Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Racing out to do a speaking gig at Kent State University, but before I go, wanted to make sure to stop by and wish everyone a happy Halloween!

No secret, it’s my favorite holiday, and my house decorations show it. The place is done up to the spooky nines with all my favorite orange, black and purple things. I’d show you pictures if it wasn’t for the fact that we just had a hideous computer problem that was made even worse by a tech who obviously was in over his head and wouldn’t admit it. Haven’t found my picture files yet, and can’t download any new ones. We’ll get there. Just need to figure out this part of the equation ourselves!

I was thinking about the holiday the other day and wondering why I like it so much. Near as I can figure, it all goes back to those old days when I was a kid and would trick or treat throughout the neighborhood. Back then (no dates given), parents didn’t have to come along with kids. We were free to roam on our own, and being out after dark with a group of friends . . . I think there was something about the freedom of doing that that makes the holiday stick in my mind.

I remember that days before, we’d get together and map out our route. And that night, I clearly remember just itching for it to get dark so we could start on our way. I’d always trick or treat with my best friend who lived across the street. Sometimes, my cousins would come along, too. My grandmother lived just a few houses down from me, and they’d show up to show off their costumes, then we’d head out, a herd of children sometimes with our costumes hidden under winter coats!

We didn’t care. Halloween was a great night to explore and to imagine. It was far less intense then. There were no Freddy characters waiting to jump out at you from the dark. No blood. No gore. It was a time of witches and ghosts and goblins and it was all innocent fun.
These days, we live on a street with no sidewalks and no one comes around trick or treating on Halloween. But I still remember the days. And the freedom of walking around in the dark, dragging the candy bag.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Life Imitates Art

I don’t remember when I first realized how much I love cemeteries. It may have been back when I was a kid and walked to my piano lessons every week. There was no piano teacher in my immediate neighborhood and I walked about thirty minutes to get to my lessons. At the time (and no, I won’t say when it was!), no one worried about a kid out on city streets alone.

My route took me by a city cemetery, and I remember looking through the iron fencing around it and thinking how peaceful the place seemed. I never ventured inside, not because I was frightened, but because I didn’t know anyone who was buried there.

I did visit other cemeteries, of course. One of my grandmothers dragged (and I use that word appropriately) us with her once in a while to clean up the graves of long-gone ancestors. I remember walking to that cemetery, too, and packing a lunch to take along. Food was probably the one way she knew she could keep us quiet and bribe us to help her work!

What I do remember very clearly is when this vague interest in burial grounds blossomed into a full-blown obsession. It will be 11 years this coming Halloween. It was a Sunday, and somehow, I found out that a local trolley company was doing a day-long tour called "Stones and Bones."

Yup, a cemetery tour.

I was fascinated by the history of the cemeteries we visited, and grateful to finally have a chance to stop in at some city cemeteries that are not safe to travel in alone. I loved hearing about the art and the architecture, about the symbolism found in headstone carvings and the hints of family history that can be found in the names and dates etched for all eternity into the stone.

In the last 11 years, I’ve made good use of my cemetery interest. My Pepper Martin mysteries (written as Casey Daniels) involve a cemetery tour guide and over the years, I’ve gotten to know a couple of the local foundations that work to preserve local cemeteries. Recently, it all came full circle. You see a couple weeks ago, I hosted a tour in a historic cemetery.

It was called Killer Cleveland and on the tour, I took groups of visitors around to "meet" the victims and perpetrators of some local (and very old) homicides. It was a gray and gloomy afternoon (how appropriate) but our intrepid tourists showed up anyway and hiked along with me through the battered headstones. At some of the graves, I told the stories of the macabre murders. At others, re-enactors took over and played the roles of victims–and murderers.

It was a great day, and I know we helped spark an interest in local history. I also know that somehow, the Universe has been pushing me all these years, nudging me to this place where I am more involved in something I find fascinating.

As for that cemetery I used to pass as a child, it’s still there and I’ve visited a time or two. These days, I actually go inside!