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Pandemic Halloween 2020

By Amy McVay Abbott

October 31, 2020 — Today was a great day until about 6 p.m.

I’ve spent most of the last 48 hours at a (virtual) humor writers’ workshop named for the late great Erma Bombeck. Erma’s spirit hovers over the conference, and like her writing, the speakers are uplifting, inspiring and wildly funny. Laughter has soothed the heart of this savage beast, who, like most everyone else, is in a quarantine funk and positively witchy.

On the asset side of the ledger, I heard many A-list writers and comedians talk about craft. I learned so much that I can put into my newest project, which, by the way, is not a humor project. But it’s about my family history. Let me tell you. Somebody has to see the humor in it. #virtualerma #centennialfarmfamily

I also reconnected (even virtually) with old friends and made new ones.  I have been bathed in gratitude and love throughout this experience. I wish I could bottle and share my emotions.

The conference this time was able to reach nearly twice as many writers. Physical attendance is capped around 350, but the virtual world opened up spaces for more writers. The technology worked surprisingly well as complicated as it was. (Well, except when zooming from Outer Slobovia, Alabama, on a six-year-old phone.There were a few minor technical glitches. Can you hear me?  Can you see me? Is that your vacuum cleaner in the background?)

The long-time emcee Patricia Wynn Brown put together a video for the end of the conference. Attendees had been asked to submit a picture of our apparel for the meeting. Naturally, I dressed as Snow White, holding an apple. (The sight of a Plus-sized aging Snow White is enough to scare any Halloween goblin.)

And then the conference was over. The grim realities of pandemic life crept back. Despite a respite for two days, all the world's problems remained.

A friend with cancer got a bad report. The country reached 100,000 COVID cases in a single day. A friend in Miami still suffers from the long-haul version of COVID. Like my father and aunt, older adults I love remained locked in senior facilities, surrounded by the disease in Indiana and Massachusetts, respectively. There was an earthquake in Turkey, prompting me to look on a map and see if my first cousin, his wife, and their two babies were in danger. (They were not.)  Many in our divided country threaten violence around election time.  And others are locked in private horrors of illness, addiction, death of a loved one, depression and anxiety.

Even though I laughed until I cried for 48 hours, the real world was still there.

I wanted to hide in the darkness, and unwittingly, I got my wish.

We had decided not to pass out candy for Halloween this year. In the 24 years we’ve lived here our neighborhood has been a haven for trick-or-treaters. We usually buy those nice mini chocolate bars, the good stuff, and no circus peanuts. The community rule is that if porch lights are on, we’re open for business. If the porch lights are off, a wicked witch lives here and GET OUTTA MY YARD.

I made beef vegetable soup as my husband, Herman, prepared to leave for the store. I told him that I couldn’t turn on the outside lights for his return because that would signal that we were ready for the little goblins.

Herman had chastised me all week, “You’ll be sorry. I’m telling you.”  He thought we should hand out the candy and be careful at the door. Since we had no candy, he was abandoning me for the grocery.

During a typical year, my husband — did I mention he’s a weirdo — likes to pass out the candy from a Dutch oven? Not an orange pumpkin, but a Dutch oven. Is this tradition from his strange childhood? I don’t know — he doesn’t own up to it.

He noticed I was cooking the soup in our Dutch oven and commented as he left, “What are you going to tell the children? That you couldn’t pass out candy because you were using the Dutch oven to make soup?”

Yes, that’s EXACTLY what I’m going to tell them, you big dope.

Through the trees, the full blue moon marginally illuminated the outside of the house. I needed the kitchen lights to chop vegetables. Chopping celery with a very sharp knife in the dark is a bad idea, at least where I come from. And there it was. Shortly after he left, there was a rapping at my door. Oh, nevermore.

Putting on my purple Aetna Medicare mask, I undid the chain lock from the front door and peeked out. About six inches on the other side of my face was the face of the most beautiful pink princess (sans mask).

“Trick or treat,” she said and was echoed by two other princesses, also unmasked, right behind her. About six feet behind them stood her unmasked mother, smoking a cigarette.

“I am so sorry. We don’t have any candy this year,” I spurted out, almost in tears. And I turned them away. Hadn’t I just seen on the local evening news a warning that people with compromised health shouldn’t participate in trick-or-treating this year?

I’m a rule follower, but my heart hurt.

I turned off every light in the house, tripping on my oxygen cord until I sat down in front of the TV, still blaring in the living room.

My wish was granted to sit in the darkness and ponder all that is around me.

When Herman came home and found me in the dark house, he said, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” I was not impressed with Herman going all Sir Walter Scott on me, especially after this witch had tripped all over my web (oxygen cord) trying to find a safe place to hide in the darkness.

— Amy McVay Abbott

Amy McVay Abbott is a retired healthcare executive and newspaper columnist from Indiana. She's currently working on her second book about her family history and was one of the writers featured in Laugh Out Loud, an anthology published by Allia Zobel Nolan in conjunction with the Erma Bombeck  Writers' Workshop in 2018. She manages a public Facebook group for writers called The Raven Lunatic.

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