Making Ghosts — Real and Make-Believe
Timing is everything in the harvesting of figs. Take the fruit too early and you lose the sugar. Wait a moment too long, and the bugs — wasps, flies, ants and Hercules beetles — beat you to it. Or the squirrels, who I watched running up the hill with ripe figs in their mouths. This weekend, looking down on my tree from an upper balcony, I saw the dried-out stems and shriveled tops of the last of the fruit.
In the vegetable kingdom, perfection is a moment followed by swift death.
This is the season when those stages are in balance. We have abundance one week, loss the next. Tomatoes are all but gone, but peppers are thriving on the chill. Corn is dry in its stalks and soybeans drying, testing our vocabulary anew each day as we seek the right color — word or pigment — for each changing stage. The combines are coming to the fields.
• • •
Thanksgiving feasting to celebrate the harvest waits until late next month, when the field and garden work is done. But the truth of going is too strong to wait. Halloween comes in its own time, halfway between fall and winter.
Why make a beautiful girl look like that? I wondered, seeing for the first time writer and makeup-artist Zaid Mohammad’s photos of his daughter modeling for Spirited Transformations, this week’s feature story. I wondered even though I knew, for I had commissioned the story — and this week’s calendar extra, Halloween Tricks and Treats — in recognition of a season we can’t — and don’t — ignore.
Skeletons come out of the closets, ghosts and mummies out of the old-linen cabinets and death masks out of makeup drawers. Pumpkins in their patches hold good and evil. In mazes of ready-to-harvest corn, chain-saw killers stalk us.
The season commands attention. We self-conscious members of the animal kingdom comply, acknowledging only at Halloween the self-evident truth we hold at arm’s distance at all other times.
• • •
Old Neighbors; New Ghosts
We’ll all immortal — until Death comes harvesting close to home. Too close to home lately. In my Fairhaven neighborhood, Death has claimed three victims. In quick succession, too, taking each while we’re still thunderstruck at the loss of the last.
E.B. Smith — scholar, professor, world traveler and cruise ship lecturer — at 93, May 5.
Bill Shields —sailor, postal worker, family man and dog companion— at 69, August 18.
Ed Becke — fixer, connector, community maker — at 90, October 9.
We’ll see no more of them. Yet these were men who defined my community for decades, raised and joined families here and founded dynasties. Becke and Smith share common grandchildren, making — until this year — three current Fairhaven generations.
For all of us, family or not, sights and sounds of these men were everyday news, daily markers in the passing of a quarter-century.
We remembered where we were — and wondered where the time went — at the rapturous barking of Billy’s dogs on the way to their daily beach outing.
We understood ourselves as part of history in E.B.’s stories of presidents, some he’d known — like Lyndon Johnson, whose Iowa campaign he managed in 1964; others — like William Buchanan, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore — he’d studied in deeds and words left behind.
Ed, he brought us together. We felt ourselves a community because of him. You couldn’t move to Fairhaven — as husband Bill and I did 27 year ago — without getting to know Ed. Driving through our few streets in one of his fleet of old Lincolns Town Cars — usually with a trailer attached — he’d chat you up. House by house he’d visit. He’d lend you his posthole digger or, when costuming demanded, his classic Fedora. To pave his drive, he’d cart away your old oyster shells. Nothing not tied down was safe from his restless resourcefulness to put every old thing to use.
Best of all, each year he erected the Fairhaven Christmas tree, commandeering all the able-boded help he could find to illuminate Herring Bay from the swim platform that, I think, was also his construction. Burying electric lines under sand and water took lots of know-how, but know-how was Ed’s specialty. It stood from December often until March.
Would 2012 be its last year? We wondered then and still do.
This Halloween, our old neighbors are ghosts.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
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