Tag Archives: Halloween

Do you like Hallowe’en?

Yes I do, but not for the overblown festival it has become today.

I do have a very special reason…

I have told this story before, but it was in the early days of my blogging life. Just as with life’s seasons, readers/followers  can be blown away by the winds of work, play or new interests. In recent years those empty places have been filled with new and interesting people.

So for you, I will repeat the story of a Halloween forty years ago:

Back in 1976 I was happily working away in Dublin for a computer company known to most of you by its initials.  The days were busy but the toy boys were fun to work with.  The summer holiday season came and went and I worked on.  Since I managed to suffer sun-stroke at least three times in Ireland, the thoughts of heading to warmer climes for annual leave during high season were not my priority.  In late September I began to think of taking a holiday, but a situation at work had all of us in our department under pressure so the holiday was put on the long finger.  

While crunching through the autumn leaves along the Grand Canal during a late October Friday lunchtime, a sudden gust of cool air woke me from my day-dreaming.  Immediately I longed for some warm sunshine on my back.  ‘Warm Sunshine’!  What was I thinking about, we were at the end of October and I had not taken my summer holidays!  If I didn’t get my act together quickly, I would lose the holiday entitlement at the close of the year.

I quickened my step and headed back towards Baggot St.  On the way I passed a Travel Agent.  I went inside to make a few enquiries.

“Do you have anything going out tomorrow” I asked?

“For how many people” enquired the young sales lady?

“Just me” I replied cheerfully.

Fifteen minutes later I left the building holding my tickets for a two week holiday in Sunny Spain leaving the next day, Saturday 30th October.  I had visited most of Mainland Europe over the years, but this was to be a first visit to Spain.  Back then we did not have Credit Cards so my next stop was the bank to purchase some travellers Cheques and some pesetas.  With the business done I skipped my way back to the office, mentally packing a case.  

Oops!  

Back at the office I had to announce my plans.  Fortunately nobody else in the department was booked for leave and there were several people available to provide cover for me.  Next I phoned my mother to tell her.

“Do you need clothes washed” she asked?  

“I have no idea what I want, so wait until I get home and I‘ll sort it out.” I said.  

The first step was to check that my Passport was in order (I knew it would be) and the evening passed selecting and sorting my clothes.  The only thing missing was a swimsuit!  Never mind I could always pick one up in Spain.   

It was to be my first holiday alone so I packed three books and some writing materials to keep me amused.  I also had a pack of cards so I could play patience.  It would be a very quiet holiday with plenty of walking, resting and reading!

I arrived at my hotel in the early hours of 31st and decided to head straight to bed, catch a few hours sleep and set out to explore my surroundings after an early breakfast.

The sun was shining when I awoke around 7am and I quickly showered and dressed not wanting to waste any time indoors.  I headed out and walked the length of the prom to a small harbour at the next village.  I sat and watched the birds calling to each other.  Being a Sunday morning there were very few people about.  My return journey was along the beach and I enjoyed listening to the lapping of the water as I paddled at the water’s edge, arriving back in time for breakfast.

After breakfast armed with a sunhat and scarf for my shoulders, sun cream and a book I headed out once more taking the other direction this time.  The outside world had come to life and there were plenty of people about walking in groups of twos and threes.  Most of them were travelling in the direction that I had taken and I soon became aware of a church bell ringing.  On impulse I followed the sound of the bell and joined the congregation in a very small church for the celebration of Mass.  We were mainly holidaymakers and at a guess English speakers.  The priest was assisted by a lady in her mid to late fifties.  When the time came she passed a silver collection plate around the congregation.

Unlike a Mr Paisley collection ( It was said that he provided metal buckets for the collection, I wonder if it was to discourage coinage in favour of notes?), it was rather noisy mainly consisting of coinage.   The Lady assistant carried the plate from the back of the congregation to the Chancel while the celebrant continued with the service.  As she climbed the first step she tripped and the coins rolled loudly across the terrazzo floor before spinning for what seemed like an eternity.  Alas the solemnity of the mass was lost in the almost suppressed titters around the church.

Suddenly feeling hungry I headed back to the hotel restaurant for lunch.  After a short wait to be seated, I was guided to a table with three other young ladies.  We introduced ourselves and I discovered that they were all from Belfast.  Like me they arrived the previous night.  Their journey had the added hassle of a delay before take-off.  Our chatter covered the journey, our resort and expectations for the holiday ahead.  Their holiday was for one week, while mine was for two.

The meal was simple, tasty and satisfying but we succumbed to, and lingered over dessert.  Two gentlemen from a nearby table stopped on their way out from lunch.  They were known to the girls as they had all travelled out to Spain on the same aircraft.  One of the men stood behind my chair.  I was introduced and immediately he said he had noticed me in the church.  The men entertained the girls with the story of the collection plate.

At one point the man behind me called Jack, wanted to tell me something so he placed his hands on my shoulders to tilt me in his direction.  I do not remember the story he told but I do remember his laughter, the twinkle in his eyes and the touch of his hands.  Later that night he danced with me and for the remainder of the week he sought me out when planning his activities for the day.  

I discovered that Jack, like me, had reason to make changes with holiday plans.  He wanted to have a week away earlier in October, but there were no places available.   The only week free was leaving Belfast on 30th October.

As the week went on we spent more time discovering shared interests, our likes and dislikes of food and music, the type of work we each did and the stories of our lives so far.  All too soon the first week was over and Jack returned to Co Antrim and a town I had never heard of before in my life.  The second week seemed dull without him and I spent my days travelling about the countryside and reading.

For some reason on Hallowe’en morning when I first felt those hands on my shoulders I knew they belonged there and without looking I had found the final piece of my life’s jigsaw that I never realised was missing.  We made contact with each other by phone when I returned and met again at Christmastime.  From then we travelled up and down the road every couple of weeks.  We became

Engaged in February and married in July.

For many years Jack dined out on the fact that we met at Hallowe’en.  He told everyone that he thought I was wearing a mask, but by the time he discovered it didn’t come off, I had my hooks in him!  This was all said as he winked at me and gave me a gentle squeeze.

I have often said to young folk who are on their own that you can’t go looking for love, and you certainly can’t buy it.  Love bites, when you are least expecting it and even sometimes when you don’t want it.  If you are lucky enough to find love, CHERISH it.  

Barmbrack

Reading all the posts about pumpkin carving, then all the entries in 3rd Annual HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill I began to think back to the Halloween’s of my childhood.

When I was a child Halloween was a family time. We had not heard of the American trick or treating. There were no elaborate costumes either. We did have masks made of flat card with holes for eyes, nose and mouth. Two pieces of elastic went round our ears to hold the mask in place.

Traditional fair included colcannon, apple pie, and barmbrack. No, spell check! I did not mean bareback, it was way to cold for that lark, the very thought makes me sh…sh…shiver!

Later in the evening, we had a dish of mixed nuts and in the days before we owned a nut cracker the hammer was used by my brothers to break the shells. It became a noisy competition, with raised voices questioning who was next to test their skill. Squeals of delight followed if someone managed to break a shell and leave the nut in one piece instead of crumbs.

Games included apple bobbing & snap apple.

Apple bobbing, is a game played by filling a large basin with water and putting apples in the water. The apples floated on the surface, we children then tried to catch one with their teeth. Using our arms was not allowed, and were often held behind our backs to prevent cheating! The first person to lift out an apple by grabbing the stem with his teeth wins a prize.

For Snap apple an apple with a coin inserted in it, is dangled from a string . The arms are tied behind the back and people bite at the apple. The first person who bites into the coin inside the apple wins.

I wonder if these games were invented by dentists? 😉

For our main meal of the day we ate colcannon, a traditional Irish dish mainly consisting of mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage. It usually accompanied boiled bacon. Nobody, but nobody cooked a joint of bacon as sweetly as mammy or Nana, as she became known when the grandchildren arrived on the scene.

If I am honest, I was not fond of colcannon, I did a bit of pushing it round the plate, but the rest of the family wolfed it down in record time. We were thinking of the treats to follow and the fun and games afterwards.

Mammy made wonderful apple tarts/pies. Her pastry was special: Not quite rough puff nor flaky pastry either, it fitted happily in between. The apple pies were brought to the table warm from the oven, decorated in a snow flurry if icing/confectioners sugar and with a large bowl of whipped cream that was set in the middle of the table for those who liked it.

The finale of our meal, to accompany the cups of tea or coffee, was barmbrack.

Then followed the games and when excess energy was spent, we sat round the open fire and listened as our elders told stories. We heard all about the banshee, a ghostly old woman who sat on a gate post, keening and combing her long grey hair. There were scary ghost stories too, that made us frightened to climb the stairs to go to bed.

Barmbrack made a an annual appearance at almost every table across the land at Halloween. All the bakery shops had their own version. In our house Mammy had a well tried recipe that appeared like clockwork each year. It is a cross between sweet bread and cake and full of dried fruit, cherries and candied peel.

The brack was special because of the surprise it contained: a ‘gold’ ring (read gold coloured fine washer) was wrapped in greaseproof and pushed into the mixture in the cake tin before it was put in the oven to bake.

Barmbrack  rings

Nobody was allowed in the kitchen when mammy was slicing the barmbrack. The slices were not cut with her usual precision. The slices were set on their sides and overlapped in order to keep the ring out of view, then the plate was hidden until we had eaten the remainder of our meal. Mammy and only mammy, was allowed to carry the barmbrack to the table, with the plate held high over our heads as she walked around the table.

For several years I was the only girl in the middle of my four brothers, so I was given first chance to select my slice of brack, while hoping it was the one with the ring. Who ever got the ring was sure to get married!

There was a chorus of “Not that one” and “This one here has the ring” even though none of my brothers knew where it was. Magically in those early years, I somehow managed to pick the right slice. When My sister arrived and was old enough to join in she had the first choice and I think Mammy somehow catered for this by adding an extra ring to the cake mix.

Even when we outgrew the apple bobbing, a brack was still made with a ring in it, well almost every year…..

One particular year, I was happily working away in Dublin, the days were busy and the toy boys were fun to work with. The summer holiday season came and went and I worked on. Since I managed to suffer sun-stroke at least three times in Ireland, the thoughts of heading to warmer climes for annual leave during high-season was not my priority.

While crunching through the autumn leaves along the Grand Canal during a late October Friday lunchtime, a sudden gust of swirling leaves & cool air woke me from my day-dreaming. Immediately I longed for some warm sunshine on my back.

‘Warm Sunshine’! What was I thinking about, it was 29th of October and I had not taken my summer holidays! If I didn’t get my act together quickly, I would lose the holiday entitlement at the close of the year.

I quickened my step and headed back towards the office. On the way I passed a Travel Agent. I went inside to make a few enquiries.

“Do you have anything going out tomorrow” I asked?

“For how many people” enquired the young sales lady?

“Just me” I replied cheerfully.

Fifteen minutes later I left the building holding my tickets for a two week holiday in Sunny Spain leaving the next day, Saturday 30th October.

So Saturday was spent sorting, washing and pressing clothes suitable for warm Spanish sunshine. I was due to leave for Dublin airport late that evening.

With the bags finally packed and ready I came down to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Mammy was still bustling about and the aroma from the oven was inviting. Gazing at the kitchen counter, I asked “What’s in the oven?”

“The barmbrack, I thought I would have it ready before you go so that you could have a slice.” Answered mammy.

“Did you forget something?” I asked, turning to her with my hand held out. Sitting in my palm was a little greaseproof parcel containing the ring.

She looked up at me and we both laughed.

“Looks like I’ll not find my man this year!” I said adding the sugar to my coffee.

Arriving at the resort in the early hours of the morning, by body clock took time to catch up with the lack of sleep and the time change. I headed back to the hotel restaurant for lunch. I was seated at a table with three other young ladies. We introduced ourselves and I discovered that they were all from Belfast. Like me they arrived the previous night. Their journey had the added hassle of a couple of hours delay before take-off. Our chatter covered the journey, our resort and expectations for the holiday ahead.

Two gentlemen from a nearby table stopped on their way out from lunch. They were known to the girls as they had all travelled out to Spain on the same aircraft. One of the men stood behind my chair. I was introduced and immediately he said he had noticed me on my walk along the promenade during the morning.

At one point the man behind me, called Jack, wanted to tell me something so he placed his hands on my shoulders to tilt me in his direction. I do not remember the story he told but I do remember his laughter, the twinkle in his eyes and the touch of his hands. Later that night he danced with me and for the remainder of the week he sought me out when planning his activities for the day.

I discovered that Jack, like me, had reason to make changes with holiday plans. He wanted to have a week away earlier in October, but there were no places available. The only week free was leaving Belfast on 30th October.

That Halloween was thirty seven years ago today!

For some reason on that Hallowe’en morning when I first felt those hands on my shoulders I knew they belonged there, and without looking I had found the final piece of my life’s jigsaw that I never realised was missing. We made contact with each other by phone when I returned and met again at Christmastime. From then we travelled up and down the road every couple of weeks. We became
Engaged in February and married in July.

For many years Jack dined out on the fact that we met at Halloween. He told everyone that he thought I was wearing a mask, but by the time he discovered that it didn’t come off, I had my hooks in him! This was all said as he winked at me and gave me a gentle squeeze.

The little witch

Lisa liked Granny’s spooky old house. She stood at the door.

“Where are you going?”

“For a walk.”

“A storm is coming! A big black cat comes out in a storm. Don’t touch it!”

The black cat was on the path. Lisa was not scared. She patted the cat.

Too late she remembered Granny’s words!

Her teeth turned black, her skin was covered with green slime. Screaming she ran into the forest where she turned into a witch.

Now when it’s dark and stormy Lisa comes out to scare people.

Maybe she will come and scare you.

Cackle, cackle . . . BOO!

\////0\////

This is my entry for the 3rd Annual HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST
hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill

The challenge is to:

Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children, using the words spooky, black cat, and cackle.

Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words (you can count black cat as one word) and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!) Get it? Halloweensie – because it’s not very long and it’s for little people :)

Post your story on your blog between now and Thursday October 31st by 11:59 PM EDT and add your post-specific link to the list on Susanna’s blog.