Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

A Time for the Dead to Slip Back. (Starting Point)

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

A Time for the Dead to Slip Back. (Starting Point)

Article excerpt

Once upon a time there was a pirate, a witch and a boy who called himself Davy Crockett. They roamed the neighborhood holding pillowcases, knocked on neighbors' doors and sang out, "Trick-or-treat!" I called them Michael, Karen and David, my three children. When I remember being a father of young children, there they remain, icons of an easier time--easier because now I know better. I, too, will someday die and be remembered on All Souls' Day.

When my three children opened their pillowcases and admired the collection of Hershey Bars, Milky Ways, Tootsie Roll Pops and Cracker Jacks, they did not know Halloween began in 5th-century Celtic Ireland where summer ended on Oct. 31.

I liked watching my wife adjust Karen's witch hat as she waved her broomstick over her mother's head casting a spell. We, like our ancestors, do not want to be possessed, so for centuries we put out the fires in our homes on Halloween so that the dead would not feel invited. We dressed in ragged clothes and crazy masks to frighten away roaming spirits in search of living bodies to possess.

My children possessed me from the first moments of their lives.

When Michael slipped on his pirate patch for the first time, he let out a loud pirate cry. He wanted to ring every doorbell and hide in the bushes. Children in long-ago New England tipped over outhouses and loosened the hinges of their neighbors' gates. David was pleased that he shared a name with the king of the Alamo, and he slept wearing his coonskin cap for weeks.

We once believed that October was the time when the space between our world and the hereafter was the thinnest, an easy time for the dead to slip back as black cats, a belief that can be traced to the Celts and can still be seen in Hallmark cards.

Just before my wife and I escorted the children around the neighborhood for their candy collection, we carved the pumpkin and placed a candle in its belly and set the jack-o'-lantern on the stoop of our small house. …

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