Two years and a few days ago, my dear Dad passed away. I sat down a dozen times to write about this 24 month landmark, but the words just didn't sit right. That same week also two birthdays - October 21, which would have been my dear mother-in-law, Lila Greene's, 78th birthday, and October 22, the day my father would have turned 99 years old. An intense week, to say the least.
And before I knew it, Halloween week was looming. Maedee had chosen a very lovely Cleopatra ensemble. Mila had changed her mind from a renaissance princess to Pippi Longstocking (including spraying her hair red) and had finally settled on a black flapper dress. Two down, one to go, and that one was not going to be easy, by a long shot.
Julea is a very specific child. She had a detailed idea of her costume in her mind and her much desired Halloween costume? Mary Poppins. Seems simple enough, right? If she had decided on the familiar Mary Poppins' outfit of blue dress, overcoat, hat and umbrella, we were at the finish line. Nope. She had in mind the dress from the "Jolly Holiday" scene, aka "Supercalifragiliciousexpialidocious." Exhaustive searches only came up with costumes that cost much more than our limited budget could afford. I tried to get her to switch gears, but despite searching through countless websites, she was determined to have her "Jolly Holiday" dress.
During this same time, I was finishing up a two week beginning sewing class. At my ripe age, I decided I finally needed to learn some basic skills and came home showing off a machine sewed pumpkin pot holder and scissors pouch, like a proud kindergartner. My kids decided that after two weeks of sewing class, I was able to sew anything, including Julea's "Jolly Holiday" dress. I have to admit, I believed I could do it too.
We found a simple white dress online and ordered it. Red satin, thread, ruffles and red ribbons picked up and ready to put my new sewing skills into action. I picked up the dress a few days later and was off to the getting ready for Halloween races. I cut the red satin, measured it around Julea's waist and turned my den into a regular sweatshop. I sewed my fingers to the bones for two days and two nights. Even if I did prick them, I wouldn't have felt it anyway. Thanks to a local dinner theater, I scored a white hat and umbrella that they were willing to part with for five bucks. Halloween was still five days to go, but the school's Halloween parade was just a mere 48 hours away, which was almost a bigger deal than Halloween since the kids got to see all of each other's costumes and show them to the parents and teachers.
I was tired and my fingers hurt. But I kept on sewing through the night and turned the den into a lower east side sweatshop. I sewed blinking lights onto Mila's black flapper dress so she could shine and be seen in the night. I also secured Maedee's Cleopatra's neckpiece and sewed flannel into the arm pieces to soften the itchy fabric. The needle pricks into my fingertips didn't mean a thing.
Friday morning came and Julea tried on her dress. I tied the sash and watched as she put on the hat and lifted the umbrella. We gasped in unison. By George, we'd done it. She hurried into her school clothes and I promised them I'd be there in time to change for the parade.
I arrived at school and headed straight to her class. We gathered the girls and ushered them to the bathroom, where they changed amidst giggles and shyness. Julea beamed as her classmates' jaws dropped. Questions about where she got it were answered proudly with, "We got the dress, but my mama made the costume." I kissed her on the forehead and rushed off to Maedee's class to help her into her costume, thankfully much simpler to put on. Then to Mila's group, where she had already gotten into her flapper mode and stood eye to eye with me wearing a pair of my heels. Her teacher secured the lighting box with duct tape and Mila turned on the blinking lights. Adorable and very 5th grade.
I took a seat in the back row of the gym. The kindergartners stumbled in wearing dogs, cats, princesses and super heroes. First graders were a mish-mash of vampires, sports figures, more princesses and even an Iron Chef. Second graders became more ghoulish. Finally the third graders. First Maedee's class came in and I pushed to the front to take the first of many out of focus shots on my phone. She smiled right at me and looked wonderful. Julea's class came in next and she strolled across the gym floor with her umbrella jaunty against her shoulder. I don't think I've ever see her smile that big. My heart burst wide open.
Mila's class sauntered in as only 5th graders can do and she tried hard to look comfortable in my heels.
They all went off to their pre-Halloween parties, handing me their dresses after returning to their more comfortable school clothes. Halloween night came and they put them on again, this time with less flair and flash, but we managed to make it to three neighborhoods in 2.5 hours, with a caramel apple finish.
Halloween was over. October was over and the anniversary of my dad's passing had, well, passed without my writing a thing. But that seemed to be all right because I'd honored him with Halloween. For my dad, celebrating Halloween was proof that he was an American and he loved it. He carved pumpkins, took us trick or treating and when I was stuck for a costume in 5th grade, it was his idea to transform a round lamp box into a 7up can. He spray painted it and put on the shoulder straps and carved out the diamond-shaped cut out for me to hold my pillow case filled with candy.
As I sat up that week, cutting and sewing, cutting and sewing, I kept thinking about my dad and Halloween. When I just wanted to veg out on the couch, the memory of my Halloween's growing up got me up out my seat and carving three pumpkins. When my fingers felt like they were going to fall off my hands, I remembered my dad spray painting my 7up can in the garage after a full day at the store and I finished Julea's dress.
Remembering, like grief, surprises us. It happens in unlikely times and places, in line at the grocery store, or driving down a particular street at a certain time of day. Or it happens threading a needle with red thread and making an eight year old girl's Halloween wish come true. This year, grief's memory was transformed into acts of parental giving and joy. And into a great Halloween.