Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bunny's Halloween Party

I wish I'd gotten more pictures of Bunny's decorations--the tombstones, the ghosts, the eerie fairy lights!

Here I am, getting in the Halloween spirit, having tea at the cemetery. I'm enjoying becoming more and more eccentric in my old age.

On Saturday Bunny had her annual Halloween party. Everything was so festive. The old greenhouse (which Bun and Matt now use as a little outdoor sitting area) was lit up with strings of ghostly white lights. Skeletons hung in the trees over little groups of crooked tombstones. Screams and wails and other spooky sounds spilled out of Matt’s workshop. There was so much to eat—popcorn and potato chips and Jelly Bellies, curried tofu, barbecue tofu, cornbread, vegan mac and cheese, and orange-frosted Halloween cupcakes. We drank sparkling lemonade out of fancy champagne flutes in the moonlight.

Bun was dressed up as an evil escaped marionette. She was wearing creepy white and black face makeup, purple-and-black-striped stockings, a short black dress with a crinoline, and pigtails with purple daisies in them. Strings hung from her wrists, neck, and ankles. When Rob and I arrived for the party she was still doing mundane things, like feeding her chickens and setting the table—but she was dressed like a crazed renegade marionette. It was quite a funny sight.

Sophie and Kris arrived soon after Rob and me. Kris was dressed as Miss Piggy in a pig snout and ears, a ball gown, and elbow-length gloves with big sparkly rings and bracelets on the outside instead of the inside. Sophie was an adorable witch in orange and black taffeta.

“Where’s Jake?” I asked.

“He can’t come,” Sophie said. “He’s sick.”

“Oh, no!” Mom cried. “How can we have our party without Jake?” (Mom is crazy about Jake.)

“He’s asleep,” Kris explained. “Phil’s staying home with him.”

“No Jake and no Phil!” Mom cried. “Well . . . !”

Sophie started sampling various drinks. She picked up an Orangina.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“It’s kind of like an Orange Crush,” Bun said.

Sophie took a sip. “It’s like barf!” she cried.

“You’re like barf!” Rob said.

Rob and Sophie love to fight.

It wasn’t dark yet. The air was so warm and dry, and the late afternoon sunlight tinted everything with gold. There were purple beautyberries everywhere, and red peppers shaped exactly like little Chinese lanterns. Heirloom roses. Ageratum. Sunny swamp sunflowers.

Sophie wanted to feed the chickens again, so Bunny brought out some fancy organic wholewheat bread for a treat. Then Sophie, Bun, and Kris all crouched in the wood shavings around the chicken coop and fed them little crumbs. They looked so funny in all their tulle and lace and Halloween finery, crouching in the wood shavings. Sophie was holding Myrtle, Bunny’s new baby chick (a Barred Rock just like Beatrix). Myrtle is so cute, as small as a quail. She has a pretty face and the tiniest, softest comb, still a light pink. She follows Beatrix around and makes little soft peeping sounds all the time. Matt calls her Peep.

“Oh, is she Peep now?” Mom asked hopefully. Mom hates the name Myrtle.

“No,” Bun said. “Matt just calls her that.”

“Well, I like Peep better than Myrtle,” Mom said.

“I know, Mom!” Bun laughed. Mom has not been shy about her opinion of the name Myrtle.

We hogged out on Soul Vegetarian. We savored Jelly Bellies. We were all sitting around the picnic table on the patio and Sophie was entertaining us, giving us her version of her mother’s frequent cell phone calls to me. She adopted a classic Tallahassee Southern accent and held an invisible phone to her ear: “Hey,” she said, “I know you’re at work, but Sophie just said the funniest thing: She thought Chip and Dale were called Chip and Dave! Isn’t that hilarious? I just published it on Facebook. Well, I’ll let you go. . . . Hey, it’s me again. Sorry to bother you, but I just got a new dress at Fashion Pointe. It is so awesome. What? You’ve got to go? Well, I’ll call you back. . . . Hey, it’s me again. I hope you don’t get fired because I keep calling you all the time. We just went to Applebee’s and I told the waiter, ‘These kids “claim” they want dessert. . . .’ I am so funny. Well, okay, I’ll let you go. . . . Hey, what’s going on? Yeah, it’s me again. I just went to a conference at Sophie’s school and I was saying ‘Hey’ to all her friends. Sophie loves it when I do that. Well, what’s going on with you? I hope your boss doesn’t mind me calling so much. . . .”

Sophie went on and on, relentlessly. I was dying laughing. I was in physical pain.

Rob said, “I don’t think you’ve got the accent quite right, Sophie. But you’ve certainly nailed the attitude.”

Kris was laughing: “The funniest thing is, this is all based on actual conversations!”

I was doubled over, holding my side. Sophie kept going. “Stop! Stop!” I begged. “It’s too funny!”

Sophie was so disdainful of her mother and me. She said to Rob, “They’re always laughing on the phone—and it’s not even funny! It’s just somebody breaking up on Facebook!”

“That sounds about right,” Rob said.

Just then, Jake arrived (quite unexpectedly). He burst onto the patio wearing a Scream mask and a long black robe and wielding a huge bloody plastic knife. We all squealed and laughed. He flopped down in a chair and pulled off his mask. His chubby cheeks were flushed with fever: “I’m going to kill you, Mommy,” he said, crossing his arms and pouting.

“Why?” Kris said. “Why are you mad at sweet Mommy?”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” he cried. “Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving? You made me miss the party!”

“You didn’t miss anything, hon,” Mom said. “We’re just getting started.”

“Sophie was just doing impressions of your mommy and me on the phone,” I said.

“Mommy has a problem on the phone!” Jake cried. “She won’t get off!”

(Kris was really in the doghouse with Jake.)

Rob said, “If I was going to do an impression of Sophie, I’d just start yelling at Jake and grabbing things from him.”

Jake cried, “Well, I would be offended!” (We began to wonder if maybe his fever was making him babble—because he was saying the funniest things.)

Phil (Jake and Sophie’s dad, Kris’s husband) stepped onto the patio wearing a huge rubber monster mask and a black velvet gown belonging to Kris.

Everyone started rolling around laughing. “That’s a rather slim-fitting dress you’ve got on there,” Kris said to him. “I like that nipped waist. Very figure flattering.”

Phil is so funny. He’s so shy and quiet—and then he shows up wearing a form-fitting woman’s dress and a monster mask.

Jake was mad at everybody. He sat there with his burning cheeks. “Daddy had to get his stupid mask,” he complained. “So I started crying. . . . Because I was missing the party!”

Then he noticed Bunny’s makeup and got even more upset: “Wait! You guys did face-painting?!”
“No,” Bunny said, “It’s just my dumb makeup that goes with my costume. See? I’m a marionette—a scary puppet.”

Jake still seemed suspicious. It was obvious he didn't quite trust us. His cheeks were so red. He looked so little. He’s only seven. He started bragging about all the scary movies he’s been watching this Halloween season: “I watched Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street. I haven’t seen Scream yet, but dang, I want to see that movie!”

He was talking tough, but Mom says that when he's "watching" these movies, he spends most of his time in another room. "He always wants to watch these scary things," she said, "but as soon as they're on, he leaves. And I'm supposed to stay in there with the TV and watch and kind of give him a report from time to time on just how scary things are getting."

The sun had set. Sophie wanted to play with Bunny’s selection of glow sticks and glow necklaces. She wanted to do cartwheels in the grass in the dark. “Come on, Bunny! Come on, Jake!” she cried.

Mom had served Jake a little plate of food—macaroni and popcorn. Jake got up to join Sophie. “Nobody take my food!” he cried as he ran off.

“Yeah,” Rob muttered, “we’ll try to restrain ourselves.”

We lingered at the picnic table while the kids ran around and made necklaces. Bunny told us a funny story about how, last year, a full-grown man came to her door trick-or-treating. “He was probably 35 or maybe 40,” she said. “He wasn’t wearing a costume, but he said, ‘Trick or treat.’ So Matt gave him some candy and he went away.”

We played in the front yard, running around screaming and tossing glow necklaces in the air. Then suddenly Jake cried, “I want to do the treasure hunt!”

You see, every year the centerpiece of Bunny’s Halloween party is an elaborate treasure hunt in the dark for the kids (Sophie and Jake). Last year we had a marvelous hunt, with the treasures hidden high in a tree in a black plastic garbage bag. A rope hung down from the bag, and the kids had to pull the rope to get their treasure.

Sophie said, “Remember last year when we pulled the treasure down from the tree? What if it had been Lanie’s camper? I could have been killed!”

("Lanie’s camper" is an item Sophie has circled one million times in the American Girl catalog. She really wants it. It weighs 43 pounds and costs $295 plus shipping.)

I didn’t think Bunny could top last year’s hunt, but she did it. She really did. This year's hunt was a triumph. There were 20 rhyming clues hidden in the most ingenious places. The kids ran around with flashlights, searching for them, and they took turns reading the clues aloud. Jake’s only in first grade, but he’s a great reader. He didn’t even stumble over fancy words like “dawdle” and “toadstool.”

We always pretend that a witch hid the treasure; it is the witch’s treasure, and she doesn’t really want the kids to find it; she merely wants to tantalize, torture, and thwart them. So the clues are kind of teasing and insulting. They also require the kids to undergo certain trials; they have to get their hands dirty. They have to dig in Bunny’s worm bin.

I don't know if I can convey just what a magical event the treasure hunt really is. But it's like something out of a fairy tale, the kids hunting for clues in the darkness, in the inky, woodsy gardens, running around in long costumes, holding little bright camping lanterns. Bunny's yard is very romantic, filled with ferns and weird old statuary and camellias planted in the '40s.

Jake really wanted to do the treasure hunt, but he was really scared. Even though Kris was holding his hand, he kept crying between clues, “Oh, no! It’s going to be scary! I can’t take it! I can’t take it!”

I think because he was sick and feverish, everything seemed extra weird and twisted to him. This clue in particular really freaked him out:

Foolish children, you
will fail
Unless you reach into a
ghost’s veil.

When Sophie read the clue, Jake started shouting, “I can’t take it! I can’t take it! When it says you have to reach into the ghost’s veil, I just can’t take it!”

Bunny tried to comfort him: “Jake,” she said, putting her arm around him, “you're safe. You're in my yard. This is my yard, and my yard isn’t scary.”

But he was having none of it. “It is too, now, with all the Halloween decorations and the ghosts' veils! . . . I just can’t take it!”

He kept quitting the hunt and then immediately regretting his decision and joining up with us again. The moonlight was scaring him. And so were the shadows and the fairy lights . . . and the strange symbols written in chalk on the stone paths. There were chalk messages too: “Help!” and “Redrum.” There were arrows pointing in different directions. Weird pictographs. Roman numerals.

The kids were sure the messages on the stepping stones held the key to the location of their treasure (but it wasn't true). Sophie was creeping along with her flashlight, reading all the messages. “This one says ‘chalk’!” she cried.

Bunny gave Matt a look: “Matt!” she yelled in a whisper.

“What?!” he whispered back. “You told me to write something. It was all I could think of!”

Sophie puzzled over “Redrum” for quite a while. “All I can say,” I said, “is that sometimes witches write backwards. And sometimes they like to throw out a red herring.”

We finally got them off the stepping stones and hot on the trail of their treasure. One of the best clues was one that instructed them to knock on the door of Matt’s workshop, a creepy, magical place with stained glass windows and shelves full of Matt’s weird metal-detecting finds. Sophie knocked, and the door mysteriously opened. And there was a hunch-backed creature in a black cape (Matt) handing her the next clue. I was so startled, I don’t know how the kids handled it. It was so neat the way Matt slipped away from the group without us even noticing. At another point he hid himself deep in a huge pile of pine straw and jumped out at the kids when they were searching through the straw for their clue. It was genius! The pile of straw was in an especially dark part of Bunny’s camellia forest.

I was trying to scare the kids too as we went along. “Stay on the path,” I warned. “Keep to the path. That’s my best advice. And keep your hands in your pockets.”

Once I was repeating a clue over and over in what I hoped was a spooky, incantatory fashion and Jake cried, totally exasperated and terrified, “Shut up, Leslie!”

He was so scared. He kept crying, “I can’t do it!” And at one point he was yelling at his mother, “I can’t do it, Mommy! Do you get the point? Do you even get the point?”

This is simply how Jake is. Sick or not, he is somewhat of a drama queen.

There was one particularly hilarious clue:

Don’t let the trail
grow cold.
Trade a little birdhouse
for your soul.

When Sophie read it, Kris and I burst out laughing and Matt got all sheepish. “Well, we were tipping it a little last night when we were writing clues,” he explained under his breath.

Jake hustled along in his long velvet robe and tennis shoes. He was moaning and sighing. He was so scared. “I better at least get a Webkin out of this!” he groaned.

Bunny looked at me. “Oh no,” she whispered, “I didn’t get him a Webkin. I got him a gum-making kit!”

“He’ll love it,” I whispered back.

Sophie read the next clue:

Little ones, are you too
Take a seat and await
your fate.

Well, Jake completely balked at that one. “Await your fate?!” he cried. “No way! I’m not doing it!” And he ran back to the patio to sit on Mom’s lap.

But of course he was back five seconds later, just in time for the reading of the final clue.

Up the stairs you’ll
find a string.
Follow it down and
find what it brings.

The two kids rushed up the brick steps that lead to Bunny’s front door. A roll of string lay in the shadows on the top step. The string hung down the steps and disappeared into a dense, dark grove of sweet shrub.

“Follow it!” Bunny said, encouraging them. “Get down on your knees!”

So the kids started crawling through the sweet shrub and under the tree-sized camellias, following the string. Matt had the whole area “decorated” with fake spiders and rats, but it was so dark the kids didn’t even notice the profusion of plastic rodents and arachnids. I was crawling with them, encouraging them. At certain points they’d get too scared and make me go first. We crawled under the yaupon, through the coonties, through stripes of shadow and moonlight. Finally the string ended. It was tied around a large black bag.

“What is it?” Matt cried. “Body parts?”

“Is it a baby?” I cried. "Is it dead?"

The kids were too scared to open the bag. “You do it, Leslie!” Sophie said.

"You have to help me!" I said.

And in a minute we had it open, and we could see the gaily wrapped presents inside, glimmering and shining in the darkness. Jake started ripping into his present right there under the bushes. The gum-making kit was quite impressive-looking and he was totally thrilled with it. He was whooping and exclaiming and making all kinds of noise: "Look what I got, Sophie! Sophie, look at mine!"

Sophie got a pretty good present herself--two complete outfits for her American Girl doll Lanie. She kept arranging the clothes so she could see them all together. “Aw,” she said. “Look at that, Leslie. Isn’t it cute?”

We carried all the treasures to the patio to show Mom. Jake was so jazzed about the gum-making kit. He was shivering, but he kept gazing at the beautiful box and thanking Bunny over and over. “This is the best present ever!” he cried. “Because I don’t have to pay anymore to get gum. I can make my own gum!”

I just loved it. It was as if he thought the kit would last forever; it was as if he thought it was really a tiny factory and would be rolling out gum for decades. He’d never have to buy gum again but would instead have an infinite free supply. . . . I loved his magical thinking and wished that reality would not inevitably disappoint him. But of course it will.

Jake sat in his chair looking completely delirious now. His eyes were half-closed. Matt was playing another Halloween spooky sounds CD, and screams and howls filled the yard.

“This music is really disturbing!” Jake observed.

“It’s not really music, hon,” Mom said. “It’s just some scary sounds Matt’s playing.”

I was looking at Jake in what I intended to be a sympathetic, gentle way, but he got mad: “Don’t look at me like that, cupcake!” he said.

I really do think he was delirious.

His parents took him home (Sophie too), and Bun, Matt, Rob, Mom, and I stayed and talked in the warm moonlight about trick-or-treating in the old days, when we were young, and all the candies we remembered (Mary Janes, peanut butter logs, peanut butter kisses, Wacky Wafers). I remembered how Kris and I always wanted to trick-or-treat at Senator Stone's house in the rich part of town--because all the neighbor kids told stories about how he'd be handing out $10 bills.

Happy Halloween!

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