda for my next birthday.

But, really, that would never happen. I love my Halloween birthday and all of the “work” that comes with it. This Halloween, like every other Halloween, I was right where I wanted to be.

***

If you’re wondering why I’m posting about Halloween halfway through November, it’s because this October brought with it the wrong kind of scare. On October 20th, an enormous tree fell on my parents’ house during the terrible storms in Dallas. My parents were inside at the time. They were (thankfully, miraculously) unharmed, but the house suffered serious damage.

IMG_20191021_105935600_HDR

I spent the week before Halloween helping my family clean up debris, deal with insurance, pack my parents’ belongings, and relocate them and their cats. It was exhausting, both physically and emotionally. This is the house I grew up in and also the house my dad grew up in. It’s never not been in our family, and its sentimental value is incalculable. After going through all that, I just wasn’t in the mood to write for a while.

Now though, things are starting to look up. Everyone is doing ok, and I’m finding my way back to the keyboard. There is still a long road ahead though. There’s a lot of work to be done, and my parents will be displaced for quite a while. If you would like to make a donation to help them pay for repairs, visit their GoFundMe page. A few dollars toward their goal would make a wonderful belated birthday present to me. =)

 

 

 

Posted in Life

“We Want Fireworks!”

I posted this memory on my previous blog five years ago and wanted to share it here again. I’m missing being with my family this 4th of July, but looking forward to seeing fireworks with the hubby.

fireworks1When I was a kid, there was a street in Plano, Texas, where my family and I used to go watch fireworks on the 4th of July.  It was a deserted road next to a big empty field, which is now probably the site of a trendy housing development or maybe a strip mall.  But back then it was empty except for weeds and wildflowers, giving us a perfect view of the stadium a couple hundred yards away where the show took place.  Every year, we caravanned over in two or three cars (Dad’s 1980 Checker Cab of course and maybe my aunt’s Toyota), arriving well before the sun went down in order to get a good spot.  The street was somewhat out-of-the-way but was not unknown—others used it as well and by nightfall it was always full of cars, people, and kids running around.

The years were so much the same that they blend together in my mind as one jumbled memory. We hung around on car bumpers and blankets listening to the radio, fighting off mosquitoes, playing frisbee, and drinking Dr. Peppers in our red, white, and blue garb.  (I remember one particularly gaudy year when I was wearing a red tank top, blue jean shorts, a white belt, red socks, and white Keds.  At the time, I was quite proud of my patriotic fashion statement, but looking back at the pictures makes me cringe.) There was even an ice cream truck whose driver wised up to the idea of serving the crowded little street, so every year he appeared and we enjoyed rocket pops and fudge bars while staring in the direction of the stadium.

4thofJuly_2
4th of July with my family – 1986

The people inside obviously had some sort of pre-firework entertainment.  Music and cheering could be heard, and one year sky-divers parachuted into the stadium—an unexpected treat for us.  Whatever went on inside that arena always was, and still is, a mystery to me.  I remember wondering what those people were seeing and coming up with my own versions of their entertainment, but never once do I remember feeling envious of them.  The 4th of July in the Kinder family meant parking on the side of a road and enjoying the colorful display from our lawn chairs and tail gates.  This wasn’t something you bought a ticket for.

There were no cell phones, no Kindles, no portable DVD players, not even a Game Boy to distract us from the snail-like pace of time.  The only way we even knew how slowly it ticked by was from our parents’ watches, and they got tired of us asking.  Sometimes we had sparklers to keep us busy for a few minutes, but for the most part we had to just wait it out, every excruciating second.

Waiting for the show to begin seemed to take forever.  The sky grew darker and darker, and with every star that came out, we kids grew more and more restless.  My brother Pat, five years older than me, remained a bit more composed than our cousin Kelley, three years my junior, and me.  He sat with the adults and attempted to restrain any anxious tendencies. Kelley and I, however, were shamelessly impatient, often inventing creative chants such as, “WE WANT FIREWORKS!” which we repeated over and over, much to the annoyance of everyone else.

firework2And then… just when our impatient cries had reached their whiniest levels, just when the adults were probably ready to throttle us, the first bright explosion lit up the sky.  You could sense the excitement of the moment—people standing up, turning their heads, leaning forward, the collective intake of breath as the first firecracker faded into a smoky outline and drifted off with the wind, carrying the smell of sulfur with it.  From that moment on, there was no bickering, no whining, just a symphony of Oo’s and Ah’s and interjections of “Wow!  That was cool!” and “That one was huge!”

The Kinders do not watch fireworks in reverent silence.  We comment.  Do we remember that one from last year?  Was that a new color?  I’ve never seen one like that.  Ooo, that looked like a flower. No, it looked like a balloon.  No, I saw a spider.  Did you see that one?  Of course I saw it, I’m right here.  That one was sparkly.  I like the ones you can see on the way up.  I like the ones that make the whistly noise.  I like the purple ones.  I like them all.  Forty minutes of non-stop descriptive chatter about something that we are all watching at the same time.  And afterwards… we rehash it all again in the past tense.  It is our way.

In addition to the color commentary of the explosions, my brother and I also had a game we liked to play.  Several airplanes circled the area repeatedly during the show.  (It was not until later that I realized they were there to watch as well; as a kid, I just thought that was a busy flight path for small planes.)  The game was simple—count how many planes got “killed” by the fireworks. Although of course they were completely safe and nowhere near the actual explosions, every time it appeared that one was blown up by a pink burst of sparks or a strobe-like flash of light, we cheered uproariously for its death.  All in good fun.

grandfinaleEvery firework display ends with, what is known in Texas as, the “grand finale”.  This finale consists of setting off dozens and dozens of rockets at the same time so that the eye is blinded by two or three minutes of simultaneous flashes of color, and yes, it is quite grand.  Therefore, toward the end of the show, it is traditional for the Kinder commentary to shift from the general Oo’s and Ah’s to the impulsive predictions. Oh my!  I think this is the grand finale!  Ooo, no THIS must be the grand finale!  Wow!  Look at all that!  Do you think it’s the grand finale?  This time I’m SURE, it MUST be the grand finale!  Eventually, inevitably, someone was right; it was the grand finale.  We whooped and cheered and said “Happy 4th of July!” We smiled and laughed and stared at the giant smoke cloud slowly drifting away from the stadium, knowing it was over, but secretly hoping for one last blue or green ball of flame to appear.  Once in awhile, we got our wish.

The ride home was always subdued.  We recapped the events of the evening, voted on our favorite parts, and finally drifted into a satisfied quiet.  Sometimes, out the car window, we caught glimpses of other firework shows finishing up in the distance and smiled at this unexpected bonus.  Often I was asleep, or at least pretending to be, by the time we pulled into the gravel driveway of home.

This is still my favorite way to enjoy the 4th of July.  Tonight, the hubby and I will grab some chairs and a cooler and drive out to some roadside or parking lot, where I will fidget and whine and chant, “WE WANT FIREWORKS!” until the the sky lights up with color.

tinyheart

Posted in Poetry

That Summer

This poem was published in A Book of the Year 2017, the anthology of first place poems from the Poetry Society of Texas annual contests. Now that it’s July, when we’re steeped in Texas summer, it seems like a good time to share it with you. Plus, I just got home from spending a few days with my wonderful family, so I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. I hope “That Summer” takes you back to some of your favorite summer memories.

*

That Summer

I sat on a threadbare pink towel
on top of the ice cream maker
my dad and grandfather
taking turns at the crank
my grandmother
slicing homegrown peaches

my fingers stained
from hammering black walnuts
on the anvil in the backyard
the skin of my palms raw
from gripping the rope swing
in the hackberry tree

my mom in shorts and sandals
a glass of iced tea
sweating in her hand
my brother eating
a smile of watermelon
juice dripping down his chin

lightning bugs blinking
a slow Morse code
hummingbirds in the trumpet vine
bare feet and dirty knees
and the voices of my family
hovering in a comforting cloud

I’d like to reach back
and catch that summer
in an empty pickle jar
poke holes in the lid
and keep it for a while
warm and safe in my hands

*

© Carie Juettner
First Place in the Poetry Society of Texas Campbell Prize, 2016
First Published in A Book of the Year 2017