Tag Archives: Halloween costumes

Coping with Halloween

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops her daughter's face painted as a cat, into the mouth of a carved pumpkin.“Mom, I wanna be a cat,” my daughter said, the year we saw the musical, Cats, on Broadway. Marika loved dressing up. Halloween was her favorite holiday, and every year I’d sew gowns and paint her face. She’d sit stock-still-serious with only her eyes roving, occasionally meeting my own eyes as I painted whiskers or pink clouds of rouge across her pristine porcelain cheeks. There were only a couple of years out of twenty that I did not transform her into a fairy princess, a garbage-monster, a witch, a genie…. After she died, it took a long time before I was able to apply makeup or wear a costume myself.
Saturday, friends invited me to carve pumpkins. The same friends had had my family over for holidays since our children were little. But four years out from the death of my daughter, my heart still sputtered when confronted with holiday traditions.
“Do you remember if we carved pumpkins when you were a kid?” I asked my son, hoping to extend the invitation.
“Mom, I’m sure we carved pumpkins,” he said, and buried himself under his blanket, uninterested. Alone, I joined my friends and two of their grown children, aware that I had only vague memories of drawing faces on pumpkins.

The old familiar kitchen table was covered with pumpkins, bowls for the seeds and scrapings, and tools for cutting and scooping. After drawing on the bumpy orange surface with Sharpie markers, I picked up a tiny serrated pumpkin-carving knife.
“How cute,” I said, turning it over in my hand. That’s when I realized I had no idea what to do next. Someone else had always taken over for me at that point. Squeamish around knives, I’d always let a husband, or a friend, or a friend’s husband do the carving. But now, my friends were busy with their own projects. With quivering hands, I made a hesitant stab and started to saw. Before long I surprised myself, gouging and sawing the pumpkin’s flesh with vigor.

I carved my own pumpkin.

I am free, I thought. I’m strong. I can do this. No one would need to carve for me ever again. Maybe I could even carve a Thanksgiving turkey.

Last year I wore a costume. This year I carved a pumpkin. Who knows what I’ll be able to do next! But I’m pretty sure I’ll never, ever be able to paint on a child’s face again.

 

Cheers to my friend’s son Andrew whose cat-pumpkin was much friendlier than my own. What stresses you about Halloween? How have you surprised yourself lately?

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Reconstructing a Memory

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops the image of her daughter who died, with friends, in a reconstruction of a memory.“Mom, I want to be a mermaid this year. Mom, I want to be a fairy princess.” My daughter loved to dress up. Even beyond Halloween, which she made last two whole months, Marika had me rummaging for fabrics and sewing frilly feminine gowns, dressing her up like she was my little doll. Then, she would pose patiently with a serious face as I applied makeup, and captured the creation in a photo.

The assignment in my photography class this week was to “construct a scene that attempts to reconstruct a memory or even a fragment of it.”
“Oh no, another memory thing,” I said, aware of spending a good portion of my time and energy the past four years reconstructing memories. Photography for healing is something I recommend to anyone recovering from a loss, but it is not for the faint-of-heart. It is like facing the bleak facts of your situation, and sharing them over and over again until you can tell your story without tears. Most of the time.

The meltdown wasn’t from the photographs, or the photo-shoot, which took little time because my models eagerly cooperated, bouncing about in the glad rags I handed out. By that point I’d composed myself, and was enjoying the merriment costumes bring out. But, in my scrambling about for the outfits, tearing through the giant Tupperware bins of old clothes, finding the baby sweaters my mother knit, the strawberry nightgown, and the flowery mother-daughter frocks, … touching the sundresses Marika had outgrown, something had sent my memory spinning in tessellations.

 

What memory might you try to reconstruct in words or in an art-form? Does your favorite photograph capture a memory? Or does it construct a memory?

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