In other cultures and in various world religions, what we Americans call “Halloween” is celebrated as a remembrance of departed loved ones. For example, the Japanese celebrate the autumn equinox as a time to remember and honor their ancestors. The Mexican Day of the Dead is a party to eclipse all parties (from what I can tell, anyway — I didn’t take Spanish, so I’m not well-versed in the culture). Samhain, the Wiccan observance, focuses on the thin veil between this world and the next. This is, of course, a gross overview of these holidays, and there are many more besides these.
In recent years, I’ve taken to celebrating Halloween in a unique way that’s meaningful to me. I consider myself an agnostic, so observing Samhain or any other faith-based or religious rituals would be hypocritical and almost rude. I also have no social life, and very few local friends, so costume parties are out. 🙂
Seriously, though. What I do is genealogy.
Genealogy research brings me closer to my ancestors, as I can imagine what life was like for them, and wonder what they would think of today’s world and of their progeny. The more research I do, the more I learn, the more I can relate to them and their hardships and their daily lives, and the more they inspire me. I think of Thomas Oliver Cook, William and Ella’s oldest competent son, who was struck and killed by an electric train at age 28. I think of Harvey and Nora Sharits, whose two-year-old son died when he caught his clothes on fire in the grating of their woodburning stove. I think of Mary Lou Shupert, whose mother died in childbirth and whose father remarried shortly afterward, who lived with her mother’s family for some time, and who got pregnant out of wedlock back in the 1860s. These people suffered more than I ever did, or likely ever will. These stories, whether pieced together through research or passed down orally, give the lie to the idea that times were simpler and easier back then.
I also think about those who have passed on during my lifetime, like my Granny, and my Memaw, and my stepdad Tom. I wonder what my Granny would think of me being all grown up and gone to college and married… and almost 30 years old with no kids. Granny — my great-grandmother — died when I was a Freshman in high school, after I hadn’t written her for years, and I regret my lack of correspondence to this day.
I think that Tom would be as proud of me as my mother is. I’m married, with a college degree and a house, and a normal, relatively happy life, and I think that would make him pretty pleased. I wonder sometimes what his fiance was like, and if they would have actually gotten married, and whether they would have stayed married (she would have been his fifth wife — my mother was his fourth). I also wonder how his four kids are doing; the oldest, Tommy, was about five or six years older than me, and the youngest, Dawn, was two years older than me. I suppose I could find them and ask them how they’re doing… but, even after ten years, I’m still bitter that no one called to let me know that Tom was dead. I had to find out by chance, by a spontaneous phone call to his house a week after the fact. There are some things I just can’t forgive. Not yet.
My Memaw’s only been gone for about 2 1/2 years now. I do miss her, but I still feel at peace with her being gone. Not much has happened since then — Aaron and I got married a week before she died, and we bought a house a year after that. So, I don’t often wonder what she would think of where I am today, because I already know. Mainly I wish she were still around when I have a question about cooking, or when I’m researching our family history.
So, this is how I prefer to spend my October 31st: contemplating my family and my ancestry, combining the pensive nature and emotion of family history with the logic and structure of seeking out my relations and ancestors. Light some candles, spend some time with my research spread out on the floor before me and my genealogy program glowing on the computer monitor.
Unfortunately, it looks like this evening will instead be spent working on the LSM site, as the stylesheets have gone fubar and I need to do some more updating of content. I haven’t touched my genealogy research for months and months, but I have to have priorities. My Halloween devotionals will have to wait.
Update, 7:45pm: The LSM stylesheet fix was a quick one, unexpectedly. I love it when my knowledge of CSS surfaces in just the right way. As the necessary LSM maintenance is now complete, that leaves the rest of my evening free for my annual Halloween genealogy devotional.
However, tomorrow starts NaNoWriMo, so any research momentum I pick up tonight will have to be put on pause for 30 days.