Days for Remembering

The pumpkin was too hard to carve...

October 31st, 2018 marks my second Halloween far from my Michigan birth place, and my first Halloween as a mother.

My first Halloween as a mother is also the day we signed papers making Callan a Mexican citizen.

Me, Michigan born and raised, with a son carrying dual citizenship. It surprises me sometimes, these turns in life’s events.

In the states, Halloween is a holiday made up of yard decorations, massive amounts of candy, and elaborate costumes.
On Isla, the holiday focuses more on Dia de Muertos, a traditional Mexican holiday observed across the country. This day celebrates the deceased, and the belief is that they return to be with the living for a few short hours. Families set up altars to their loved ones called ofrendas that feature their favorite foods, bright orange marigolds, candles, and photos. Dia de Muertos, in its modern incarnation, is an ancient Aztec observance melded with the Catholic holidays of All Saints and All Souls Days, which are also observed in Mexico.
The food, drinks, gatherings are about celebrating the dead—a connection to loved ones.
Because so many Americans influence Isla’s culture, Halloween becomes an amalgamation of cultural observances: decorated golf cart parade and trick or treating down Hidalgo, the main shopping street. Adults and children stroll along the cobbles in all manner of costume, and the throng contains many incarnations of sugar skulls and Catrina makeup, both traditions a melding of indigenous and catholic religions.

Halloween is about costumes, spooks and candy. All Saints and All Souls is about remembering.

I remember:

Carving pumpkins with my momma and sister. The wood stove makes the house cozy-warm, and our cheeks rosy. We’re careful and diligent as we carve, our faces already patterned in permanent marker. The nutty aroma of pumpkin seeds roasting in the oven makes me hungry.
Dad puts the carved jack-o-lanterns by the driveway with lit candles dancing eerie light through eye, nose, and mouth holes. Flickering grins greet us when we return from harvesting candy from our neighbors.

Memories of adolescent Halloweens are a blur of costumes:

My first trick-or-treating at age four in the white bunny costume Grandma Harkness made. I loved the little pink rosebuds on the fabric inside the bunny ears because my nickname was Rosebud.

Wonder Woman at six when I jumped off the MacCauley’s porch to see my cape fly, but tripped, somersaulted, and landed with my head “Smack!” Against the car tire. Kenny Fyvie—a year older neighbor kid riding along with us—laughed, and my child-self never forgave him.

Second grade, the pink princess dress and pointed cone hat momma made—just like in the fairy-tale book illustrations. She let me borrow her real fur leopard print stole and it didn’t seem like I’d ever feel so pretty again.

Freshman year of college, the requisite post-Brittany Spears era naughty school girl outfit: short plaid skirt, white button down shirt. I can’t remember if I felt vaguely embarrassed by the tacky, clique outfit, but hindsight tells me it was so.

Twenty-five and I was the Pick-Axe Blonde girl from the Keweenaw Brewing Company’s beer can logo. I had the perfect green dress, great pig tails, and a cardboard/duct tape DIY pick-axe my crafty mother walked me through making because my ex-husband said that me drunk with a real pick-axe was a terrible idea.

Two years ago: My purple top hat stolen from a friend’s wedding photo booth, glow in the dark fluorescent yellow bobbed wig, black dress, thrift store white rabbit fur coat, and a homecoming queen sash from a past costume that read, “Miss Calaneous”.

Halloween Pre-Mexico
Halloween Pre-Mexico

This Halloween it’s not about me. It’s about the baby.
People want to see babies in cute outfits on Halloween. Hell, I want to see babies, and all people really, in great outfits on Halloween.
My makeshift costume for Callan consists of a onesie that states in bold letters “Happy Little Man”, a tie-dyed bucket cap, and a pacifier with a mustache. The mustache is really cute and funny, but I notice right away that the plastic comes up high enough to block most of the baby’s nostrils, so I limit it’s time in his mouth to photos.

Callan’s first Halloween Costue
Callan’s first Halloween Costume

We walk with other families down Hidalgo, which has become a teeming mass of people, mostly children in costume.
Shopkeepers call out, “This is the place!” and “Stop and take a look!”.
Adults stop to chat, creating traffic backups while their candy-eyed offspring, masked, makeupped, and costumed, weave through legs, tables, and chairs to hone in in their sweet prize.
The crowd is a mix of tourists, locals, and transplants— a glorious commingling on a windy Caribbean Halloween night. All prejudices and histories are set aside in the tumult of noise, candy, costumes, and happy children.

I love seeing it all, but after weeks and months spent cocooned in our home with husband and baby for company, the tumult is overwhelming.
I return home in a cab early evening full of mixed emotions. A year ago, I would never be the person coming home early on Halloween night.
A tear slips down my cheek as we pull away from town. I know that tomorrow morning I’ll see countless photos of costumed friends out playing late into the night.
There are many moments I miss that Rachel, and her independence.

Halloween Makeup
Halloween Makeup

The red cab pulls up to our dark house. I wrestle stroller and car seat onto the porch and let out the dogs, who are ecstatic in their greetings. They whine, wiggle, and wag their tails effusively, and I can’t help but smile. Their noises wake the baby, and he blinks up at me like a sleepy little owl, then breaks into a toothless happy smile sweet and pure.

I take off my Halloween dress, wash my costume makeup, and settle into the nursing chair: me, baby Callan, and remembrances of Halloweens past.

The pumpkin was too hard to carve...
The pumpkin was too hard to carve…

Author: Rachel Mills

Rachel Mills is a freelance writer/writing consultant/English Professor/Creative nonfiction writer from Michigan's Upper Peninsula living on the island of Isla Mujeres in Mexico.

2 thoughts on “Days for Remembering”

  1. Rachel, Thinking of you and found your website. Now I know why you haven’t been at Author Quest. Congratulations on the happy changes in your life. We do miss you at Camp, you have inspired me and others to write! I especially liked the story of processing chickens
    (what a brave woman).
    My news I got married 1-12-19! Also very happy. My husband Steve and I live on a small farm, with greenhouse for (canning) tomatoes. We have 9 chickens, just for eggs. I’m not as brave as you. Blessings, Nurse Pat. I just celebrated 7 years at A.Q. ! !

    1. Wonderful to hear from you Pat! Thank you so much for your sweet words and congratulations on your wonderful news. It sounds like a lovely life ☺️
      I miss AQ so much, and it’s my hope to be there next year.
      Fingers crossed to see you then!

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