Amanda Barber

Stories, songs, and thoughts on life.

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Grandma at Halloween

06 November 2019

It’s odd the kinds of things that jog my fond memories. Last week’s Halloween revelry is one of them. This is odd because I generally dislike the holiday intensely. I find it sordid, uncouth, and ugly. Last week, I pondered whether Halloween could be used to express memento mori–remember that you will die. In other words, life is fleeting. Tomorrow, we could be rotting in our graves. So, live like your short life means something. Be productive. The things that won’t rot in the grave with you are the intangible, eternal things.

But I shook my head. That’s not really how modern folks celebrate Halloween. Casually observed, Halloween seems more about the “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”ethos. It’s sexual excess, gore, decay, and horror for the cheap thrill of sexual excess, gore, decay, and horror. Not a whole lot of redemptive purpose in any of that as far as I can see.

And yet…when the light began to fade on Halloween last week, I felt a little warm glow in my heart and a sudden mental picture of my Grandma Barber with her bucket of candy by the front door of 3541 Duke St. Her face was positively lit up with smiles, bestowing love and sweets in equal measure on each kid who knocked on her door.

Grandma was, as far as I’m concerned, the quintessential grandmother figure. There was a certain grace and dignity about her person–the grey hair and wrinkles, the pink plastic curlers she used to set her hair every night, the dresses ordered from old people catalogs, the powder she used on her nose, the little bottles of perfume on her dressing table. She did not try to be what she was not. She did not try to ignore the fact that she was getting old and would die. She accepted things as they were and found immense joy in small pleasures–like little children in cute costumes, begging for candy.

Ten years later, I would also stand at the door on 3541 Duke St. and hand out candy to the little kids in costumes, remembering how my grandma did it and how important she found each child and how important she made them feel–how important and loved she made me feel.

It occurs to me that I learned how to treat children, in part, from the example of my Grandma Barber. It was her example that taught me not to fear the aging process and the inevitability of death and decay, at least as much as it is possible not to fear these things. I learned that love and kindness are forever and that youth and health are not. Memento mori. I learned many of these things from her–unaware that I was learning anything, and she unaware that her mere existence taught them–at Halloween. A holiday I can’t stand.

Life is funny, isn’t it?