Tag Archive | Halloween

Ghostly Tricks

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Doris and Mary having a good laugh with Abbey – our best caregiver of all. (About 10 years ago)

Over the past 14 years, Mim and I have cared for more than twenty elderly people who have lived with us in our home, usually one or two residents at a time. Almost all of them have lived out their last days with us. Some of them lived with us for just a few days, some a few months, and some a few years. We have been honored to have cared for them as they journeyed from this life into the next life.

Today is All Saints Day, a day to remember each one of them, along with all the other people who have been close to us throughout our lives, and who are no longer with us on earth.

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Mim helping Doris get dressed up for Halloween.

One of our former residents, Doris, has actually been on my mind a lot lately. Doris lived with us almost four years, and she and her family became close members of our extended assisted living family.

Doris had a good sense of humor and liked to joke around with people. She often warned us that she was going to come back and haunt us after she died. Well, she’s come back. Really! I didn’t want to believe that she would follow through on her joking threat, but I can’t think of any other explanation for what has happened.

Several months ago I replaced my 5-year-old HP laptop with my first Apple product, a MacBook. The biggest challenge I had with my transition into the Mac world was getting my big fancy Konica Minolta laser printer/copier to work with the Mac. After hours of trial and error plus long phone calls to Apple Support, I finally was able to download a third-party printer driver that works pretty well – not perfectly, but at least I can print most documents.

A couple days after I finally got the printer working, I tried to boot it up one morning, and it was completely dead. I tried everything I could think of – with no success. I finally placed a service call with Konica Minolta to have them come out to fix it. The printer appeared to be completely dead. Not even the copier function would work.

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My Konica Minolta printer/copier is an excellent color laser printer, but it’s big and heavy.

This printer/copier is a large, heavy, floor model – something I don’t move around very often when I clean house. But I decided to do a little cleaning that day so my office would look better for the Konica Minolta repairman. I tugged the printer in one direction, then the other, to “walk” it away from the wall so that I could vacuum behind it. I couldn’t believe what I saw! The printer cord was plugged into a surge protector/power strip, and the power strip was not plugged into the wall outlet. It was plugged into itself! I called Mim over to take a look. She was as shocked as I was. I unplugged the power strip from itself, plugged it into the wall outlet, turned the printer/copier on, and it worked just fine. I immediately called Konica Minolta to cancel the service call.

img_1600Mim and I tried our hardest to figure out how that could have happened. Did one of us sleep-walk (which we’ve never done as far as we know), struggle to pull the printer/copier away from the wall, mess up the cords, and then shove the printer/copier back in place – all without waking up or making enough noise to wake up the other person or even our dog? Did someone break into the house the previous night while we were asleep and do it as a practical joke? The printer had worked the night before, but not that morning.

Hmmm. Practical joke… The only person we could think of who would do a practical joke like that was the ghost of Doris… In my mind, I’ve given Doris a high-five, and we’ve had a good laugh over it.

I’m sure Doris isn’t the only friendly ghost who has visited our home. The most usual time for ghosts and angels to visit us has been when one of our residents is near death, and a deceased parent, or spouse, or even a stranger comes into the room of the person who is near death. This visitor has come to comfort, or possibly escort the resident to the next life. Mim and I have never seen any of the special visitors ourselves, but several residents have told us about them.

All Saints Day is a time to remember all who have died in Christ, and who are now gathering in heaven to praise God. That includes Doris, even though she may sometimes sneak back down to earth to play a practical joke on us.

The image of a crowd of saints gathering together in heaven is suggested several places in the Bible. For example, Revelation 7:9-10 says:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

In 1864 William Waltham How, an Anglican bishop, wrote a hymn using this image. Forty-two years later, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed a new tune for the hymn, creating one of the most moving and dramatic of all Christian hymns – “For All the Saints.” Here are the first and last verses. (You may want to google the title for the rest of the words.)

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who They by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, of Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For me, the highlight of All Saints Sunday is playing this hymn on a pipe organ and hearing the congregation loudly singing the joyful words. It puts a lump in my throat every year.

On the other end of the musical spectrum is a spiritual that describes the same image – “When the Saints Go Marching In.” There are many different verses for this song, both sacred and secular, the usual first and last verses are:

O when the saints go marching in,
O when the saints go marching in,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when the saints go marching in.

O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when they crown Him Lord of all.

In Cambridge, my hometown, the “Fight Song” for the high school football and basketball teams is “When the Jays Go Marching In.” (The Cambridge mascot is the blue jay.)

Back to our assisted living residents that I’m remembering today. Helen had been my first grade teacher, and had always been an enthusiastic fan of our school sports teams. (Her husband had been the high school principal and the football coach.)

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It was a special privilege to care for my first grade teacher in her last months.

The most fun I ever had playing the organ for a funeral was for Helen’s. For the postlude I played the majestic descending opening line of “For All the Saints” and then played its mirror image in the ascending opening line of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I kept weaving these two tunes together as the people processed out of the church. It was the most fun juxtaposition of very different melodies on the same subject I’ve ever played around with.

I don’t know if Helen thought I was playing a joke on her by making up that postlude, or not, but I’m pretty sure she was smiling along with me and her friends and relatives as they processed out of the church.

Thanks to Doris and Helen and many of our other residents, there’s no doubt in my mind that ghosts and saints still have a sense of humor.

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Our “All Saints Wall” where pictures are mounted of all the people we have cared for in our home.

Thanks, Maria. That Gives me an idea.

A couple years ago, around the first of November, Chaplain Julia of the Jail Ministry invited the women inmates worshiping together in the jail chapel to tell each other about some of their family traditions related to Halloween and All Saints Day. She especially encouraged Maria to explain to us what her friends and family did in Mexico to celebrate the holiday, Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).

An altar set up in a Mexican home for celebrating Dia de los Muertos

An altar set up in a Mexican home for celebrating Dia de los Muertos

Although Halloween (All Hallows Eve) and All Saints Day are Christian celebrations, different cultures around the world have adapted these days in different ways to incorporate the history and legends of their own societies. In Mexico, ancient Aztec beliefs are incorporated into Dia de los Muertos – the day to honor family members and friends who have departed. An ancient belief is that the gates of heaven are opened on October 31, and all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to come to earth to spend 24 hours with their families. On November 2, spirits of adults can come down to earth from heaven to join their families for a day of celebration.

In preparation for these heavenly visits, many families set up a special altar in their home and decorate it with pictures of their departed loved ones, along with candles, flowers, fruits, and favorite foods of the departed to entice the spirits to come back home for the day. Some families take the food and decorations to the cemetery, to the graves of their loved ones. Then the extended family has a big picnic in the cemetery with all these special foods. The family spends much of the day reminiscing about their departed loved ones. In spirit, the departed souls join their earthly families for this day of remembrance and celebration.

Cemetery being decorated for Dia de los Muertos

Cemetery being decorated for Dia de los Muertos

With a little coaxing from the jail chaplain, Maria told us how her family in Mexico used to celebrate this special holiday. She talked mostly about preparing all the favorite foods of their departed loved ones, and getting together with their relatives at the cemetery for a big picnic and time of reminiscing. It was a very happy family celebration.

I’ve thought about Maria’s story often over the last couple years, especially around Halloween and All Saints Day. I wish we observed a tradition like that in our own culture. I think the closest thing we have to Dia de los Muertos in the U.S. is Memorial Day. Although I put flowers on my parents’ grave for Memorial Day, most of the emphasis of the day is on remembering veterans of U.S. wars. I think of the day as a patriotic holiday more than a family remembrance day.

Oakland Cambridge Presbyterian Church

Oakland Cambridge Presbyterian Church

For All Saints Day this year, I played the organ at the Oakland Cambridge Presbyterian Church. Besides playing the usual “For All the Saints,” I incorporated some old hymns that might prompt us to remember some of the saints who have touched our lives directly, such as our parents and grandparents. When the pastor read the names of the church members who had died in the past year, I played softly on the piano, hymns like “God Be with You Till We Meet Again,” and “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.”

When I got home from church, I thought more about how Maria’s family used to spend the time from October 31 through November 2 in Mexico, a time for remembering the saints of the church, especially the saints who have directly affected them, like parents, grandparents, siblings, and close friends. I decided to celebrate Dia de los Muertos in my mind this year. Maybe we can carry it out in reality next year. I hope so.

I thought about my mom, my dad, and my sister – the three members of my family of origin who are no longer with us on earth.

Family portrait, about 1960

Family portrait, about 1960

My mom’s favorite meal (actually, it was the whole family’s favorite meal) was pan-fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet corn (the kind Mom had frozen herself), a fruit salad held together with a sweet fluffy dressing, home-made clover leaf rolls – re-warmed in the oven so butter would melt on them, coffee, and schaum torte with ice cream and strawberries for dessert. That’s the dinner Mom usually made when we had company for Sunday dinner.

Just thinking about all that food makes me hungry for it, and prompts me to remember the wonderful times we had squeezing a dozen or more people around the dining room table to share the meal. I remember mumbling along with everyone as we recited the Norwegian table prayer together – in Norwegian. I never did learn it beyond the first phrase, Jesu Navn gar vi til bords…  

I’d love to establish a new tradition for my family for All Saints Day based on the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos. I’m not ready to abandon the tradition of welcoming trick-or-treaters to our house on Halloween, but I’d like to add time on All Saints Day to remember the saints who have personally touched my life, family and friends who are now departed. I’d like to set up a little altar, maybe on the buffet, with some flowers, pictures of the special saints in my life and in Mim’s life. And then, we will have a special dinner with the favorite foods of our saints as we reminisce about them. I can already taste that pan-fried chicken dinner. (Maybe on alternate years, we’ll have to have lutefisk – Mim’s mom’s favorite!)

Thanks, Maria, for giving me the idea…

A family dinner about 30 years ago

A family dinner about 30 years ago

Remembering the Saints – the most significant people in my life who are now dead

Lots of my relatives - the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture - in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

Lots of my relatives – the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture – in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

 

Thursday of this week is Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day. On Sunday, some churches will read a list of members of the congregation who have died over the past year. This is a time of year to remember the people who are no longer with us who have been significant to us in our own lives, and to thank God for these people.

As I was curled up under the covers in bed this morning thinking about what to blog about today, making a list of these people came to mind – not just the people who died this year, but all the people who have died who have been significant to me. I started making a mental list of them, and I realized I’d better get up and write them down – the names were coming to me too fast to remember and organize in my mind. So I got up and quickly jotted down the names as they came to me, and I realized I’d better limit the number of people to include in the blog. So I crossed off a few names and settled on 13 people for this blog (a good number for Halloween), plus one bonus. I’m still going to thank God for all the rest, too, even if I don’t tell you about them today.

Here’s the list – 13 people who have been very significant to me in my life, and who have moved on to their next life:

  1. Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom. I think the most significant thing I learned from my mom is about love. I always knew she loved me, as well as my siblings, her grandchildren, her Sunday School kids, the UW students who stopped in to see her at the Presbyterian Student Center in Madison where she worked, the starving kids in Africa that she read about in her mail and sent checks to every month, and everyone else who touched her life – she loved us all.

  2. Dad. My dad taught me about work. As a farmer, he knew that he was responsible for getting all the work done. If the hay baler broke, that didn’t mean he didn’t have to bale hay that day. It meant he had to figure out how to fix the baler as quickly as possible so that he could still bale the hay and get everything else done he had planned for that day. His attitude taught me to be a problem solver as well as a hard worker.
  3. Nancy. My big sister (11 years older than me) taught me to set aside some time every day to read the Bible and pray. When she went away to college, she ordered me a subscription to a children’s daily devotional booklet to help me keep on track.
  4. Helen Knoblauch. My first grade teacher was a very kind and loving person. Everyone in her class knew that she loved them. One way she showed that love was by being the kindest of all to the kid that was hurting the most that day. I remember one day when I was that kid. A leaf had blown into my eye and scratched it when I was playing on the playground after lunch. My eye really hurt and I was crying. Mrs. Knoblauch had me sit on her lap while she read a storybook to the class. That made me feel a whole lot better – so much better that I still remember it almost 60 years later.
  5. Marion Gilberts. She was our church organist and my piano and organ teacher. In addition to using the typical lesson books, she had me learn every hymn in both of the hymnals we used in church. She also gave me the experience of playing in church by having me play an offertory at least once a year. She didn’t just teach me the piano and organ, she taught me to be a church organist.
  6. Aunt Edith at the piano. (In the 1930s she married the happy little boy pictured above, my Uncle Helmer.

    Aunt Edith at the piano.

    Aunt Edith. She was the most creative pianist I ever watched tickle the ivories. She was a self-taught gospel pianist who could play any hymn she had ever heard, in any key you wanted to hear it. The only printed music I saw her use was a hymnal or songbook, yet she improvised all over the keyboard. She is still my inspiration to learn to play more by ear and to improvise.

  7. Rev. Royal Bailie. He was the pastor that confirmed me in the Methodist Church. As a confirmation gift he gave me a different kind of Bible, the J. B. Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament. That’s the only Bible that I completely wore out the binding by opening it too much.
  8. Auntie Emma. Also known as Emma Prescott. She was my grandma’s sister. I always thought of her as the most generous Christian I knew. She and her husband, Uncle Don, supported many children through World Vision and other missions. She once made a comment that I’ll never forget. She said she was glad she didn’t have as much money as one of her daughters had. Stewardship of that amount of money was more than she could imagine handling wisely. That comment has always made me think seriously about my stewardship of all the resources God has given me.
  9. Rev. Bill Leslie. He was the pastor of one of the churches I attended in Chicago for several years. I didn’t know him very well personally, but I learned a lot from his preaching. He prompted me to think for the first time about what my responsibility as a Christian is for dealing with the problems in the city, particularly the problems that resulted from the injustices that are inherent in our culture.
  10. Mark Hjermstad. Mark was a loving pragmatist, and that’s not an oxymoron. He taught me to relate to the world the best way you can. He was a closeted gay pre-kindergarten teacher for special needs children in the Chicago Public School System. We met Mark in church, shortly before his partner died of AIDS. He became one of our best friends. He always encouraged his gay friends to be as open as they could about who they were – although he couldn’t be out as a gay teacher and still keep his own job.
  11. Mary Borgerud. Mrs. Borgerud was my fifth- and sixth-grade teacher. She taught me history, geography, kindness, and generosity. She also taught me to have fun with writing. I still remember one of the essays I wrote in her class – “I’m a Little Mouse with Great Big Eyes.” We also laughed a lot together, especially when she came to live with Mim and me at Country Comforts Assisted Living for the last year or so of her life.
  12. Eileen Scott. Thanks to Eileen I’m a church organist again. Between 1975 and 1999 I didn’t play the piano or organ for anyone except myself at home. In 1999, Eileen learned that the Methodist pastor in town discouraged me from playing for a Christmas program in his church because of my sexual orientation. As a very strong take-charge person, Eileen approached me about becoming an organist in her church, the Presbyterian Church in town. Being a church organist has been a significant part of my life ever since.
  13. Selma Jacobson. I guess now I can say Selma is my mother-in-law. Shortly after Mim and I moved to Wisconsin, Mim’s mom had a stroke which left her paralyzed on her left side. After several months of rehab, she came to live with Mim and me. Despite all her physical losses, she always maintained a positive attitude and a very pleasant disposition. She lived with us for the last five years of her life, and was a daily inspiration to me to accept life for what it is, and to always trust in God’s love and kindness.

And now, for one bonus saint – Megabyte. She was the first dog that Mim and I got together, and she enriched our lives for 15 years. The one thing that dogs know better than anything, and better than anyone else knows, is how to love.

Many names are missing from this list – Grandma, Uncle Helmer, Gary, Clark, Steve, Nicki, Hiram, Joe, Donnie, and more. If I kept naming them I wouldn’t get this blog posted today. There’s also an equally long list of people who are still alive that I’m thankful for. God has truly blessed me with loads of wonderful people – and dogs – in my life. I am so thankful. I guess it’s appropriate that Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day, starts off the holiday season. Then comes Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. All three holidays are times to be especially thankful for all the good gifts God has given us.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

My Little Black Dress

A few years ago, Goodwill advertised that their resale stores were the best places to find the perfect little black dress to wear to holiday parties. That brought back memories of the black dresses I used to have, especially the one I wore to my first grade Halloween party.

When I was a little kid, I kept an old suitcase filled with some “old lady” dresses that I put on whenever I wanted to play dress-up. The dresses had been discards of my grandma. These dresses weren’t like the ones Goodwill featured as party dresses. My dresses all had long sleeves, high necks, and some black lace or decorative stitching and shiny little black beads or buttons to make the dress fancy from the waist up. On me, the hem of the dress fell to the floor. The only way to describe how I looked in these dresses is goofy.

When I was in first grade, I remember that we were told to bring Halloween costumes to school on Halloween so that we could get dressed up for an all-school parade down Main Street in the afternoon. The parade would be followed by a Halloween party in each classroom. I was excited about the parade and party, but I worried about what I could do for a Halloween costume. My friends were talking about the costumes they had bought at the dime store. I knew my mom and dad couldn’t afford to buy me a costume. I didn’t know what to do, so I worried, as much as a six-year-old can worry. My mom tried to come to the rescue by taking me to the dime store to buy a 29-cent mask. It was a really cute puppy face that I liked a lot. But a mask wasn’t a costume. My mom asked me to get out my old suitcase, and I tried on each of my black dresses. We chose the most ornate one for me to dress up as an “old lady puppy.” I wasn’t sure that was as good as a store-bought puppy costume, but at least I had something.

When we dressed up in our costumes that Halloween afternoon, Mrs. Knoblauch, my first grade teacher, burst out laughing when she saw me as the “old lady puppy.” She gave me a big hug – and she also gave me a prize for having the most original costume. It was one of the best days of my life!

I think I even learned something that day. My mom had taught me about making the best of what you have, about being resourceful and creative, and about not just doing what everyone else was doing.

I doubt that I’ll ever wear a little black dress again, or even a big black dress. But whenever I’m prompted to think about black dresses, I have a great memory.

Happy Halloween!

Super Abbey was given a “real” costume from a friend – but no face mask!
She wishes you a Happy Halloween, too.