by Galen Dalrymple
I once was an Iowa farm boy, but I’ve not lived there for decades. But once an Iowan farm boy, always an Iowa farm boy, I guess. There is still something wondrous about returning to the land of my roots. My father lies buried in the rich Iowa soil, as do my grandparents and an older sister that I never knew. Memories of an Iowa childhood fill my mind now in the fall of my years. There were just two of us kids in the family – my sister and I – and we lived on a small farm near the town of Churdan, Iowa. We attended a one-room school (grades K-9, with just one teacher) one mile’s walk from our farm. In the fall and winter the school was heated only by a pot-bellied stove situated in the middle of the classroom. We’d bring a potato that had been sliced by our mother with a pat of butter in it, all wrapped in shiny aluminum foil and we’d set it on top of that stove and by lunch time it would be cooked through and deliciously warm and tasty!
I recall the weather, the joys of farm life, and the incredible sense of freedom. But many of the favorite memories I have revolve around harvest time and Halloween.
Fall has been my favorite season as far back as I can remember. There is something magical about the crisp air, the winding down of the pace of farm life from the frantic growing and cultivating of summer. In fall, life stopped to breathe.
As my mind recalls, at Halloween every year, the sky was dominated by a bright orange harvest moon that held me spellbound as I gazed over the freshly harvested fields of corn. The corn stalks stood like ghostly shadows as the moon beams touched the face of the earth. Leaves skittered across the gravel in the barn yard as the breeze stirred, casting a chill wherever it journeyed.
We lived too far away from neighboring farms to walk to trick or treat, so our parents had to drive us from one farm house to the next. Unlike today when kids will visit upwards of 100 houses in a night, we were grateful to visit say, 10 neighboring farms. We knew the people well. It was the kind of community where everyone helped one another in time of misfortune or harvest. We didn’t need to fear razor blades or poison in the candy. The love of family and friends surrounded us every moment of those early, innocent years.
We didn’t have money for costumes, so we made do with what could be easily thrown together. I suspect that for every one of my first 8-9 years, my costume was the same each year: I’d pull on a pair of my dad’s overalls, we’d stuff a pillow in it to make me look fat (and probably to help hold them up by filling them out a bit!) and I’d don a pair of those black plastic glasses with fuzzy eyebrows and a fake plastic mustache. And then, off we’d go into the chill Iowa fall night, illuminated by the great harvest moon, eager to visit the neighbors on their farms.
There was no talk of devils, demons or goblins and you know, even if we’d been aware of the theological debates about practicing Halloween that have caused it to fall into disrepute in certain circles, it was a wholesome, innocent time in a wholesome, innocent place.
The joys of those childhood experiences of Halloween have never left me. While others denounced the holiday later on in life, I never did. I couldn’t. There is only something evil in it if we choose to focus on such things. For us, Halloween was the warmth of a neighbors farm house, the grass and walnut trees bathed in moonlight, bundled up against the cold but shivering with delight at the sheer fun of the night. It was knowing that as children we were loved by our neighbors and their families as well as our own parents.
I still love Halloween to this day. I delight in seeing the little ones come to the door and to hear their excited voices pealing out the old refrain, “Trick or treat!” I enjoy their costumes for the most part, and the banter with their parents who keep watchful eye upon their charges. And I even enjoy giving them candy as a free gift. Do they deserve it just because they dress up and look cute? No, probably not, but it is freely and joyfully given. God has certainly given us so much more…and we definitely don’t deserve it.
We talk about reclaiming Christmas. How about reclaiming All Hallows Eve for the Lord that made that day as well as every other day? Give the gift of love and friendship. The world surely needs it.
As Jennifer Fitz, from Happy Catholic Bookshelf put it: “If we can mock Satan on the eve of All Saints Day, it’s because we’re the little kid standing behind God the Father saying, ‘Yeah! Go get him Dad!’”
Go get him, indeed!
Galen Dalrymple works for Medical Ambassadors International (medicalambassadors.org) as the Field Curriculum Coordinator and lives in Northern California with his wife, Laurel, and yellow lab, Lucy. His passions are his family, photography, travel, and doing what he can to alleviate suffering and injustice as a call from Jesus.
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