Sharon Benson Smith pours her grief into poetry and draws strength from positive memories. This piece is a tribute to her lively mother who passed away on Halloween. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
By Sharon Benson Smith
I had dreaded the arrival and celebration of Halloween
it was the night Mom was rushed to the hospital
and the out-of-doors never again to be seen.
It’s the night to which children look forward to costuming and trick-or-treat
But I’d been thinking of it as the night the “rug was pulled from under our feet.”
This Halloween, October 31, 1978, will mark one year to the day
And I now recall that it all happened this way.
I rushed from work to the market to buy our trick-or-treats
And prepared something real fast for my family to eat.
Then I made my nightly call to Mom before the doorbell started ringing
And as usual, her voice, in its mom-manner, was singing.
“Hi, Mom, how are you tonight; I was just worrying about your
Having to get up and down to answer the door.”
“Dad will be back soon, Doll, he’s just at the store.”
“Okay, mom, just checking, but now I’ve got to go
I’ll call you tomorrow during lunch break as you know.”
All of the above had to have happened before the hour of seven;
Later she was taken in an ambulance; I got the call about eleven.
While in the emergency room, I was told she asked: “Where is my Shay?”
Well, Mom, you better believe your Shay was on her way.
Shawna was right, that little smarty, Mom would want us to have a costume party;
With boys dressed as cute hobos and girls as spooky witches
And a few clowns jumping around just to keep us all in stitches.
Some to be dressed as cuties, and others as scaries
Little devils and skeletons, and ballerinas and fairies.
She’d want us to go trick-or-treating and do some apple bobbin’
Instead of my thinking of hiding away sobbin’ and tear dobbin’!
So, I allow my thoughts to replay the happy scenes
Like when Mom dressed as Casper the ghost one long ago Halloween
And succeeded in fooling Dad and we kids, as well as our neighbor, Jean.
Up through the years my thoughts take me away to the Whittier YMCA
When Mom was asked to be a judge that particular Halloween day
She couldn’t vote for her flappers but Tracy and I won anyway.
I have a picture of her wearing a badge that simply states “Judge;”
That’s another memory I’ll never allow to become just a smudge.
Who is that dressed up like a regular G.I.
Wearing boots too large and at least knee-high
Going around saluting and repeating aye-aye?
How very cute she was, our mother, our queen
Even dressed as she was in fatigues of khaki green.
Then who’s the witch in the gruesome mask with a long hook nose
Who is the witch -- everyone asked -- but nobody knows.
She has an ugly hunch-back and talks in a witch’s cackle:
“Hello there, My Pretty, wouldja like a candy apple?”
She was playing the part I mean just so perfectly
That only the process of elimination revealed Grandma B!
When I told Steve I was writing on the subject of Halloween
He then reminded me of the following scene.
He responded to the knock at the Creedmore door
And could never even guess what he was in for.
There stood a colorful though shabbily dressed gypsy
She arrived all alone – now who could this be?
She held a huge light bulb, symbolic of a crystal ball
He’s asking himself: “Who is this real doll?”
She kept her hands covered and across her face was a veil
Still asking himself “Who is this weirdo” – Steve could not tell.
He went on to say “she uttered not a single word”
He continued asking himself “Who is this strange bird?”
Now Steve, as you know, is a pretty sharp feller
But couldn’t discern who this was, this gypsy fortune teller.
He said it took about twenty minutes of studying the ol’ gypsy
Then she made a certain gesture and he knew it was Grandma B!
Sister Donna reminded me of the party held at the bowling alley.
It was the night that Mom dressed up like Phyllis Diller
The “most original” prize she won was that Halloween thriller.
I can picture her hamming it up and talking in that Phyllis Diller twang
Just a-laughin’ and a-jokin’ about her husband, Fang.
Who could forget Mom the year she dressed like a regular hill-billy
Again, she played the part, and I don’t mean willy-nilly.
With lots of freckles, an Okie drawl, and of course a snaggle tooth
In clodhoppers like Lil’ Abner’s granny, looking like she defined uncouth.
So as it all plays back and forth now in my heart and head
These are the memories I should cherish of Mom instead.
Those memories of her that I should always indulge
Are those that make my love for her bulge.
There you have it, to Mom, my Halloween tribute
The night I went on a candy apple toot
It was the night I felt Mom prodding all the way
“That’s my girl, have yourself a ball, Shay.”
It was the night I didn’t do any apple bobbin’
It was also the night I didn’t do any tear dobbin’!
From those heavenly places, I know Mom was looking down
On her Shay the witch, on her Shay the clown.
I recall at this moment, and I don’t know why
The picture of a clown with a tear in his eye.
And I’m recalling Mom again assisting me
With a homework assignment – another biography.
All I remember of it now during this moment of gladness
“In the heart of a clown is a touch of sadness.”
Lord, as she asked of you for me as a teenager so very long ago
Please take good care her, she is such precious cargo,
And pardon me, Lord, for reminding you, of what you made so.