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Writing 101 – Happy Halloween!

on September 26, 2014

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

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We always went to granny’s South of the border for Halloween holidays. Mum would have been packing clothes, filling tins with cakes for days and once dad secured everything to the roof rack and we had a last trip to the toilet we were on our way. 114 long miles of pushing and shoving and keeping an eye that those brothers of mine didn’t cross the imaginary line into MY space in the back of the car.
Past all the landmarks – small towns, big towns, the creepy forest just over the border, the “buckets” at Drogheda, through busy Dublin, spotting the tall red and white chimneys of the power station near Howth, the last big bend in the road when mum would spit on her hanky to scrub our faces and then ignore our protests as she combed our hair.
As we climbed stiffly from the car the smell of Granny’s lamb stew bubbling on the hob would fight with the smell of her forest fern talc she loved so much.
Granny had one big room in which we ate, watched the grainy black and white tv, played the piano and played with our cousins. Having two brothers, granny’s was great as all I had were girl cousins. Loads of them. We had such fun there whatever the season – swings and swimming in the sea in summer, parties and presents at Christmas, but best of all was Halloween.
This was the 1970’s. No pumpkins, no fancy dressing up shops with expensive outfits. No scary zombies or naughty nurses, or even naughty zombie nurses. No trick or treat. It was innocent fun that we made for ourselves.

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We spent days carving turnip lanterns. This gave us RSI in our hands and wrists, and had the terrible consequence of having turnip at every meal time. But it was worth it. Our frolics were lit by a wax candle (pre tea light days) gently toasting the inside of the hollowed vegetable, filling the air with the aroma of burning turnip.
We always had brown lemonade which we thought was very sophisticated and for a treat there was barnbrack – a type of fruit loaf- that for Halloween had a ring in it. If you were lucky enough not to choke on the cheap metal ring then it meant you would be getting married in the next year.
Then there was mum’s Apple tart, containing more 5ps wrapped in tin foil than apples it seemed. If you were cute you would watch as she cut it into slices ensuring your piece got the most money.
There were sacks of monkey nuts. These were peanuts in their natural state, still in the shell. Little piles of dry peanut shell would litter the room. Harder to crack were the more exotic hazel nuts, Brazil nuts and the tricky Walnuts. Cracking them open with granny’s ancient nut cracker took much more effort than the small reward of a slightly fusty dry tasting nut, usually with a great deal of shell still attached.
For games we ducked for apples and there was a nail above the doorway so we could tie yarn to an apple, let it swing free while we tried to take bites out of it. How we never got terrible diseases from the sharing of apples covered in slobbers playing both these games I will never know.

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Dressing up was a mask made of brittle plastic of a pig or a witch, eye and nose holes in places where no human face had features held on by elastic that would snap within the first few minutes.
If you were really lucky you got a cardboard witches hat which didn’t even have the luxury of elastic to keep it on.
We entertained ourselves by dancing along to granny’s LP collection of James Last, Mantovani and a Wombles record owned by a cousin. I remember vividly choreographing a ballet routine to the “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” and a dance number for everyone singing “Remember You’re a Womble”. Aunties, Uncles, parents, and granny sat patiently cracking nuts and scoffing Black Magic Chocolates through all these antics.
And no Halloween was complete without sparklers bringing their own scorched odour and glittering showers of sparks and the thrill of twirling something so magical.

Two highlights stand out of these not at all scary very innocent Halloween parties.
We always had a box of indoor fireworks, which wowed us with the Magic Fern and the volcano, and especially when a good linen table cloth caught fire from a spark.

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And writing, producing and performing a sketch based on the Two Ronnies skit on TV known as the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town. We thought we were very racy getting away with blowing pretend farts in front of the grownups. Granny in particular loved it!

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I still love Halloween, I love to decorate the house, cut pumpkins, play the same games – yes we too have a nail in a doorway for the specific purpose of hanging apples, I have tasteful Yankee Candle tea light holders that smell of burning turnip of course!

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One response to “Writing 101 – Happy Halloween!

  1. karenandkerry says:

    Down South, we didn’t have Brown Lemonade, we had RED lemonade! We used to have to go to people’s houses and sing nursery rhymes to earn money on Hallowe’en night. We learned which houses gave you fruit or sweets and avoided them the following year!

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