Gazing out my kitchen window while I'm warming my hands around a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea, the reality of the change of season is here. The vibrant coloured leaves on the trees, some of them whipping around in circles in the sky from chilly wind, autumn is upon us; brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows, all the colours of fall. The date on the calendar too tells me it's here; it's the final season before the tentacles of Old Man Winter grip us.
It's my favourite time of year but once my teen years approached and I reluctantly had to acquiesce I was too old to go out 'trick or treating' in the neighbourhood, visiting with Gram on Halloween, helping her hand out treats to the little ghouls and goblins at her door became our tradition; eight years and counting. The kids come in droves because Gram gives out the best festive treats and kids have to get there early to reap the goods before they're all gone. Scrumptious treats like witches fingers made from her shortbread recipe with almond slices for fingernails, pumpkin faces carefully crafted with marshmallows and sprinkles, and slithery little snakes prepared out of candy-coated gummy worms with tiny little licorice pieces for tongues and beaded candies for eyes and coloured stripes running down their backs, all bundled together in little Halloween goodie-bags tied up with orange and black ribbons. Contrary to words of warning and advice from so-called authorities recommending appropriate Halloween hand-outs, people who Gram calls 'know-it-alls', she doesn't heed to their warnings and still insists on creating her laborious spooky treats every year. She gets a kick out of it because Halloween is her favourite time of year too.
I wash up a few dishes in the sink and grab my thick fall cardigan sweater coat from the coat rack at the back door, then head out. A gust of cold wind immediately slaps my face as I step outside so I scurry along the sidewalk with my head down, gripping my coat collar close around my neck to block out the blustery weather, the crispy leaves crunching under my feet as I walk three-and-a-half blocks to Gram's place.
You can't miss Gram's house, not just because it's one of only a few older two-story wood-framed houses left that were built in the early 1900s on this block, but it's also the house on the block most decked out for Halloween. All kinds of ghoulish decorations and creepy haunted screaming noises, witches stirring cauldrons and cackling, werewolves howling, and scary things jumping out when you get close enough. Every year Gram goes over the top for Halloween; she loves it. I have a touch of Gram's indulgence inside me too because, honestly, I get just as excited as she does about it every year; it's one of our traditions that she and I always share.
My mind inattentively counts the familiar five steps up to the front porch, steps I have walked up so many times before as I absent-mindedly reach for the door handle on the big oak door. I let out a little shriek when something touches my ankle, something tapping on my foot, reaching out from under the tattered old wicker loveseat beside the front door, playing with my shoelace. Jumping back I'm already laughing at myself, thinking it's a new Halloween gimmick this year that Gram innocuously added to her love of the celebration of Halloween. Looking down, I chortle more, realizing that it's just Raven, the neighbour's big old fat black cat hiding under the couch and she's barely able to squeeze back out from underneath, to greet me. She too frequently visits Gram, and judging by the size of this monstrous cat, she visits for good reasons, she doesn't go hungry. Today her visit fits with the ambiance, I muse to myself, laughing at the proverbial black cat on Halloween.
"Hi Gram", I call out over the creaking front door, which ironically isn't a Halloween touch, it's just an old door that could use a bit of WD-40 or something like that, whatever a person uses to fix squeaky hinges. Since Gramp passed away a few years ago these kinds of odd jobs don't render much attention around here anymore. I'm immediately overtaken with delicious smelling, mouth-watering aromas wafting from the kitchen. "Mmmmm, wow Gram, smells great in here" I exclaim.
"Come on in here sweetie, there's a pot of soup on the stove and some freshly baked buns still warm. Come in and warm up, have some soup for the soul, dear."
Gram is standing at the kitchen counter, the setting sun still shining through the kitchen window behind her. For a fleeting moment when I look at her, she appears luminous, almost like she's shimmering. It's just the way the sun is shining on her right now, I tell myself. Grabbing a bowl and the soup ladle, I scoop up a serving of hot soup and a fresh bun and perch myself on a stool. Savouring every spoonful of her delectable bisque, Gram and I share a hearty bowl of comfort food together, followed by some freshly baked apple crisp, still warm from the oven, made from apples picked off her apple tree in the backyard.
After we've stuffed as much soul food as we can into our tummies, we leave the kitchen and head into the front room to get comfortable and stretch out, sink into the lush, cushy furniture in Gram's sitting room. Crinkling up balls of newspaper and picking out the smallest pieces of kindling, I spark up a fire in the old stone fireplace so we can bask in the warmth and digest our great indulgences. We can see the porch through the huge picture window while we wait for our creepy visitors. It's not long before the first group of kids arrives at the door and unanimously choruses "trick or treat!" Gram and I take turns greeting and treating the clusters of kids.
"Sweetie, do you remember when Gramps scared that little boy so bad, you remember, the year he dressed up like a headless man? The poor little guy fell backward onto his butt and then scrambled back onto his feet as quick as he could, and ran away crying "No thanks mister!" she laughed as recollected, so very amused in the moment. "I think that picture is back here", she says flipping the cardboard pages in the photo album backward until she finds it. "Here it is," she says, pushing the album across the coffee table towards me.
I giggled thinking about the poor little fella. He was only about four years old and Gramps scared the crap out of him with his costume he fabricated in less than 15 minutes because he worked late that day and forgot it was Halloween. He used his work coat and work gloves pinned to the sleeves, and great big work boots. He bent and twisted a coat hanger to fit on his head somehow and hung the coat on the hanger and the hanger on the top of his head, peeking out the small openings between the buttons to see the kids' reactions to his scary seven-foot-tall headless man. It sure fooled the little guy and the rest of the kids thought it was cool too.
Big teardrops are rolling down my cheeks, partly because we're laughing so hard over old stories and pictures, and partly because I'm sentimentally overwhelmed at the moment; I feel absolute adoration for her. She looks so sweet in her kitty costume, black whiskers painted on her face, a little pink nose, and cat ears held on by a hair band. Gram looks like a little girl and she's beaming like she has a great secret she's withholding inside herself. Reminiscing about years gone by, her eyes glowing with fond memories, she keeps talking about the good ol' days and recalls another moment in time. It conjures up a prickly feeling inside me; I feel something so eerie and yet so cozy about this visit with her but I don't know what it is; I can't put my finger on it, it's just a feeling. I brush it off with the excuse that it's all about Halloween and spooky costumes, eerie spirits, and ghosts that manifest themselves on All Hallows' Eve. I've often wondered if there just may be some of those supernatural paranormal beings living in Gram's house, given the age of it and the fact that the previous owner of this old house hung herself in the ancient old wooden shed out back that sags to the left due to longevity. It should have been torn down years ago, long before Gramps died.
As our evening winds down, Gram is looking weary and tired. Her glow is gone and in its place are lines of fatigue and a palpable facial appearance of utter exhaustion. She's lost her zest for Halloween and clearly needs some rest now.
"Hey Gram, you look really tired. I think you need to go to bed and get some sleep", I urge her. She doesn't hesitate to agree with me and gets up off the couch. When she walks me to the door, I unexpectedly grab hold of her frail frame and hug her tightly, smothering her in a bear hug, clinging onto her for a prolonged period of time, I don't want to let her go. Glancing into the oversized oval mirror that hangs on the wall inside the front door I see my reflection but my heart races a bit. It looks like I'm hugging the empty air; I can only see myself in the mirror image. Where's Gram I think to myself for a fleeting moment. She wiggles her tiny self away from me.
"Okay, honey, you're squeezing the life out of me", she laughs and pulls herself away from my grip. "You make sure you call me when you get home to let me know you're home safely, okay dear? And don't be long, I need to go to bed" she insists.
"Ok Gram. I love you", I respond back.
"Love you too sweetie. See you next week." With that, she closes the front door.
The years of memories are flipping through my mind like an old black-and-white movie as I walk back home. It's dark now, and even colder outside. Most of the kids are home now rummaging through their loot bags, savouring and sorting out their best treats, Halloween is all but over for another year, except for the older teenagers who shouldn't be out trick or treating in the first place. They're too old now and at this time of night, I suspect they're up to no good anyway. When I get home I'm going to have another cup of Earl Grey and call it a night. Gram and I rocked it again this year for Halloween, I laugh to myself.
The sun isn't even up yet when I wake up to pounding on my front door, startled, and my mother calling out to me, "Cassie, are you home?" Bang! Bang! Bang! Where does she think I would be at eight o'clock in the morning I ponder with sarcasm, throwing on my robe and slippers to answer the door.
"What the hell, Mom? You scared me. It's eight in the morning. What are you doing here?"
"Shit Cassie, I was trying to get a hold of you all day yesterday. Where were you? Why didn't you answer my calls?" she spews out, exacerbated. "Why didn't you answer my texts? Why didn't you answer your door when I knocked?" she was spitting out rapid-fire questions like bullets, and demanding answers without stopping in between each one. My sister, Sadie, is with her and her expression looks like she just ate a poisoned pie.
"Fuck Mom, it was Halloween yesterday. You know where I was. I always spend Halloween with Gram and give out candies to the kids with her. Why didn't you call her house if it was so urgent?" I jab back at her, throwing a glare in my sister's direction. It seems like those two are always badgering me, together as a team. A look of confusion and fear crosses my mother's face. She flashes a look at Sadie, and turns back to me, clearly unnerved at this point.
"Cassie, I have really bad news to tell you and I don't really know how to say it, so I'll just say it, but now I'm a little confused", she says hesitantly. Her eyes are sad and she softly says to me, "Honey, Gram passed away early yesterday morning, in her sleep, at the nursing home. I'm sorry dear; I know how close you were to her".
The little hairs on the back of my neck bristle when I look into her eyes, bewildered, and I don't know what to say. Neither my mom nor sister know what to say either; they're both baffled too as they exchange perplexed glances with each other.