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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween is for bullies too

My brother said the Wilnut kids had head lice and I believed him.

Scab-crusted and grubby, they patrolled my neighborhood like a pack of wolves.

If it wasn't nailed down, the Wilnuts stole it.

If you had pride in something, they destroyed it.

In summer they took bikes, scooters and roller skates off our front porches.  They broke into our garages and set our pinewood derby chugs on fire.

In winter they urinated on our snow forts and trashed our front yard snowmen.

It was Dickie Wilnuts who threw Cathy Fletcher's kitten under the wheels of Mr. Mannering's Edsel on a cold, October morning.

And Diane Wilnuts who cut down the apple trees in Mr. Key's back yard.

None of us ever knew how many Wilnuts lived in the beat-up mansion on Lexington Avenue.  Mrs. Wilnuts was always pregnant, and every Wilnut kid looked like the last - redheaded and covered in bruises.

My mom called them "ragamuffins and hoodlums."

Today she'd call them "bullies."

Halloween hell. 

On Halloween the Wilnuts made the neighborhood into a hot slice of hell.

They didn't trick-or-treat like the rest of us.  The Wilnuts didn't bother with costumes, knocking on doors.  They didn't need to.

When darkness fell on Halloween night, they hid under the shrubbery of dead lilacs, lurked behind elm trees.  The smaller Wilnuts flattened themselves deep in the street gutters. 

And when we passed by in our mother-made fairy suits and Superman capes, they jumped us like bandits on The Lone Ranger - grabbed our candy and disappeared into the night.

My father missed his Snickers.

Every Halloween, we'd come home empty handed and helpless.

"Those damn Wilnuts," my dad said. "I got half a mind to call their old man and give him what-for."

But he never did.  My father knew the real evil behind the doors of the angry house on Lexington Avenue.

Today, the Wilnut family would be under the watchful eye of county child protective services.

But I grew up in "the good old days," when a man's home was his castle and domestic abuse was as ordinary as candy corn.

Imagine a world where a slapped, beaten, battered wife is ignored; where men who belt their kids might be called "cowards," but never "criminals."

Imagine a society where police only arrested violent parents, battering spouses when the victim turned up dead.

Welcome to "the greatest generation" of World War II survivors where men were breadwinners - women were housewives.  And no one messed with the system.

We know better today.

Bullies are made - not born. 

This year, when the Halloween doorbell rings,  I open it to a new generation of ragamuffins and bullies.

But new studies exploring the roots of bullying teach us new things about our children.  The lesson is simple -  when we treat them with respect, when we educate them and nourish them well, they grow into productive citizens.

Bullies are not freaks of nature. They spawn from the behaviors taught in families.  They grow in in the fertile filth of neglect and abuse.

Our bullies are ourselves - only more so.

The ragamuffins at my door.

The Wilnut family sold their home and moved away when I was still in grade school.

I don't know how many of them survived their tortured childhood.

I think of them on Halloween when I open my door to one of the strange, scruffy little bullies who push their way to my treat bowl.  I remember the pain that trapped my playmates; the cruelty that framed their days and nights.

Many of the children who trick or treat in my neighborhood are strangers to me.

Few remember to say "thank you."

Even so - each child who comes to my door a full-sized Hershey bar.

I consider it pay-back for what I learned from the Wilnut kids.

First - it's not always easy to be a child.

And second - the bully is not to blame.

Especially on Halloween.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Top five reasons to enjoy being an old, invisible woman

I wasn't always invisible.

Once upon a time I was a  show-stopping "looker,"  a major babe.

Young, lovely, blonde and adorable,  people (especially men)  paid close attention to how I looked, what I said,  how I moved.

Then - I grew old and became invisible.

I wish I could tell you it happened in stages.  It didn't.  It happened on my fiftieth birthday

The day before I was young, interesting, important.  The next -  I was invisible.

Overnight - I became someone people overlooked, ignored.  I spoke, and no one responded.  I entered a room and no one (especially men) noticed.

I  turned fifty - and joined the community of invisible women.

Being old is not a curse.  It's a blessing. 

The transition took some adjusting.  For the past fifteen years I've been managing my new status.  And now, I don't mind aging at all.  In fact, I think I'm doing well at the entire endeavor.

I don't mind living in the shadows either.  I welcome them and learned there are advantages to being invisible.

And so - with great humility - I offer the top five reasons to enjoy being an old, invisible woman.

#5 - The freedom to stare. 

When you're old and invisible, no one cares if you stare. 

When I was young, people (especially men)  noticed what I noticed; paid attention to the things that caught my attention.   

No more.  Being old and invisible gives me the license to leer.

This is a good thing.

The more I leer, the more I learn.  

Invisible, I am free.  I sit in coffee shops and watch parents struggle with irritable toddlers, young lovers squabble. 

All of this becomes fodder for my playwriting, my essays.

#4 - The freedom to interfere.

When you're a young woman your opinions are discarded if your hair is dirty or your shoes out of date.

If you don't agree, consider what the media did to young Hillary when she wore a headband, or what it does today to Brittany when she gains weight.

Consider how we love the post-partum Princess of Wales because of her beauty.

Younger women are held to high standards of physical attraction.

Not so when women age.  Overnight we fade into the wallpaper.  We're invisible.

You don't see us coming when we drop-kick our compassion all over you.

Example:  When I was a a young mother, a trip to WalMart at 4:00 PM meant watching children throw ugly toddler tantrums and listening to their mothers scream.  Many times the  mothers behaved worse than their children.

Even so - I never interfered.  I was young - lovely - but I wasn't stupid.  My opinions would be rejected - and I knew it. 

Now, as an old, invisible woman, I interfere all the time.

"It's hard to be a little girl," I say to the child as I help her to her feet and pass her a peeled banana.

"I think both you and your little kiddo  could use a nutritious snack and a nice, long nap," I offer the mother.

Interrupting bad behavior is an old woman's secret approach to making the world a better place for younger women. 

And so far my meddling has never, ever been rejected.

Every time I interfere - every single time - someone thanks me.

#3 -  The freedom to fight back. 

When we are young, the well-being of our families is directly dependent upon our ability to get-along with others (mostly men).

Women are trained from early childhood to yield to forces that control our lives.

And so - at work -  we are seldom brave; we seldom break rank or challenge the  people  (mostly men) who treat us poorly.

At home we cooperate with our husbands to keep our families harmonious.  We ask little - expect less.  We build up everyone around us - and hope that our families become stronger because of our hard work.

And so it happens that most of our young lives are devoted to pleasing people (mostly men). 

Then - we grown old. 

In a heartbeat, dependency is over.  We inherited our money, draw down our pensions, secure our Social Security. 

And - we are no longer for sale.

Invisible, old women with strong opinions and independent means have little to lose. 

Invite us to your rallies.  Include us in your demonstrations.

We can be dangerous. 

#2 The freedom to love. 

No one forgives, understands, opens her heart like an old woman.  

We know your struggle.  If we haven't lived through it, we know others who have.

Being old bestows a perception of reality that youth and beauty envy.  Our only care is for peace and contentment.  

If you have an old woman in your life, count on her to settle any dispute that threatens to divide your family.

Lean on her.

Her first gift is the gift of her undivided attention.

Her best gift is love.

#1 The freedom to pass it on. 

Your world was first made habitable by the hard work of women who are old and invisible.

Without the leadership of the old women around you,  your sweet life would be a little more bitter.

You don't believe me? 

Consider this - if you are a woman and have done any of the following - you did so because an old woman first made it possible. 
  1. Opened a checking account, secured a credit card, mortgage, auto loan or lease without the co-signature of a man. 
  2. Demanded you be paid the same wage as men doing your job. 
  3. Asked and received a prescription for  birth control - without your husband's approval or father's consent. 
  4. Played hockey, football, basketball or soccer in high school,  college or as a profession.
So - put that in your pipe and smoke it. 

And then, take a moment to  thank an old woman for her sacrifice.

Believe me - the women who opened these doors for you did so by limiting their own professional, personal futures.

We spoke out nonetheless - because we wanted a better world for you and your children.

So - tell an old woman you appreciate her sacrifice, her hard work, her good nature.   Tell her she inspires you to be  better person.  Promise her you'll work to advance your generation. 

But don't make it into a big deal.

She's old.  She doesn't need the attention.

She loves being invisible.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

The honey wind - remembrance of Grand Marais, Minnesota

"Somehow my world and I have grown just a little bit older."
"The honey wind blows and the days grow colder. Somehow my world and I have grown just a little bit older. I sit alone and the fire glows. The fire glows- and the honey wind blows. I sit alone - and the good Lord knows - I miss you so when the honey wind blows."
-Lyrics by Glenn Yarbrough

The full moon surprised me.  It always does when I visit Lake Superior's North Shore in autumn. 

I never think of the moon when I'm in the city.  But here,  on the rocks in Grand Marais, it cannot be ignored.

I spread a blanket and sit.  

I brought my husband to these shores.
When I was young and married, my husband and I spent every summer here.  

We made mistakes in those days   - I'm certain. But on these rocks with October wind in my face, I can't remember a single one.

One of the joys of aging is this; bitterness, emptiness and anger fade with the advance of every winter. 

Growing old, not bitter

He grew tired of me, it's true.  Living in a family did not suit him.

I know for certain, however, that he never grew tired of the lessons he learned from the lake.

He was born in Texas, a land far different from this place.  He followed me here - and it was in this north country, where black soil converges with glacial rocks and forest that he learned to love the wilderness.

Along the Gunflint, where birches meet evergreen and death blends with seamless eternity, he learned to love the seasons as I love them.

I hope he learned to forgive.

I know I did. 

Those days, however,  are gone.

Summer is gone as well. 

The worn blanket I sit  upon cannot protect me from the chill that grows around me.  I feel foolish and a little silly - and I hope no one from town sees me.

I should have brought my heavy Hudson Bay wool.  I should have worn my down jacket.  I should have buttoned my flannel shirt and slipped into my long underwear before making this trek. 

The full moon is stark and near.  The night air presses through my coat and I chuckle as I realize that, once again, I underestimated the cold of the harbor, the force of the powerful wind that blows against this part of the world.

The honey wind blows

When folk singers were popular, we called it the "honey wind." This time of year it surprises the lake with the creation of deep, sea-worthy white caps.

I hear the water crash below me and my memory awakens. 

Once upon a time, before easy roads invited the new, beautiful, young tourists to this little town, Grand Marais was our far-away adventure; a secret the two of us shared with only those we trusted and loved. 

And this, I think, will be my last visit.

So it shall always be

Behind me, in the dark,  my camp fire dies.

I pick up the thin, useless blanket and return to my tent.  

The moon burns cold into the water.  I extinguish the Coleman and accept what the moon provides.

It is foolish to ask for more.

Somewhere in the night, I hear the rustle of a large, careless animal - but a single woman cannot live in fear and I am not afraid of the dark. 

I pull the sleeping bag tight around my neck and give thanks for moonlight, for rising stars, for the coming winter - and all the things I will accomplish before the new year.

So it is, so it has been and so it will always be.

Autumn follows summer follows spring.

And I sleep alone.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why I no longer trust the St. Paul Police

My dogs awoke me,  barking,  at 3:00 AM -  and I knew something was wrong.

I grabbed my under-the-bed baseball bat and stormed into my backyard.

The car next door had been burglarized; a neighbor's garage broken into.

And the woman who lives in the house behind mine was robbed in the middle of the night.

And so as the flood lights slapped across my empty back yard and my dogs growled, I determined to apprehend the culprit.

I searched the yard for the wretched, evil doer who would dare take advantage of the decent folks who live in Como Park.

Behind me, in my living room, someone walked out the front door with my MacBook and other electronics. Because I didn't check inside the house - I didn't discover the crime until the next morning.

"This ain't CSI, lady." 

I phoned the police at 7:30 A.M.

It took him almost an hour to get to my home - and when he finally knocked -  I opened my door to an overweigh, winded officer.

By then I was frantic. Where had he been?

"Don't  ever call the St. Paul cops between shifts," he said.  "We don't have our act together."

He yawned and rubbed his eyes as he walked through my ransacked living room.

"If I were you," he said, "I'd put bars on these windows."

Then he suggested I move out of the city.

"I grew up in this neighborhood," he said,. "I'm in the suburbs now. I wouldn't come back to the city on a bet. Too much crime."

I led him to the finger smudges on my coffee table,  window and bookcase.

Finger prints, I asked?

"This ain't CSI, lady," he snorted.

And thus began the hard truth I learned about St. Paul's finest.

"Get in line."

The folks at Hartford Insurance calculated my loss to be over $10 thousand. They asked for my assurance I would work to recover as much of my loss as possible.

I phoned the investigator's office, seeking the name of the person assigned.  For three days I reached voice mail - and no one returned my call.

Escalating, I phoned the Chief of Police.

My call was returned by a sergeant. Yes -  my case had been assigned.

No - the investigator would not be in touch.

The investigator was on vacation.

Yes - they knew she was out of town when they made the assignment.

And no - they would not ask another investigator to get involved.

My measly little home invasion was "not a priority" to the St. Paul Police.
"We got 60 people ahead of you,"  he said. "Each of our investigators works 30 to 50 open cases.  So - get in line, lady.  You're not that special - and you're sure not a priority."
Our busy, busy, busy civil servants.
"Oh, and get used to this idea," he said. "You'll never see your stuff again."
I called the East District Office where another sergeant confirmed this bad news. Property crimes, he said,  are the most frequent  in St. Paul -  but not a priority to our boys in blue.

Our cops are burdened, he said,  by the "many, many instances of violent crime" assailing our vulnerable citizens.

I checked the statistics - available to all of us online.

During the month of August, St. Paul citizens suffered:

  •  984 incidences of robbery, burglary and theft.  
  • 85 assaults.

"You're the kind of woman 

I can never make happy." 

If the majority of crimes in St. Paul are crimes against property, why not focus on property crime?

I asked the sergeant. 
"I know women like you," he answered. "You're the kind of woman I can never make happy." 
But I don't want to be "happy."

I only want my property returned.

And if that can't happen, I want to know that my police department is doing everything it can to make certain something like this never happens to anyone in my neighborhood, ever again.

The return visit

But criminals are not as stupid as our gallant officers believe. 

My thief knows his crimes will not be persecuted - his misdeeds will be overlooked. 

Two weeks later, my crook returned. 

Once again - my dogs awoke with vicious alarm in the middle of the night - and  I heard fumbling at bedroom window. 

Once again -  I stormed into the yard - bat in hand.  

This time I watched the lean, nimble form of a short, hooded man scamper through my garden gate and off my property. 

As he disappeared into the night I heard my dogs pant in relief.  

I checked my locked window - closed my doors - and returned to bed. 

I did not call the St. Paul Police. 

They were between shifts. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Religion majors make bad pastors

My college required we each enroll in one"religion" class per semester.

Some of us got hooked. We were the kids who majored in Religion.

And so it came to pass that in those days, a great many well intended, thoughtful men (mostly men) and women opted out.

Instead of exploring the philosophies and or histories of our collective civilization, we studied Paul's original Greek when he established the 1st Century church in Corinth.

Stuff like that.

As a consequence, at graduation, we weren't fit for much - other than a life in parish ministry.

So off we went - in droves - to seminary.

The "Yikes!" factor

When we broke into the congregations, we discovered the obvious.

No one cared about Jesus' Hebraic roots.  No one was moved by our facility with first Century Greek.

Instead, we were the ones "moved."

We encountered real people with real jobs, real lives - with real problems.

Husbands and wives who hated each other. Lost children - tossed aside by busy parents.
Addicted teenagers - lonely, anxious and hooked to smart phones for dear life.

Unfaithful spouses who lusted after co-workers.

And the yearning.  The ever present, non-stop yearning - for all the many, many things they would never have - and then many, many people who would never love them.

Our response?

Let us pray.

Before it's too late

I know there are still young people in love with the church - on fire with the gospel.

Perhaps you're one of those young people.

If you are -  take my advise. Major ye not in religious studies.  Study other things as well.

Entrench yourself in the science, American and European history. Explore the regions of geography and astronomy.

Experiment in new ways of organizing reality; consider the Buddhist approach to disengagement, the Hindi love of compassionate action.

Take time to dip your spirit in the real world of suffering.  Volunteer your time at a shelter for battered and abused women.  Talk to the women.  Seek out the men.  Hear their thought processes and let it all in.

Learn the ways of the hungry, the empty and the old.  Deepen your knowledge of the systems of poverty, loneliness and despair.

Then - return to us.

Come home to the Beatitudes.

Live again in the light of the Lord's Prayer - where we believe and know that the Universe alone holds the power and the glory of all good things.

Because, my young friend, unlike other professions you chase, ministry is a forever work.  Life, as you knew it, disappears.  Like childhood - once you cross into the intimate world of ministry, you are never the same again.

Never again will you look at a family and assume all is well.  Never again will you take for granted the good health, stability and strength of people you meet.

Because - you are a pastor - and pastors know otherwise.

And they learned it the hard way.

It is wonderful work - but hard work, and all consuming.

So - if you must do it, get eager.  Get ready.

But more than these - get a good education.

And get real.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How solitaire made me normal

When I was four-years-old, I was a little  (how shall I put this?) schizophrenic.

I talked to numbers.

They were my friends -  and each had a distinct, particular personality.

For example - number One was an only child, growing up on Summit Avenue.

His father was number  Fourteen,  who didn't believe in God.

The wife of Six. 
Six, if I recall,  was married to Miss Francis from Ding-Dong School.

Ricky Ricardo loved Nine.  He almost married her, but Lucy came along - and ruined everything.

Numbers were my playmates. 

I still remember when Five, Seven and I put pennies on the rail-road track near the Dunlap Avenue Short Line.

After the train passed, we knew we couldn't  keep the flattened souvenirs - my mother would have beat the daylights out of us for playing in the ravine.

Instead, we sold them to Eight and Ten; a couple of red heads growing up in an over-crowded duplex on Lincoln Avenue.

How many kids in the house?  Beats me.

I didn't know how to count.

The adults in my family would never call me "crazy."

Even so, they set about to change the way I thought about numbers, television and reality.

Howdy Doody wasn't a real boy,  Crusader Rabbit was not my boyfriend and numbers don't marry and have children.

My folks came at this project from a variety of approaches.

My father asked me to "count" nails as he hammered them into a screen door.  

My mother, ironing my dresses,  asked me to fetch Ten hangers from the closet.

I counted the nails for my dad - but Ten thought ironing was silly - and my mother was a little stupid to spend her time doing it.

I told her to get the hangers herself .

You can imagine.

Flash cards and the jealousy of Three.

My dad tried to teach me addition.

He bought a set of flash cards and asked to add Two plus Four.

I tried to explain that the Two and Four  could never be together. They were both in love with Three.

I thought everyone knew that.

Next, he took out a deck of cards.

He shuffled, mixed the Numbers together, and laid them on our kitchen table, row by row.

Some were face-up; others were hidden, snuggling against the back of an unknown stranger.

"This game," he said, "is called solitaire - because you play it all alone."

Silly man, I thought.  A girl and a stack of Numbers is never alone.

And that's how I grew to love solitaire - hearts - gin rummy - all the card games that saw me through my childhood.

Saved by solitaire. 

I'm happy to report that my schizophrenia abated.

By the time I started kindergarten I could count with the best of them, without regard for the emotional lives and social entanglements of the numbers I threw around.

Even so - even today - the ghost of old friends sometimes visit.

I bought my little bungalow in Como Park in 2002 - a lovely, orderly number.

I remember when I first saw the adorable little house.  I parked my funky Volkswagen at the address given - and for some reason, didn't think of the address until I saw the numbers above the front door.

There they were - my dear friends - Seven and Five.

The price was perfect as well - I paid $175,000 for this great old house.

A fine price.  A lovely price.

Not a Three in sight.

Still crazy - after all these years.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The day after generosity

When I was a little girl, everyone around our Thanksgiving table had the last name "Holmgren."

My father coveted our privacy and so the Hans Holmgren family always dined alone.

At least - until the Thanksgiving of 1958 -  when  relatives from "up north" managed to weasel an invitation.

I remember the phone call as if were yesterday.

My mother was busy in the kitchen. My father was smoking a pipe and reading the paper at her pinewood table.

"Don't answer that!" he warned as she picked up the receiver. "Nothing good ever comes from a telephone call on a holiday!"

It was my father's Uncle Oscar and his wife Millie -  people I'd never met.

Millie called from a booth in Nisswa.  They were on their way to town when she remembered they had family in the cities.

Covering the mouth piece my mother whispered to my father - "You know people in Thief River?"

Of course he did.  Uncle Oscar was his father's oldest brother. My father grabbed the phone.

There was a baby shower in Minneapolis tomorrow, Millie told him.   They were going to have to spend the night somewhere.

Would it be okay if they stayed with us? Millie was more than happy to help with the Thanksgiving meal and they would be no trouble at all.

I was stunned when my dad said "Come on ahead.  We got plenty."

But when he hung up, his irritation exploded through the kitchen.

"What am I going to say to them?" he shouted at my mother.  "The last time I saw Oscar, god was a little boy!"

But the harm had been done.  By nightfall - Uncle Oscar and Millie were at our door -  in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember that holiday as if it were last night.

My father greeted his uncle with a handshake; something I never saw him do before.

The old man sat in my dad's chair at the table, while my father perched on our too-skinny piano stool.

The meal, of course,  was perfect. The stuffed, dressed turkey was moist and surrounded by roasted vegetables. The cranberries were crushed with mint from my mother's summer garden and mixed with fresh orange.

All of this - performed by my mother before anyone dreamed of the word "Cuisinart."

Oscar and Millie ate with noisy gratitude.

"Bernice," Oscar said, "you make a happy, happy table."

My mother blushed behind the compliment.

That night, Millie and Oscar slept in my bed while I slept on the couch.  They were gone before I awoke on Friday.

I never saw again saw them alive.

Traveling north on one of the many, many country roads leading to Fosston, Grigla, Bagley, Thief River - Uncle Oscar swerved to avoid an oncoming truck and threw the Oldsmobile into a tree.

We learned on the evening news - like everyone else.  Stunned, disbelieving - my father phoned the television station to confirm that the dead were Oscar and Millie Holmgren.

The bodies were at the county morgue, waiting for family to claim. My parents had a terrible argument about funeral expenses, Christmas obligations and how stupid they were to own a telephone.

The following week we drove north for a funeral.

We arrived in time to view both bodies.

My great Oscar and his wife Millie were the first dead people I ever saw.

My father led me to Oscar's coffin and placed my hand on the cool, shaven face of the dead man.

"Say good-bye," he said.  I held my breath and considered the object under my touch; a body without life, a husk, an empty shell.

When he moved me to the next coffin I felt the air in the room grew thin - the floor swirl.  I awoke coughing on smelling salts tucked under my nose.

"She's a little young for all this," the mortician scolded my father.

"She's old enough," he said.

The drive home was ugly.  My dad swore Oscar and Millie would still be alive if he never invited them to Thanksgiving dinner in the first place.

My mother reminded him that the Holmgrens were in town anyway - to attend a baby shower.

My father did not agree.

"No one in their right mind would drive from Kandiyohi County to Saint Paul in the middle of winter without a decent meal waiting for them on the other end," he said.  "Baby or no baby."

But my mother insisted.  

"No one cheats death," she said.  "You miss it in Kandiyohi,  you meet it in Thief River.  You die in your car, or you die in your living room. No one," she repeated,  "cheats death."

Her words hung heavy in the dark cold air of the Plymouth as silent my father drove,  chastened.

In years to come, others visited during the holidays - and sat around our Thanksgiving and Christmas table.

All of them immediate family.  None of them, traveling from far away.

 And all of them returning to their homes - without incident.

"We must be doing something right," he used to say.  "Nobody dropped dead in a long, long time."

For the rest of his life, my father never, ever, ever again -  invited anyone outside our immediate family to share a holiday meal.

And that's why you won't hear much from me this time of year.

Nonetheless - a  happy holiday season to you all -  from another member of the inhospitable, ungenerous Holmgren family.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top five reasons to honor Halloween

I did it last year.  The year before.  And I'll do it again this year.

The children who come to my door on October 31st will meet a hideous old woman, wretched and hidden inside her black, hooded cape; her features smashed by a dark,  opaque stocking, her hands vanished in black socks.

She won't speak.

Instead, she will gurgle a terrifying, muddled murmur.

To the tiny brave ones who dare to step into the eerie, green-lit porch where bats and dismembered bones abound, she will offer marvelous, full-sized chocolate bars.

The candy will bring the brave children closer.

The timid will be terrified and turn down her candy rather than step into her lair.

The neighbors complain

When I was in my fifties (yes, when I was fifty-something-years old!) the neighbors began their annual complaint about my Halloween antics.

They claimed I take Halloween too far.

I don't need to be so frightening - the kids seek only sweets and a soft congratulations for the mother-made costume. They don't need the terror I impose.

Some said I have fun at the expense of children - an immature act that robs little ones of both the innocence and merriment of Halloween. They said I replace good stuff with fear.

I've heard this for over ten years, and I don't give a rat's ass.

My attitude?


There are only so many Halloweens in our short, sweet lives.

Think of it - one day, when we least expect,  we will wake up - dead.

When that happens, the opportunity to "haunt" will be authentic and meaningful.

Until then, all we have is one night of the year - Halloween.

I intend to squeeze every possible scream out of every single child who dares knock on my door.

For those of you who choose (for bogus religious reasons) to ignore this magnificent celebration of the dead, I offer these five, simple, clear reasons why you are wrong.

Dead wrong.

The top five reasons

to honor Halloween - irrespective of age

Reason #5 - Halloween is the only holiday when we are encouraged  (and allowed!) to cultivate and exploit an alter ego.  If we cannot let loose and enjoy the dark side of our personality (or, the light, miraculous, cheery side) - we are poorer for the lack.

Reason #4 - It's true - Halloween is for children.  And we're children as long as we grab Halloween by the gonads and wrestle it to the floor.  Celebrate and stay young!

Reason #3 - Locking the door, turning off the lights and pretending to not be home on Halloween night will provoke the neighborhood children.  Granted, they might not commit outward acts of vandalism.   Even so - who wants to be known as the "mean old man" in the corner house, who can't open his heart or door on October 31st?

Reason #2 - Halloween is the first of a string of wonderful, fabulous, festive and outlandish holidays.

 Shutting it down is a bit like turning your back on fun.

Making it a grand event will deepen your gratitude for autumn and winter - - here, in the land of sludge, crabby neighbors and people who wear too many clothes - - even in the summer.

And reason #1 - Childhood is short.  Without your good example, those little children at your door will "trick or treat" five, maybe six times in their lives.

Don't let that happen.  Show them adults know how to have fun too.  Be a witch. Be a vampire.  Be Peewee Herman, if you choose.

Be the best Halloween grownup you can be.

Be a child again.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ghosts in the heartland

My new play is a ghost story.

After Elsie dies, she realizes her life was peppered with unfinished business.

She returns, hoping to open the doors she closed in life.  Along the way she discovers most of life is "unfinished."  Nothing comes to a conclusion.

And no one is irreplaceable.

I was only eight-years-old 

when my grandfather died.  

Oscar was a cranky, difficult Swedish immigrant with little tolerance for childhood.

He never learned English; never had to.  Everyone in my family understood the language of rage.

Grandpa Oscar died on a cold afternoon in May.  Three weeks later, my cousin Cherry died of acute leukemia. She began to bleed on a Friday afternoon and was dead by Wednesday.

My cousin Cherry was eight-years-old. 
And so was I.  

Death was not proud in that year.

My Aunt Olga followed Cherry - and within a few short weeks, another uncle and aunt died together in an automobile accident.   For all of this loss, I was too young to attend funerals, too old to be ignorant of grief.

Theologians tell us that our first exposure to death is lasting.  The sudden shock of mortality changes a child.
Early exposure to death may result in everything from a propensity to alcoholism and drug addiction - or, as in my case -  an adulthood dedicated to parish ministry.

Elsie's death leads her people to a  new appreciation of limits and a fresh compassion for the imperfection of all things.

"HOME AGAIN - A GHOST STORY"  premieres in 2015. 
Watch for opportunities 
to attend a staged reading
at Theatre in the Round Players
 January, 2014.