“Do you think you can stay awake this Halloween?”
“Yes. I had a nice nap right before I came over, so I’m ready to go. But, you have to admit, I almost made it last year.”
The Memorial Park Cemetery sat on the outskirts of town—where there was room to grow. To an outsider, the haphazard plots and aged headstones made it look like a sprawling mess. Locals described it as organized chaos. Still, it provided a modicum of respect for the departed.
Under the mature branches of the evergreen, Margaret laid a quilted blanket on the grass next to the gravesite and placed her basket off to the side, making sure there was room for two.
She glanced at the grave’s marker and crossed herself. The headstone was a modest one but had all the usual details: name, birth date, and death date. A tearful grin appeared on her face when she read the epitaph she wrote decades ago, “Always a Mama’s Boy.”
Margaret slowly sat down on the blanket; her advancing RA made bending and stooping painful. Settled in, she pulled a scarf around her neck to curb the evening chill and motioned for her son David to come give her a hug. As he came over, a boyish grin flashed across his face. Margaret beamed with joy.
Then Margaret thought, if only I could capture this moment in a jar and cap it shut? I could keep it on my nightstand and only open the lid to release some good times when I need cheering up.
As life would have it, times like these only happened one day a year—on Halloween night.
David, giggling like a twelve-year-old and mimicking a ghost with his hands in the air, screamed BOO! He laughed like it was the funniest thing ever. Margaret happily played along, pretending to be frightened, and then smiled, laughing out loud.
David jumped into her lap. They wrapped their arms around each other, holding no one and falling into thin air. Closing her eyes and dreaming of days past, she pulled him close to her bosom and kissed what would’ve been the top of his head. Cooing, her lips took in the moisture of the cool night air.
“Ahh, mom, that’s enough mushy stuff,” said David.
“C’mon, David, grant your mother a few kisses once a year. I love you so much,” she said, going through the motions of ruffling his hair.
“I love you too, Mom. Hey, what’d you bring in the basket this year?”
“Why don’t we take a peek?”
David leaned in, trying to do just that.
Like every Halloween, there were candies and chocolates, but it was something blue that caught David’s eye.
“A Dodgers baseball cap? Wow! Thanks, Mom!”
“Well, you were always their biggest fan, you and your dad’s, of course. And they are in the playoffs this year, so I thought we could celebrate,” said Margaret, a smile never leaving her face—her eyes constantly tearing.
“But you know I can’t wear it, or even taste the candy,” said David, hanging his head.
“Not to worry, sweetheart, I know just what to do.”
Margaret carefully balanced the baseball cap on top of the headstone. Giving David a quick wink, she grabbed two bags of roasted peanuts from the basket and positioned them at the base of the stone. She stepped back like a film director and used her hands as if ready to take a picture.
“How's that look?”
“Click, click, click,” she reeled off, moving her fingers.
David gave his mom another big make-believe hug, acting like his face was squishing up against her. They sat in silence seemingly forever taking comfort in each other’s presence.
Another moment to add to my memory jar, thought Margaret.
It was barely midnight and her jar was already half-full.
As a full moon came into view, Margaret sucked on a lollipop and placed another next to David, who pretended to have a lick.
They visited well into the early morning hours, being silly and reminiscing and sharing a laugh. One was over David's older sister Linda having to kiss a boy in the school play. She played Liesl, the eldest girl in the Sound of Music, and Daniel, an overly dramatic wannabe, played Rolfe. The kiss was awkward, but the audience loved it. David covered his eyes throughout the entire scene, blushing.
Margaret retold stories of David’s first word, how he crinkled his nose the first time he tasted peas, and how he yelled and screamed and wouldn’t let go of her leg when she dropped him off on his first day of school.
David lit up showing his mom for the thousandth time how his dad taught him how to hit a curveball. Assuming a hitter’s stance, David floated above the ground and swung his transparent arms in slow-motion, making a popping sound as if hitting a towering home run over a make-believe centerfield fence. Margaret clapped and cheered gleefully.
The holidays were a family favorite, especially Halloween, until a drunk driver sent their lives into a tailspin.
The entire family had dressed up and walked the neighborhood. It wasn't so much about how full David and Linda could fill their bags as it was about being together. On their last night, Margaret and her husband, Jim, came as Frankenstein and his bride, Linda went as Tinker Bell, and David as a ghost. It was a simple costume, but the long flowing sheet gave the illusion of flight when he ran. David had always wanted to fly and dreamed of one day becoming a fighter pilot.
Now, after a car slammed into her family on that night of trick-or-treating decades ago, Margaret was alone. Since Jim and Linda always had an affinity for the mountains, Margaret decided to scatter their ashes in the Sierra Nevada. But Margaret couldn't bear to lose her second shadow, so David was laid to rest in their hometown. It was close enough where she could come to see him anytime. But it was only on Halloween night when she truly got to visit.
It was a quarter to six and the sun would start peeking over the hills at 6:06 AM. Margaret knew precisely so as not to waste a moment with her son. It was at that time that David would have to rest again in his grave.
“C’mere, David. Come give your mom one last hug.”
Enthusiastically, David gave his mother his ghostly embrace. Tears rolled down her cheeks—his tears fell to the ground.
“You’ll always be Mama’s boy, won’t you?”
Until next Halloween, Margaret's memory jar was full.